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ESOL reform

In our 2012-13 corporate plan we said that we would improve our regulation of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) qualifications in England and Northern Ireland.

The current ESOL regulations were put in place at different times between 2000 and 2008 by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), our predecessor body. Since these regulations were introduced, there have been changes in the way ESOL qualifications are both used and regulated. We have also found that ESOL qualifications are subject to a higher than usual incidence of malpractice.

In some cases ESOL qualifications are now being used to support immigration applications. The Home Office is responsible for UK border control and they set the rules that must be met by any non-UK citizen who applies for leave to enter or remain in the UK. Sometimes applicants must meet an ‘English language requirement’ by providing evidence they have gained an approved English Language qualification.

In the light of such changes, we have decided to review the current regulations to reflect the way ESOL qualifications are now used and to be compatible with our new General Conditions.

From 10th September to 3rd December 2012 we consulted on proposals to:

  • Introduce Conditions of Recognition for a new qualification called ESOL for Life in the UK, subject to tighter regulations than existing ESOL qualifications, that would allow students to demonstrate they can meet the Home Office’s English language requirements, subject to Home Office criteria also being met;
  • Publish Conditions for ESOL International qualifications, based on the existing ESOL International qualification criteria;
  • Withdraw the existing regulations for ESOL Skills for Life (SfL) and ESOL for Work qualifications. These qualifications would continue to be available to students, but regulated against our General Conditions of Regulation.

Ninety-five participants took part in consultation focus groups held in England and Northern Ireland and we also received 167 responses to our online consultation questionnaire. We have published our independent evaluation of the responses to the consultation, which can also be found on the ESOL consultation.

Based upon the responses received to the consultation, and discussions that we have held with the UK Border Agency (UKBA), the Home Office, the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland, we have decided that:

  • We will not introduce Conditions for a new qualification called ESOL for Life in the UK. Most of the consultation respondents felt that existing ESOL qualifications already provided appropriate qualifications for UK entry, settlement and citizenship. In April 2013 the Home Office announced that it would accept a range of qualifications – including Ofqual-regulated ESOL qualifications – as evidence of English language competence to meet the Home Office Knowledge of Language and Life (KoLL) requirement. Applicants for UK settlement and citizenship will also need to pass the Home Office’s Life in the UK Test, which is subject to stringent security arrangements. We consider that this will go some way to mitigating the current malpractice issues. Therefore there is no requirement to introduce a new ESOL qualification for the purposes that were outlined at the time of our consultation
  • We will introduce additional General Conditions of Recognition for ESOL International qualifications that will specify a consistent requirement for 100% external assessment and mapping to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). There was support from stakeholders for both of these conditions 
  • We will retain the additional regulation currently in place for ESOL Skills for Life (SfL). This regulation requires ESOL SfL qualifications to demonstrate a clear relationship to the Adult ESOL Core Curriculum published by BIS. The responses from the majority of stakeholders said that they wanted this relationship to continue. In February 2013, the Skills Funding Agency announced it would continue to support only ESOL qualifications that are based on the National Standards for Adult Literacy and the Adult ESOL Core Curriculum. Therefore we will retain this regulation in its current form
  • We will withdraw the additional regulations currently in place for ESOL for Work. These regulations are already covered by our General Conditions of Recognition and so this change removes duplication and streamlines regulation of this qualification

We will be updating the current criteria for ESOL Qualifications and General Conditions of Recognition to reflect the changes described above.

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