New government proposals put English language at heart of community integration

Yesterday, the long-awaited Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper was launched by Secretary of State Sajid Javid. While not yet a firm set of policy proposals – the Government has launched the Strategy as a consultation – the direction of travel is encouraging.

At a time when political parties are divided on a large number of issues, it seems that one area they agree on is that funding English language learning for speakers of other languages – or ESOL, as it’s commonly known – is an important part of creating stronger local communities.

How much funding, at what level, and which department is responsible have been less easy to agree. While higher-level ESOL is funded by the Department for Education, very basic levels of English language learning for certain groups and in certain areas have, for the last four years, been funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) under a community integration umbrella.

The new Integration Strategy aims to provide greater cross-government clarity and direction by proposing a new national strategy for English language, which will include coordination of:

  • A new community-based English language programme, building on the existing one and delivered through an easily accessible network of ‘community hubs’
  • Support for improved English language in five Integration Areas: Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, Peterborough, Walsall, and Waltham Forest
  • Funding for Councils outside these five areas who want to improve levels of English language as a means to better integration
  • A new network of ‘conversation clubs’, largely run by volunteers.

This is welcome news to Good Things Foundation, as we’ve been funded under the current MHCLG English language programme to deliver the highly successful English My Way. The programme has had powerful impacts; over 20,000 non-English speakers have improved their English language skills, reducing isolation and connecting with their communities. With an eye on the programme’s future, we have been eagerly awaiting the publication of the Government’s Integration Strategy since the Casey Review was published in 2016.

Last week, we held a celebration of our English My Way programme, with 80 local Online Centres holding community events to recognise and reward their learners’ success and to inspire other local people to benefit from the programme. I visited Zest for Work in Sheffield, a real community hub, and over 50 women came together to celebrate the success of the English My Way programme. The people I met there – who were mainly migrant women – have often felt lonely and isolated until coming to the centre.

Visit to Zest

Government policy can often seem intangible, but stories from the learners we’ve supported through English My Way show why ESOL for community integration is so important.

Nageswary, 60, moved to Rugby from Sri Lanka, and was lonely and financially struggling after the death of her husband. Her son works full-time in a warehouse, supporting them both, but they just weren’t making enough money to pay the bills.

With help from her local Online Centre, Benn Partnership, she was encouraged to start on the English My Way programme. She didn’t speak any English at all, so the centre made sure the learning had the right focus for her, and that she could get help for her particular needs.

“We learnt about jobs,” says Nageswary. “We learnt about speaking to other people. We learnt about asking questions in the library and other places. I liked learning about jobs because that’s what I was there to learn.”

Both the atmosphere and course content were ideal for Nageswary: “I like going to the centre. It’s very friendly. I find English My Way very good. It’s easy for me to use.” Thanks to the English language skills she’s gained, she now feels more connected to her community and has found work as a school cleaner, which has both increased her income and helped her make new friends.

Whatever political and ideological viewpoint you come from – and funding to support migrants is a polemical issue – it is hard to argue that low-cost support which takes people off statutory funding, into work, and into contact with others in their community is a bad thing.

How much funding will be ring-fenced to support better English language provision is not yet clear, but we are fully supportive of the plans proposed, particularly around informal learning which we know works so well in local communities, bringing added benefits of reducing social isolation and loneliness. If properly funded, the plans will ensure that people like Nageswary can play a full and active role in achieving their full potential, benefiting not just themselves but their whole communities.

We encourage Online Centres involved in delivering ESOL, including through English My Way, to get involved in the consultation and to ensure your voices, and those of your learners, are heard.

Building communities and changing lives

Yesterday was International Women’s Day and the halfway point of our English My Way celebration campaign – Say Hip Hip Hooray for English My Way. I visited Zest for Work, an Online Centre and English My Way delivery partner based in Sheffield, with my colleague Sarah, and I was blown away by all of the amazing women there and all of their achievements.

Zest for Work is a wonderful community hub in the Upperthorpe area. Not only do they teach English to speakers of other languages, they also have a gym and swimming pool, a library, a pay-as-you-feel cafe, and they teach employability skills. They have a truly holistic approach to supporting the people in their area and I loved seeing their work firsthand.

The party was organised by the tutors and volunteers, including Sharen Mathers, someone who was once unemployed following health issues. She did an ‘into work’ course at Zest, went on to volunteer at the English My Way classes and is now working at Zest, teaching English, leading on projects and inspiring the learners there. A real example of how Online Centres change people’s lives.


FullSizeRender (1)

Me with a small number from the group. Sharen is fourth from the right. 


The party was brilliant with more than 50 women there. There were balloons, decorations, and foods from all over the world – and the learners were from all over the world too! I was delighted to see so many people from different backgrounds and cultures coming together to celebrate their achievements. All of the women that were there were from three different cohorts at the centre. It really demonstrated the community cohesion and progression angles of the programme because some of the learners from the first cohort are now volunteers.


Me with one of the English My Way tutors. We wrote down some of the different countries that the women from the English My Way party are from.

I met a lady who first came to the classes and wasn’t able to speak any English. She’s improved her skills so much that she’s now at college and studying to further her education and get a job. She should be so proud of all the amazing progress she’s made.


Me with one of the many inspiring learners.


The learners progressed to an art class and made a tapestry.


Me and Zest for Work centre manager Lynsey and one of the volunteers enjoying the party.

I’ve talked a lot about progression and friendship here but seeing people come to classes, feeling nervous and uncertain, then blossoming and really coming into their own is what English My Way is all about. They make friends, they become less isolated, they improve their lives and they learn a very important new skill along the way.

English My Way isn’t just about teaching people English. It’s about building communities and changing lives.