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Steven Herron’s design narrative: ESOL for Employability.

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Steven Herron
4 April 2014

Title ESOL for Employability


In 2005 I worked as a self-employed teacher, course designer and materials developer for a project based in the north-east of England to help get asylum seekers into employment in the UK and put them on their first step to working towards a study / career plan.


The situation was that there was EU grants given for asylum seekers who were close to a status change and eligibility for work in the UK to provide some pre-work English language and UK employment preparation (involving the culture of the UK workplace and socialising within teams, etc.).  The technology side of this was basic functionality of computer packages such as Microsoft, use of email (and email etiquette) and basic web search functionality. Socially and emotionally the learners had gone and were still going through many turbulent and traumatic times with family located back home and uncertainty over their status and future.  The project operated out of one office where the training room consisted of one long table and a bank of 4-5 computers.  The range of language abilities and computer skills varied enormously in each group of students, yet they would often form strong bonds and try to help each other learn.


I tried to build a programme of learning that offered ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) at a number of ability levels (not easy with such wide ability levels) and offer access to things like job searching, completing application forms, typing and organising CVs, interview skills, keeping a log of courses and jobs applied for.  The programme lasted 8 weeks with a support week either side.  Learners would also come and go as they had counselling, formal appointments, case study workers help with job search and interviews.  Therefore the programme needed to be flexible and yet also show a step-up approach to each week’s learning.

The measure of success was someone completing the programme and applying the skills to get them into a work placement or ideally a job. It must be noted that this was not just be doing the course in isolation because there was a case worker trying to arrange meetings, placements and opportunities in conjunction with their progress on the programme.


Difficult to remember exactly but something like this:

  • ·         Diagnostic of current course materials to identify SWOT
  • ·         Working with the other members of the team to determine suitable Los
  • ·         Initial discussion with current and former learners to identify what they would put into the redesigned programme and what they feel that they would have benefitted from
  • ·         Work with the accreditation body to determine routes to accreditation that would be suitable for the course
  • ·         Build materials and test them at regular intervals feeding back into the material design with different level abilities of learners in terms of language and computer skills
  • ·         Work with some of the potential employers to identify key skills and areas they required (although this did vary enormously during a calendar year)
  • ·         Provide differentiated materials to try and cover a range of possibilities
  • ·         Design formative assessment and feedback mechanisms
  • ·         Design self-study materials hosted on a website for learners to either follow a very structured path or to dip in and out as per their needs and required outcomes (both tangible like a CV and Los)
  • ·         Run a small cohort pilot and obtain regular feedback
  • ·         Restructure parts of the material as required and thus move back in an active-course design cycle from this point onwards



I feel that by having consultation right the way through the design process, it is more likely that you will produce a course that is suitable for the target group.  It met most of the outcomes, but the challenge really is to meet the needs of such a diverse group of learners put together in a classroom not because of ability but more because of who we could obtain funding for (groups of between 8-12 learners in any given course run time).  I am not able to provide evidence of the course as it, and the project, has undergone enormous change sinse I worked on it.  Also, none of the materials are openly available and I feel it is unsuitable, given the funding application and criteria involved, to show materials outside of the stakeholder group so I find this inappropriate in this case.


I have worked in education for a number of years and this was the first time where I did not have a team of educators around me and I was solely responsible for the design and implementation of the learning programmes.  In this sense I learnt plenty and across a number of areas.  I feel that it is important to consider the context and learners for any learning course design – but this is really obvious and if this is not brought into consideration then ther course is being built for the course creator and not necessarily the participants.  Statements like’ I think this is what they need…’ rather than ‘this is what they have told me that they would like / need..’ and then respond to this or use this as a starting point.

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