Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

There's More to Teaching English Than Speaking It

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

There's More to Teaching English Than Speaking It

Article excerpt

Volunteers play a valuable role in supporting Esol learners, but they cannot replace qualified staff

In the run-up to the EU referendum, there was significant negative publicity surrounding refugee and migrant communities, resonating out from a small but vociferous demographic.

This swerve towards a less inclusive, less kind society was highly offensive to many, who wanted to show solidarity with their community neighbours, and to demonstrate that people from all nations were welcome in our multicultural society.

Volunteering has a long legacy in adult and community education, especially in terms of literacy and language acquisition. Volunteers play a vital role in boosting learners' progression, increasing confidence and widening support networks.

There has been high political importance placed on the imperative for people who enter the UK to learn English to demonstrate a commitment to their new country. This is not only to enable better communication and greater employment opportunities but also to promote community integration and help to prevent radicalisation. All of which makes sense...until you remember the massive cuts to the adult education budget, which have actively reduced access to English instruction for speakers of other languages.

Plugging the funding gap

This is where the concept of volunteerism becomes more complex. Does the use of volunteers in an educational capacity enable government cuts? Is there confusion between the valued, wrap-around support of enthusiastic but unskilled volunteers and the work of highly skilled and qualified teachers of English for speakers of other languages (Esol) who run structured language sessions?

Last year, the Demos thinktank suggested that volunteer Esol teachers could plug the funding gap (bit.ly/DemosEsol). Diana Tremayne, an Esol teacher who works in colleges in the North of England, is less sure.

"There will always be a place for volunteers, but there are different types of volunteering," she says. "It's brilliant to have people coming together as a community, but there's a risk that it blurs into 'Well, does that mean I can teach English?' "

From my own perspective, I have taught functional-skills English at every level and supported students through GCSE English. I have several teaching qualifications at level 5 and above. I would say I'm a fairly experienced English teacher. But I recently participated in an Esol teachers' training session at the conference of the National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults, and I was out of my depth. …

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