Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Action for ESOL

Hope you enjoyed yesterday's real-world pun.  Just in case you've never been to these electric paragraphs before, I used to teach English to speakers of other languages until a nasty combination of bad economic weather, political expediency, and managerial talent meant that some hundreds of ESOL learners and a dozen of their teachers at Hardacre Collage just aren't there any more. I checked yesterday.

The problem is the Government, isn't it? Libraries, ESOL classes, respite for carers, forests etc are all disappearing because the Con-Dems hate the idea of the state providing or protecting anything - and the economy has presented a good excuse for a bonfire. Well actually, you're right, but that's not the whole story. Before the General Election we were already teaching in an environment of audit fever. Caught between Ofsted, the funding bodies, and our own institutions' joyously disfunctional data-management systems, we were so busy making lesson plans that proved we were taking full account of individual learners via sufficient CPD in IT towards shared SMART objectives - we barely had time to get into class. If that was you, did you ever get the feeling that someone or something hated you? Who or what was it, and why are they still there, thriving in the darkness of the current ignorance? I'm almost embarrassed to say that the answer is - partly - a graph.

Let an x axis = progress, and let a y axis = time. Draw a straight line where they intersect, at any angle to y you may choose (45 degrees is dandy), for ever. This is now your model for everything. Assuming for a moment that your progress can be accurately measured, it must now not fall below this line. Otherwise you have failed. Looks like science, doesn't it? Welcome to the world of 'satisfactory is unsatisfactory', where only results above benchmark matter even if we're all in the stratosphere gasping for oxygen, and where everyone starts 'gaming the figures' (fiddling it). No-one learns like this and nothing grows like this, and apart from proper science, the only answer to this part of the problem is ridicule. A much more accurate diagram for learning and progress is the picture on the page at

The answer is also partly that English culture (yes I do), among many wonderful things, has also inadvertently bred a thing that dislikes you. It's because you are a liberal individual who thinks it is enriching all round and economically sensible to help people acquire the English they need. The thing is very old, it doesn't like foreigners, it doesn't believe in anything it can't kick down the street, let alone teachers, or ideas. It has the ear of Government, who are afraid of it.

The only way to defeat it is bright light as provided by reason, research, debate - and well-aimed ridicule. Follow the Action for ESOL campaign via Facebook and Twitter. And return soon to these electric paragraphs, where the curve is sometimes curly.
Prepared in an environment that cannot be guaranteed nut-free. May contain puns.


  1. Thank you for this wondeful post.

    The minds of the many on Twitter and Facebook are building quite a lot of momentum, with the signatures at 6780 at 22:20 on 2.2.2011 it seems that significant numbers are showing their support to ESOL (see petition here )

    Materials have been made to share with students and to help them write to MPs and Ministers. I imagine the fearful Government may at least be suffering from paper cuts.

    Small ripples can become waves.

    I've subscribed and am looking forward to the next post.

  2. Thanks MisterMike, you are most welcome, and gald to help make waves. Next one soon

  3. Smart writing, Alec. Love it. As for more waves, is the next soon, ami? (Sorry, weak I know, but I couldn’t resist it.)

    Funny how it doesn’t always feel right to be funny about serious issues – ESOL, redundancy... (Yup, been there too.)

    But humour, and yes indeed ridicule, when done well, can lift the spirit in times of gloom. Thank you! Looking forward to more curly curves.

  4. Thanks gordonwellsuist. Sorry to hear you've been there too - hope you're not there now. Back soon. All the best

  5. There now? No, bounced back to a better place, thanks (albeit in slowish motion). knows corner is the who round what next? Damn, where are the Hot Potatoes when you need them?