How Have We Failed to Integrate Our Migrant Population? Dr Nick Saville of Cambridge English Language Assessment Looks Critically at the State of English Language Learning for England's Migrant Population and Suggests One Size Does Not Fit All

By Saville, Nick | New Statesman (1996), October 17, 2014 | Go to article overview

How Have We Failed to Integrate Our Migrant Population? Dr Nick Saville of Cambridge English Language Assessment Looks Critically at the State of English Language Learning for England's Migrant Population and Suggests One Size Does Not Fit All


Saville, Nick, New Statesman (1996)


You may have missed the launch of a report from the think tank DEMOS called 'On Speaking Terms'. It calls for a national strategy for ESOL provision, helping migrants and the economy reach their full potential.

To be honest you wouldn't be alone if you had missed it. For years politicians--of all parties--have ignored the problem of English language learning for our large migrant communities.

Instead of a cost effective approach we have in place a series of piecemeal arrangements which have neither helped integrate our migrant population nor enabled them to realise their economic potential--to the detriment of all of us.

Part of the problem has been our insistence on a 'one-size fits all' approach to teaching English to migrants. It's a simple approach but one that has ultimately proven futile, whichever government has been in power. Just saying 'Well, here's the proficiency level you have to get to,' is not an effective way of approaching this complex task.

But what should a national strategy incorporate?

Well, policy-makers need to consider the varying needs of all groups of migrants, and to tease apart what kind of support is needed in different cases. This will enable clearer eligibility criteria to be established for various kinds of language learning support and to ensure that where government funding is made available it reaches the intended targets.

Putting a language learning strategy for migrants coming to the UK in place is not simply about English language skills needed to cope in education or workplace settings. It must go further than this and consider migrants who come to the UK as spouses, retired people and for other reasons. These people may never enter the workplace--and may live predominantly within their family or a monolingual community but will nevertheless still need to have the ability to interact with speakers of English, even in a limited way.

When migrants learn English, it's important that there is an appropriate mechanism in place for assessing their current level and measuring their progression over time as a result of better focused learning programmes. This will impact positively on their learning and help them achieve their goal of integration and better engagement within a community. …

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