Esol hold-up welcomed amid new qual concerns

The extension of existing funding rules and postponement of new qualifications for English for Speakers of Other Languages (Esol) courses does not go far enough to help providers manage impending changes, it has been claimed.

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) has revealed that funding rates for Skills for Life (SfL) Esol courses in 2014/15 will remain the same as in the current academic year, and that the introduction of new qualifications, due in August, will be postponed until January.

But the National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults (NATECLA) warned the postponement would still not give providers enough time to prepare for the change.

Its co-chair, Diana Tremayne, told FE Week: “We welcome the extension of current qualifications and funding rates, with class codes for those who need extended periods of learning, as our members have been reporting rising concern about programme planning, hours and funding for next academic year from August 1.

“However, in order for providers with a variety of long and short programmes and learners who take different units at different times to plan and offer a coherent programme next year we would ask for a year-long extension of existing arrangements.

“It’s really difficult for us to model our funding, plan provision, train teachers in new qualifications, decide which awarding organisations to use and make a massive change one third of the way through the year.”

She said NATECLA members had worked with awarding organisations, the Association of Colleges, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the SFA and had asked for another year.

Pamela Baxter, assistant director at Cambridge English Language Assessment, which is an arm of awarding organisation OCR, said: “We welcome the continuity for colleges as September is very close and changing arrangements now would make it difficult for them to plan.

“However, ultimately we would like to see long term stable plans in place for the Esol sector in the UK. To this end, we are working with Demos to undertake research to inform a coherent strategy for Esol in the UK and expect to see the report launched this summer.”

In a guidance document, the SFA said: “In February 2013 we set out the principles to shape the future suite of new SfL Esol qualifications. Since that time awarding organisations have been developing a number of new Esol SfL qualifications and some of these have been submitted to Ofqual for accreditation.

“To enable providers to complete their planning for 2014 to 2015 and to ensure there is time to prepare for the delivery of the new qualifications we have agreed with BIS and Ofqual to put in place interim arrangements to continue funding the existing Esol adult basic certificates and ‘units’ for a further period up to December 31, 2014.
“In 2014 to 2015 existing ESOL adult basic certificates will be funded at the same published rates as 2013 to 2014. These were based on historical national delivery patterns and awarding organisation recommended guided learning hours.”