English language screening tool helps to address the gap in ESOL provision within prisons

A new screening tool is helping to increase the number of people in prisons and rehabilitation centres receiving crucial learning support.

Four prisons and two community organisations in England are using the tool which assesses the ESOL needs for people who have English as their second language. It helps people by ensuring they are given the right support.

Prison reading

The tool, developed by the Learning and Work Institute (L&W) in partnership with De Montfort University, Leicester, is available in all prisons in England to facilitate a consistent and robust approach to identify prisoners with an ESOL need when they first arrive.

One prison that has been using the tool has already seen its benefits, for both prisoners and staff. A spokesman for HMP Isle of Wight said: “Through the screening tool, we’ve been able to buddy [individuals identified as having an ESOL need] up, mentor them, and make sure that they receive help much sooner than they would have ordinarily… this ‘diagnostic’ will save a lot of time and wasted effort, as so many potential ESOL learners slip through the net in the early stages of arriving in prison.”

Alongside the screening tool, a range of teaching and learning resources help support teaching staff to create meaningful and relevant content for their learners. The resources, inspired and shaped by L&W’s Citizens’ Curriculum initiative, are part of the Improving Language, Improving Lives project which was a finalist in the ELTons award for Innovation in English Language Teaching in June this year.

Ross Little from De Montfort University’s Criminology and Criminal Justice programme said:  “It was great to be a part of an innovative and forward thinking programme focused on making a positive difference for ESOL work in prisons, often a hidden issue in the justice system. The language screening tool helps in two key ways: it helps staff working in prison identify language needs more easily and more quickly and also helps provide an evidence base for the future about the learning provision needed in prisons.”

Practitioners who have used the resources said that the participatory approach which values learners’ existing knowledge and experience helped learners to become more engaged in lessons and grow in confidence. They also found the resources accessible and easy to use.

One ESOL tutor said: “I have found the learning resources in the Citizens’ Curriculum to be very helpful. The learners enjoy the lessons and have responded well to the activities. It has been a very useful project and one that will help the learners flourish and cope better with the difficult environment in which they find themselves.”

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The Bell Foundation commissioned the assessment tool.  National data shows that 45.8% of adults within prisons have literacy skills at level 1 or 2, compared to 85% of adults in the general population.

Alex Stevenson, head of English, maths and ESOL at Learning and Work Institute said:  “The acute need for ESOL teaching and learning resources in the secure estates was identified during the first stages of the project.

"We used the Citizens’ Curriculum – a locally-led, innovative and holistic model of learning which taps into what really engages and motivates learners to learn, by putting their active participation in shaping the content at the centre – to inspire the development of the resources.

"Through this project and wider work, it is clear that the approach has a real impact on learners’ motivation, social and civic engagement and self-efficacy.

“It is fantastic to see how well-received and valued the resources have been by practitioners and stakeholders in the sector – demonstrating that the need for high quality, engaging resources for ESOL learners in prisons has been met.”

Posted on Wednesday 11th September 2019

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