Too much, too quickly? Embedding English in the FE Sector

Embedding English is a hot topic, with a great deal of change and rapid implementation happening in some FE colleges. My feeling is that we need to tackle this area but it helps to really consider context and phase the changes in. For example, I see colleges introducing the following and making them visible in wall posters, guidance packs etc:

1. What the learner can expect from their teacher as regards embedding English

2. Expectations of teachers as regards standard marking practices, policies on correcting work etc

3. College-wide correction codes for marking written work

4. Lists of common problem words, for spelling or understanding.

I spent years helping an FE college embed essential skills and develop the awareness and buy in of staff to do this effectively with learners. We had a three-year overarching strategy because we knew it wasn’t a quick fix and involved winning hearts and building both confidence and competence of staff. We started work by linking a Skills for Life specialist to each curriculum team and helping them to design tailored training to tackle key issues with embedding English in that context. The specialists became a link, a resource, a port of call for that team and together they developed different aspects of the work across a two-year training period. Embedding English looked different in catering level one, from business studies level two to hairdressing at level three – the priorities were different, depending on the needs and issues with those learners on those programmes. Some needed more work on reading skills development; for others it was all about spelling and vocabulary building.

The danger with putting the policy and posters first is that they can lack meaning for staff and learners. In many contexts where I deliver training, teachers are honest about not knowing enough to deliver what is on the wall of their classroom. Some have told me they feel inadequate and not comfortable to ask for support in understanding HOW to use the standard marking code prescribed. Many have openly said that they want training on how to talk about language and analyse errors, so that they can work on accuracy more confidently with learners. It seems to me that this underpinning knowledge should come before all the paperwork and posters on display, if we want to engage and empower staff to move with us into this challenging arena.

So my tips would be:

1. Assess where your college is and work on embedding English in a phased way

2. Prioritise skills and knowledge building for staff as this will impact learners the most and this is the point of embedding English

3. Think about where to start with building staff confidence and competence – I note that work on developing vocabulary and reading skills seems to be a motivating and engaging place to start with many teachers. Grammar and spelling are a source of anxiety and inadequacy for some people so need handling with great sensitivity, creativity and thought within the training programme.

For further training on this topic, see link below

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