English UK Blog: Supporting Ukrainians and refugees to get the English skills they need

CCN Blogs | 12 October 2022

One of the most fundamental requirements for new arrivals to the UK is to quickly learn enough language to not only survive but thrive. The DfE’s recent announcement that for more than half of local authorities funding for Ukranian refugees is not ring-fenced is fantastic news for those authorities looking to offer language skills to new arrivals.

It is hard to play a part in the community without at least a basic command of English: children struggle in school and adults are cut off from information, find work and generally integrate into their new communities.

FE colleges funded to teach English as a second language not only have capacity challenges, but may some are not able to meet the specific needs of many refugees. For instance, the Ukrainian diaspora is predominantly women and children, plus older adults. Classes need to be flexible enough to meet varying needs around childcare, family learning, and previous achievement: for example Ukrainians educated before 1991 will have learned Russian but no English.

This means significant numbers of arrivals from Ukraine and refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and many other parts of the world are suffering delays in accessing the learning they need to help them integrate and use their skills in the UK.

But in many parts of the UK, there is an unused resource: specialist English Language centres: English Language Teaching specialists whose job it is to support learners of all ages and backgrounds, from all over the world, and in the case of the members of English UK – the body I lead – they are accredited by the British Council.

We estimate that around a third of the UK’s English Language centres are already offering free places as part of a collaboration with the charity RefuAid. But to run dedicated classes they do need at the very least to cover costs – and those dedicated classes can be set up to meet the refugees’ specific needs, whether that’s classes dedicated to family learning, for older adults or around childcare requirements.

Most centres have not made themselves known to local authorities because it was widely believed that in order to offer ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teaching in this way they needed to have costly Skills and Funding Agency registration and bid for the work.

However, the Department for Education’s dedicated Ukrainian team have announced that 60% of English local authorities can spend the £10.5k funding per head as they choose: it is not ring-fenced. These authorities include the GLA and Mayoral Combined Authorities.

For the other local authorities, guidance does specify ESOL provision but not a provider type. Any English Language Teaching centres which are registered as Adult Education Budget providers – as well as those who aren’t – are eligible to support refugees’ learning in this context.

Outside England, the funding is fully devolved. In Wales, the ReAct+ scheme which makes ESOL available to unemployed people can also be accessed by refugees, a simple solution.

Confirmation from the DfE that many authorities need not jump through bureaucratic hoops if they wish to work with English Language centres is great news for refugees and for the sector: I would encourage any councillors to find out whether their authority is included within this.

English Language centres stand ready to help Ukrainian refugees and I hope that working with local authorities we can play our part to support families fleeing war, and help them to integrate into our communities and rebuild their shattered lives.

Jodie Gray

Chief Executive of English UK