Catherine – my new job #6

I had a fascinating meeting with Mary at Refugee Action Leeds today. I had also been aware that they were involved in Assisted Voluntary Return but learning the detail of the project was really interesting. I think it’s a shame that so many people are sceptical about AVR as this is a great scheme that is suitable for many people. I realised this several years ago when I helped a woman who had actually never intended coming to the UK in the first place (she thought she was being taken to her capital city), was terribly homesick and who had reached the end of the legal process a long time previously.

At the end of the day I went to review a student whose teacher had left a little while ago and wanted a new one. It seemed after several knocks and a phone call that there was no one in, so I walked down the street feeling slightly confused only to have my call returned and find that they were in after all. I had been a little early and I think they had been eating their tea! The student had made great progress and was keen to be matched with another teacher. I then got talking to her husband, who it turned out would also really benefit from a teacher. So I assessed him as well (note to self – always carry spare assessment pack!). He was a much higher level so will need to be taught separately.

Catherine – my new job #5

I did my first match-up today, what a lovely and satisfying experience! This was part of a new idea started by Dave – matching male volunteers with a husband and wife. I met the volunteer outside and we had a quick chat, mainly about how tricky the flat was to find! We were warmly welcomed into the flat and spent a really nice 45 minutes chatting, drinking tea and getting to know each other a bit. As ever, neither student thought that their English was any good. However to me and the volunteer, an experienced ESOL teacher, they actually both have a lot of ability, just little confidence. Again, I was so inspired by a wonderful, committed EaH volunteer happy to travel from a different town and devote his free time to people in need.

Catherine – my new job #4

I’m settling in well as English at Home Manager and really enjoying it, especially getting to meet and speak to some of the amazing English at Home volunteers.

I come from a work background of ESOL teaching and public/voluntary sector administration and a volunteer background of project management, volunteer coordinating and campaigning so I’ll certainly be using all of my experience in this job.

I’ve been an ESOL teacher in Further Education in Leeds and Dewsbury for 10 years so have seen time and time again how beneficial language learning is to people in terms of confidence, ability to cope with everyday life, integration, access to further study and access to work or better work.

I am completely passionate about English language learning being available to all. I have seen first hand how changes in government policy regarding ESOL over the last decade have led to an increasing number of isolated and vulnerable learners being unable to access college provision, which has been utterly heartbreaking and only serves to highlight the importance of English at Home.

I am also passionate about the rights of asylum seekers and refugees and ensuring that public and media prejudice against them is dispelled. Several years of campaigning with Leeds No Borders and befriending numerous asylum seekers and new refugees gave me a deep understanding of the isolation, vulnerability, poverty, trauma, health problems, barriers and disempowerment that so many people experience.

I’m really looking forward to reviewing and developing English at Home over the coming months, to training a new group of volunteers and to meeting all of the tutors and students.


Catherine – my new job #2

I called LeedsCityCollege today to enquire about an EaH student’s application. It was quite illuminating! They have merged their ESOL application process across the whole college. This is a good thing and will save a lot of multiple applications and student confusion. However, this process seemed to be being managed by one (rather stressed) administrator. Also, there were 3000 applications in. This did not include students returning from last year. Some of these will be duplicates or people who no longer need ESOL, but this is still an enormous number.

No matter how much the government cuts ESOL, the need just increases every year. Sadly, my next thought was this – I wonder how many of these will come along to their initial interview and find out that they can’t afford the fees? This year ESOL is free for people on ‘active benefits’ (Job Seekers Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance) only. Firstly this definition is appalling, as if people on other benefits are doing nothing all day rather than looking after children and elderly relatives, struggling in poverty, suffering complex health problems etc. Secondly, yet again the amount of needy, vulnerable people turned away by college ESOL departments will increase this year.

Catherine – my new job #1

It was my first day at LASSN today, mostly shadowing Dave. Our second visit was to a student who has had 11 lessons so far. We reviewed her progress. I was astounded. In reading and writing particularly she had leapt ahead. From my college teaching perspective, this might have taken her 6 months or even a year in a class. To see so much progress in just 3 months was truly incredible. Her language and confidence have also increased so much now that she is able to manage most of her own affairs – calls to utility companies, conversations with her housing provider etc. – which had been done with the caseworker before. This has given her much more independence and saves a lot of time.