Cavan and Monaghan ETB lead the way in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) in 2024

19 Jun 2024
On 4th June, Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board launched new awards for 'English for Speakers of Other Languages' (ESOL). This is a pioneering initiative for inclusive education and language support for migrant learners across Ireland, introducing a much-needed new approach to ESOL learning.

Writing by Karyn Farrell, Learner Voice Project Officer

Recognising the ever-changing needs of the learners in their regional centres and the evolving language landscape in Ireland, CMETB took a proactive approach. They commissioned an intensive and ground-breaking project to assess the English language competency of migrant learners, comprising 80 hours of research over a seven-month period.

A group of people lined up in two rows, one standing and one sitting
This included the development of guidelines and a toolkit to assist with the placement of learners to ensure they are starting at the level most suited to them. 

Ultimately, the success of this research paved the way for CMETB to develop ESOL-specific modules at QQI Levels 1 and 2.

The launch was formally opened by Dr Fiona McGrath, Chief Executive of CMETB. She spoke about the importance of ESOL programmes in promoting inclusivity and providing pathways for learners from diverse backgrounds: “ESOL services across the country see a wide range of learners—from highly educated professionals to individuals lacking basic literacy skills. Addressing these diverse needs has become a priority for every Education and Training Board and Adult Education Service nationwide.”

Spearheading this research project in ESOL were tutors Paula Owen and Kathy Bae.

At the launch, they gave an overview of the research and the needs-analysis conducted with the CMETB Quality Assurance department and Michael Donohoe (Recognition of Prior Learning, Research and Evaluation Officer).

They did this because ESOL tutors in CMETB had noticed changes in learners over time.

ESOL programmes and modules were originally designed and tailored for learners who had come to Ireland for work, with a moderate level of English as a starting point. But over the years, the ESOL learning landscape has evolved and changed quite dramatically.

Tutors noted a rise in learners without basic literacy skills in their own language. Some had absolutely no English at all. Others were unable to read and write, or had never been to school in their own countries. Yet all learners were put together in a one-size-fits-all classroom situation.

It was clear that this approach was unsuitable for many of the learners. Many gave up or dropped out. The lack of ESOL accreditation below QQI Level 3 meant that those learners left with no accreditation for Levels 1 or 2. If they moved to a different town, they were forced to start from scratch. There was no flexibility.

The situation also posed challenges for tutors who struggled to adequately meet the needs of diverse groups of learners, in particular those who had also experienced trauma.

It was clear a more holistic approach was needed.

CMETB's new ESOL Approach

With their new approach, CMETB sought to bring a holistic approach for learners and to design a framework where learners could move from zero language and literacy to a level of proficiency in small steps. They also sought to design a more tutor-friendly curriculum and assessment process, and a set of ESOL-specific teaching resources and assessment materials. They also designed a programme aligned to QQI Broad standards and CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages), consistent with best practice standards in Ireland and Europe.

And so began the momentous research task. In addition to mapping existing provision across Ireland, the CMETB team also looked at what was happening across Europe including LASLLIAM (Literacy and Second Language Learning for the Linguistic Integration of Adult Migrants) and CEFR frameworks.

Scotland and the UK had already begun to address this, offering ESOL accreditation to lower levels.

The result was the development of a four-stage approach to ESOL delivery, designed to cater to the needs of learners at varying proficiency levels, including those with minimal literacy skills.

It ensures learners are placed at a level that suits them. Crucially, it offers flexibility, enabling them to start their course in one place and finish in another. It also allows them to effectively move and progress through the various levels at a pace that is suitable for them.

Unsurprisingly, there has been huge interest among other ETBs across the country. Modules and resources have already been shared with seven ETBs, and interest expressed among the remaining eight. The collaboration and sharing of knowledge will no doubt shape the ESOL learning landscape in Ireland over the years to come.

Panel Discussion

Speaking at the launch on a panel discussion, Deirdre Byrne, Adult Education Officer with CMETB, said that they'd had a “very positive response across the FET sector”, and feels it will go a long way to addressing the frustrations of tutors and learners that the existing system was not fit for purposes. She also sees the accreditation as a positive development, saying that “learners really value getting that piece of paper.”

Also speaking as part of the panel, Arthur McKeown (volunteer for ESOL for asylum seekers and refugees at BURC, Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre) welcomed the holistic approach to the programme development and the wraparound supports essential to supporting a learner’s cultural challenges, and any psychological and psycho-social issues and trauma.

Both Dr. John O’Connor, Quality and Qualifications Ireland, and Dr Lou McLaughlin, Executive Director at Eaquals, made reference to the importance of standards in education in ensuring consistency in quality and integrity. Lou said, “it’s important for the learner to know what they are working towards and what they want to achieve. Clearly articulating this for students gives them control over their learning and promotes learner autonomy.”

The final contribution was from Lorenzo Rocca, Linguistics expert with the Council of Europe, who joined the launch online from Italy. He is one of the authors of a new reference guide on Literacy and Second Language Learning for the Linguistic Integration of Adult Migrants (LASLLIAM). His expertise was vital at the consultation stage in addressing the challenges for migrant learners at a European perspective.

For those interested in learning more about these ESOL developments or accessing resources, please contact CMETB Adult Education Services on 047 30 888.

Image courtesy of CMETB