For any learner, choosing the most appropriate qualification pathway can be complex, depending on their experience, level, interests and aspirations. For learners for whom English is a second or even third or fourth language, there are further considerations.

There is an abundance of qualifications for English including GCSE, the new Functional Skills English and of course ESOL qualifications. However, only ESOL qualifications have been developed specifically to meet the needs of non-native speakers, and at Gateway Qualifications, we offer the flexibility required to meet learners’ needs alongside robust assessment. This makes ESOL qualifications the most appropriate route for the vast majority of learners, for whom English is not their first language.

Qualifications designed for learners of English as a new language

Only ESOL qualifications recognise that learners are from a wide spectrum of backgrounds, education and cultures with different starting points in different skills.  Other English qualifications are designed for speakers of English and will therefore make certain cultural and linguistic assumptions.

Will your ESOL learners understand ‘Give it a go!’ rather than ‘Try it!’  Will not knowing enough about the education system in the UK be a barrier to their understanding of what they read or hear?

The contexts for assessment for ESOL qualifications acknowledge that learning for the target users often takes place in a variety of settings and that their first goal is often to be able to operate in English in the UK, carrying out everyday activities and getting to grips with a new culture. Assessment tasks reflect these priorities and are therefore based on life skills and everyday situations.

Choosing the right skills at the right level right to meet learners’ needs

Unlike Functional Skills or GCSE English qualifications, ESOL qualifications are offered separately for Reading, Writing and Speaking and Listening. This approach offers the flexibility for learners to work at different levels in the individual skills and to have their achievements recognised at the appropriate level.

For example, a learner may be at a much higher level in speaking than in writing. They may also choose to focus on one skill to reflect their particular needs and aspirations. This flexibility allows tutors to focus their language teaching appropriately, based on a clear understanding of learners’ progress, strengths and areas for development.  It also means that the qualifications do not place any limits on achievement.

An assessment approach to suit ESOL learners

There is much more flexibility about when and how ESOL assessments can be taken.  This is very helpful, given that ESOL classes tend to be of varying lengths and can take place in different settings at different times of day.

Entry level tasks and level 1 and 2 speaking and listening tasks may be taken on different occasions to fit in with a centre’s delivery pattern and teaching schedule. Other qualifications may require fixed times and specific assessment sessions.

Contextualising tasks for different learner backgrounds, experience and needs

At Gateway Qualifications, all ESOL entry level assessments and speaking and listening tasks at levels 1 and 2 may be contextualised to meet the needs of different learner groups. For example, a task could be amended to make the context more vocational or employment-based or to better suit the learners’ age and experience.

For learners’ productive language in speaking and writing, where often they are talking about themselves and their experience, it can be beneficial to allow learners to be able to relate what they say or write to their own context. Changing the context of a task does not mean changing the level of language but a more familiar context or topic can support learners’ access to tasks, improve confidence and give them the chance to show what they are capable of.

Support for ESOL learners

ESOL learners are often highly motivated to improve their English skills as rapidly as possible and prepared to put in extra work outside of formal sessions to do this.

At Gateway Qualifications we offer support for learners through our independent learning resource targeted at different levels from entry 1 to level 2 – ‘Activities to do on your own’.

These resources offer focused speaking, listening, viewing, research and writing activities that learners can tailor to their own interests and everyday life providing valuable practice to support their learning, progress and assessment.

Support for ESOL tutors

ESOL tutors can access the Gateway Qualifications teaching and learning support resources which have been developed to match the contexts for teaching in the specification.

The guidance includes general language skill development and ways of using the specimen papers in preparation for assessment as well as teaching and learning activities grouped under different contexts. Activities can be adapted to meet the needs of learners working at different levels including in a mixed ability context. Tutors can develop a coherent unit of work by linking the different English skills and also, where appropriate, incorporate numeracy skills and employability skills, such as team work.

Guidance on contextualisation is also available. It shows how assessment tasks can be adapted to make them more appropriate for different learners, without altering the basic requirements of the task or level of demand.

And finally…

Gateway Qualification’s ESOL qualifications offer on-demand assessments with real-life tasks that learners can relate to at every level and ensure learners are better placed to achieve their goals and progress to higher level qualifications and employment.

They are an acceptable alternative to Functional Skills as an entry requirement or by employers, offering the same set of skills with assessment matched to learners’ needs and circumstances.

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