ESOL is changing fast. But it has always been a dynamic and changing sector, representing and responding to wider changes in our society, as Sheila Rosenberg explores in her wonderfully rich history of ESOL (reviewed on p31). Recent analysis of 2005/6 LSC data reveals that London now accounts for less than a third of ESOL learners nationally, compared to 50% in 2001/2. In addition, a much greater proportion come from the expanded European Union: the whole picture is changing. The challenge for policy is to ensure that Skills for Life learners with the greatest educational and social needs are given priority and have all the support they need to improve their skills, wellbeing and life chances - and their children's. They may need literacy, ESOL, numeracy or a combination of all three: support needs to respond flexibly to learners' situations and motivation to learn.
'The importance of English language training for all communities' was accepted in Our Shared Future (2007). Yet recent changes have prioritised funding for certain groups. Do you think the balance is right? What would you do differently? How will local implementation work? The Government's current consultation on ESOL see www.esolconsultation.org.uk or phone 0870 0010 336) runs until the 4th April - make sure your voice is heard.
All of which makes our special report on ESOL timely. Simon Mahoney presents striking evidence of the advantages of ESOL training on the shopfloor, where staff turnover dropped from 180% to 12%, while four practitioners discuss the complexities of supporting learners in a completely different context - the prison sector. New occupationally-specific ESOL qualifications are considered by Rob Gray, and by Nina Julka and Anders Timms. And Peter Lavender updates us on recent developments, following NIACE's 2006 ESOL report 'More than a language...' .
Elsewhere in reflect 10, we hear from Sarah Malins, who shares her practical insights into improving attendance rates in the classroom. Celia Hoyles describes how interactive learning materials allow workers to 'play' with mathematical variables in complex processes without affecting production, thereby increasing their understanding, confidence and motivation in the workplace (see article). David Mallows and Anne Chester advocate a similar principle - using authentic materials to motivate and build confidence - for literacy learners. While regular reflect readers will be familiar with Voices on the Page, now in its second year, there are other examples of published adult learners' writing, often recounting life stories, which can motivate readers and writers. And, if we're encouraging learners to reflect and then use their voices, we should do the same ourselves: think about what we do, what we're trying to achieve, and what we want to say: including through the ESOL consultation.
Ursula Howard, Director, NRDC