Stay of execution for ESOL

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) qualifications will continue to be funded for at least one more year, despite changes to the eligibility of literacy qualifications.

Issue 100 of the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) Update states: “Following consideration of the current English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Adult Basic Skills Certificates, this note confirms the continued funding for 2012/13 of ESOL Adult Basic Skills Certificates at Entry, Level 1 and Level 2.”

The announcement follows a move by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in February to cease the funding of a centrally held test bank which supports Adult Basic Skills (ABS) qualifications and Key Skills Communication, as well as Application of Number qualifications at Levels 1 and 2.

Jennifer Turner, head of ESOL and literacy at Greenwich Community College, as well as a member of the NATECLA Management Council, said: “It seems to be good news, especially for Level 1 and Level 2 learners who stood to have no ESOL qualifications next year. The 12.5 per cent cut to Adult Learner Responsive funding remains however, and this will undoubtedly result in a reduction in provision across the sector. This announcement does nothing to mitigate that.”

The limited duration of protection for ESOL Basic Skills Certificates raises questions about how the qualification will be funded in the future.

Gordon Marsden MP, shadow minister for FE, skills and regional growth, told FE Week: “While we obviously welcome the continuation of ESOL Basic Skills qualification funding in 2012/13, real questions remain about arrangements from 2013/14 onwards that is understandably still causing concerns across the FE sector.

“I will be pressing Ministers to explain the implications of the scrapping of Basic Skills qualifications on ESOL courses and learners for subsequent academic years.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), added: “ESOL is crucial in allowing people to access the labour market and integrate within their communities.We really need a long-term commitment from government. Ad hoc announcements about whether we can expect funding for another year creates huge instability and uncertainty for institutions, tutors and learners and prevents proper planning taking place.”

Chris Hooper, head of ESOL and community learning at Kirklees College, said: “It’s been obvious for a while that changes to ESOL qualifications are on the cards.

“At least this means that when those changes happen, they can be done over a reasonable timescale, rather than last minute.”

The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) say although they welcome the extended funding for ESOL Basic Skills Certificates, the government’s year by year approach to provision is a concern.

Joyce Black, head of skills for life at NIACE, said: “We are pleased that the funding will be extended for another year and in time for providers to complete their curriculum plans and the associated programme publicity.However the year by year funding is a concern. This extension of funding is good news for learners but we also need to remember that unlike learners who choose to work towards literacy and numeracy qualifications, some ESOL learners must achieve an ESOL Entry qualification to secure their legal status in the UK because it is required for settlement (indefinite leave to remain) in the UK or British citizenship.”

The SFA says Ofqual will shortly be writing to awarding organisations to advise them that the operational end date for current ESOL programmes is now the end of August 2013.

Ofqual has since clarified to FE Week, however, that the funding extension is not related to the change in operational end date.

“The fact that the funding has been extended is not linked to us changing the operational end date for ESOL Skills for Life (we are not involved in funding at all),”an Ofqual spokesperson said.

“We have extended the operational end date so that the current qualifications can continue to be used while we undertake some monitoring work.”

BIS and the SFA are now in discussions with Ofqual to decide if the “shape and content” of ESOL qualifications will change in the future.