English My Way: confident people; stronger communities

Last week I had the very great honour of attending the English My Way celebration event. It’s crazy how quickly the two years have passed since we started this programme and it’s crazy to see the huge impact it has had on people’s lives. And when I say crazy, I mean in a good way.

I’m proud to tell you that over 9000 people were supported by the UK online centres network through the programme to improve their lives and integrate more to become part of their community in the 38 areas of the highest language need across England. 70% of those learners progressed to an Entry Level 1 ESOL course.

It makes me smile that so many of the learners have improved their confidence thanks to the programme:

  • 65% of them said they are now more confident talking to acquaintances
  • 68% are more confident talking in shops or on public transport
  • 61% are more confident in using their new English skills with doctors and other professionals.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to not be able to do something as simple as ask for a bus ticket to get into town, and I’m so happy that English My Way has been able to reach the people who couldn’t do this and make a real difference to their lives.

I’m a huge advocate for digital inclusion and the power digital has to eradicate social issues in society. But English My Way doesn’t just use digital to teach English language – it’s a blended learning programme. It understands what’s easier digitally and what’s better face-to-face, and uses this approach for the best and most efficient outcomes.

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Our new ESOL handbook and the final evaluation report for English My Way


In January David Cameron announced a £20 million plan to help Muslim women learn English, to help tackle extremism, discrimination and social isolation. English language skills are of deepest importance and I believe that English My Way can help. The sustainability of English My Way and ESOL in general needs to be embedded in the skills agenda, both locally and with devolved authorities. Tinder Foundation is committed to supporting the delivery of ESOL in communities across the country and our dedication can be recognised through this programme. The evidence speaks for itself: one woman who participated in the project can now speak to her neighbours and invite them over for a cup of tea and another used her new language skills to secure her and her family’s future away from an abusive relationship – that’s just two of the people we’ve helped.

A big thank you

The event brought together people from all backgrounds who made the project happen – stakeholders, learners, consortium partners – and we showed our ‘Thank You English My Way’ video. We also launched the final evaluation report, our ESOL literature review and our brand new ESOL handbook which you can download here.

I want to thank everyone who was involved in the project, including the guys from the Tinder Foundation team. Everyone worked so hard on it and made it all possible. The day wasn’t just a celebration, it really highlighted the ongoing need for ESOL support and funding, and programmes like English My Way for everyone in communities all over the UK, not just for Muslim women.

I really hope that Tinder Foundation can be part of that support.

We’re looking for a new Chair

There will be another time, much closer to Christmas, when I will again have the opportunity to publicly appreciate Jim Knight. If you see me in person around that time, there will probably be laughter, and smiles, and possibly tears. Jim is stepping down as our Chair at the Tinder Foundation AGM in early December after what will be five years in the role, and, when he does, I will miss his support, his challenge, his intellect, and his ‘just being there’. Jim is a really exceptional Chair and he always gets the balance right: of support and challenge, ideas and influencing. I will miss him enormously, as will the staff and the rest of the Board, and I’m delighted that he has agreed to stay on as one of our Patrons and to stay part of the Tinder Foundation family.

Helen and Jim

Me and Jim cutting Tinder Foundation’s third birthday cake back in 2014

Jim is the inaugural Chair of Tinder Foundation. I knew him as Schools Minister and then as Employment Minister when we dreamed up the idea of having a digital champion in every job centre (as there still are). Jim shares our commitment to making a difference for everyone through technology and helping people realise greater opportunities by being part of a digital world. Jim is a big fan of consensus, he is very strict about meetings finishing on time, he’s a great person, and he has been a terrific Chair. Thank you Jim, we will all miss you.

We’re now looking to replace Jim and to find a new Chair.

We’re not looking for a clone, rather someone best placed to guide us on the next stage of our development. Over the next few years we will continue to diversify: working with partners across Government, Corporates, local authorities, trusts and foundations, both within and beyond the UK. As ever at Tinder Foundation we’re ambitious about the impact we can have and our goal is to help another 2 million people to benefit through digital by 2020.

We’re looking for someone who is passionate about a world where everyone can benefit from digital, and who has relevant experience. We need someone who is good at chairing meetings, involving board members and SMT; we’re a mutual so we have staff on our board as well as some excellent and supportive people from a range of backgrounds and organisations.

If you’d like to know more, here’s the official ad. Closing date 19th May. If you’d like to talk to me about the role then I’d be more than happy to have a chat, or you can contact Tasneem Aboobaker, Recruitment Manager at WIG on 020 7222 1166.

Paving the way for a leading digital nation

Recently I attended a breakfast debate and the launch of a publication called ‘The UK: A leading digital nation’, a project between Matt Warman MP and Brands2Life – a digitally-led communications agency. The government are in the process of creating a digital strategy and in parallel to this, project experts were invited from technology, business and politics to put forward their thoughts on what they think will really help make the UK a leading digital nation. I was delighted to be one of those experts.

Helen quote

My quote in the publication. Image courtesy of Brands2Life ‘The UK: A leading digital nation?’

The publication looks at particular key areas:

  • Upskilling the nation with digital skills and to use new technology, with particular focus on young people and businesses.
  • The provision of 10Mbps broadband for everyone.
  • The digitisation of public services.
  • How the process of changing laws and decision-making creates a challenge for getting the regulatory environment right, when tech innovation changes the sector.

At the event Matt Warman MP said that ‘infrastructure and skills must go hand-in-hand’. He said ‘skills are not just about coding but about preparing for a digital working life’. I recently read a piece of research that found UK businesses aren’t doing enough to upskill their current workforce, instead choosing to hire younger staff for their digital output. On the other side of the spectrum, despite their tech-savvy reputation it was also found that one in three 18-34 year-olds are worried about being left behind at work because they lack digital skills.

If Britain wants to be a leading digital nation we have to put time, effort and money into upskilling everyone, so they can survive in our new technology-driven world. The government has a big part to play in that. As my quote says, they need to show sustained leadership to tackle the three key barriers to digital inclusion: motivation, skills and access.

At the event Anthony Walker, deputy CEO at TechUK, said that ‘digital should make the world a better place: fix finances and bring everyone together’ and I agree. We all need to work together to make sure that can happen. With more and more services moving online – especially public services – most people need even the most basic of digital skills to get by.

For basic digital skills, Learn My Way is a great resource for people looking to begin their learning journey and if they want to talk to someone face-to-face they can easily locate their local UK online centre by using the search on our website. Our community partners are more than happy to help. To date we’ve supported over a whopping 1.8 million people to get online through the network and by 2020 we want to have helped even more.

Have a read of the ‘The UK: A leading digital nation’ report here to see what you think, but I believe that if everyone in the UK – public and private sectors, government, and the population themselves – commit to making sure every single person in the UK has even just the basic digital skills, then that’s a start to making sure we can become a truly leading digital nation.