Stress caused by low proficiency in English is a growing area of concern for staff and students, as teachers Orishia and Steve explain.

It seems obvious, but everyone needs English skills to manage their lives, their homes and to hold down a job. If you want to progress to any higher level of education beyond Level 1 or 2, or to progress in your career, you need English skills.

According to the National Literacy Trust the latest available data for England (from 2015) suggests that a staggering 1 in 6 adults in England (16.4% or 7.1 million people) have very poor literacy skills.

And perhaps more pertinently for FE, a 2016 OECD report found that England is the only country in the developed world in which adults aged 55-to-65 perform better in literacy and numeracy than those aged 16-to-24. Read into that what you will.

Many of our students come to us with very low proficiency in English. Many are non-native English speakers who have come to the UK as teenagers and need our support to reach fluency in English, while others have not had a successful experience of secondary education and need a lot of help with re-engaging with education to boost their reading and writing skills.

With a new Ofsted framework from September 2019 expecting more than ever before of students (and therefore of their teachers too) and the new T levels on the horizon, it was high time we gave English teaching the attention it deserved.

So, on 22 March 2019, we brought over 90 teachers involved in English from across our colleges together, to discuss how we can improve our teaching of English.

Delegates included staff from all 3 of the Group’s colleges (City & Islington College, the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London, and Westminster Kingsway College) as well as from the Group’s training arm (Capital City College Training).

Our aim was to bring everyone together to hear about changes to reforms, share common challenges and work on sharing strategies to best prepare our learners for Functional Skills and GCSE English.

The conference was opened by a welcome and introduction from Andy Forbes, Principal of City and Islington College.

Our keynote speaker was Sonia Thomas (London Regional Specialist Lead at the Education and Training Foundation.

She stated there are three key issues facing English teaching:

1. New Ofsted framework

It will place more demands on students and staff, but what does this mean in practice? Are we preparing learners for the next stage of their lives  – either work or education?

2. T levels (11 industry routes by 2022)

Taking a T level will require at least a level 2 in maths and English andsome routes will require higher than level 2 English and maths.

3. Functional skills reform

This will be harder than before. Students at each level will have to know more, especially in spelling, punctuation and grammar. This is already happening in primary schools, where pupils of any given age are now expected to be, in effect, a year further advanced than would have been expected of them a few years ago.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of English. As we know, if your language skills are poor, your life chances are poorer: it’s as simple as that.

As one of our delegates – Functional Skills and English GSCE teacher Orishia Bojczuk – said:

“English empowers learners and allows them to go on to do things in life that they wouldn’t be able to do without it.  It also helps them to escape into worlds that they wouldn’t be able to access without English.”

Another delegate told us: “It was good to meet colleagues from the other 2 colleges, and even some who I rarely have the chance to meet in my college.  For me the thing I benefit the most from is hearing about tried and tested methods that other people have tried and see if I can use them too.”

All the conference sessions were rated highly by staff. The most popular sessions were from Pearson’s on the functional skills reform, one on creative writing and the other on stressbusting techniques.

Julie Sinclair, Head of Development and Innovation Unit at Capital City College Group

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