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Free English language lessons to be linked to job training

Non-English speakers could get free language lessons linked to job training under new plans from the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).

The WMCA wants lessons in English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) to be more closely linked to job opportunities so learners are taught useful phrases for jobs in construction, health and social care, rather than generic expressions like “How do I get to the post office?”

The combined authority is looking to improve the focus of ESOL provision as it takes control of the region’s £126m adult education budget (AEB) this summer. The WMCA Board has already pledged that from August, all eligible residents earning less than the national living wage (£17,550 per year) will be able to access ESOL courses for free.

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street said: “If we want a truly inclusive economy, we need as many skilled workers as possible in jobs.

“To do that, we need to remove barriers to work wherever we can. Not being able to speak English is one of those for many people in the region and, in some cases, it has been too expensive for them to get onto a course to learn."

“Providing greater access to English lessons, and ensuring those lessons are tied to vocational training and tailored with words and phrases used every day in real work environments, will make a real difference to the employment prospects of thousands across the region.”

The 2011 census shows around 107,000 people in the West Midlands region can’t speak English well or at all – around 2% of the population. Of those, 91,600 are aged over 25.

To help improve the way English is taught to non-speakers, the WMCA set up an ESOL Review Group, which spent six months looking at local and national ESOL provision.

The group has now published a report, Unlocking Potential – Making Sense of ESOL in the Region, which was launched at Fircroft College in Selly Oak on Thursday, June 6.

The report includes a number of findings, and makes recommendations for the 2020/21 academic year, including:

• Developing ‘ESOL for employment’ courses to provide bespoke language skills more appropriate to the jobs market

• Embedding ESOL into vocational training provision across the region

• Developing online learning modules to make ESOL training more accessible

Cllr George Duggins, leader of Coventry City Council and portfolio holder for productivity and skills at the WMCA, said: “The ESOL Review Group’s report underlines how popular and important ESOL lessons are in our region, which has the most diverse population outside London."

“We want to support all our residents to have the best chance to get a job, earn and contribute to the economy."

“Through our control of the adult education budget, we can enhance ESOL lessons to teach more meaningful, useful words and phrases, and tie that learning to job training for our key sectors like construction, health and social care.”

On the back of the Unlocking Potential report, the WMCA will now pilot work-focused ESOL provision through its existing construction skills programme, the Construction Gateway, which offers unemployed people an introduction to construction skills and a guaranteed job interview.

It will also look to trial new vocational ESOL lessons linked to industry-specific training courses in the health, retail and social care sectors.

And the authority will set up an expert panel of ESOL practitioners to work with the WMCA, the Further Education Skills and Productivity Group (FESPG) and the Adult and Community Learning Alliance (ACLA) to further develop ESOL provision in the West Midlands.

Mel Lenehan, principal and CEO of Fircroft College, who chaired the ESOL Review Group, said: “I feel privileged to have been the chair of the ESOL Review Group and to see the commitment and passion for ESOL across the group members."

“We were all particularly pleased that the WMCA had asked for this review and given the opportunity for ESOL to have a specific focus and to raise the profile of this important area of work.”

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