Major regional grant awarded to transform digital English skills (ESOL) for BAME community

With students across the region unable to attend college education during the COVID-19 pandemic, those on English (ESOL) courses have been amongst the most disadvantaged.  Remote learning for these students has been particularly challenging and long periods of isolation have caused many to fall far behind.  To help recover learning and improve digital ESOL provision across the region, West Midlands Combined Authority has awarded a £200k grant to a joint ESOL project bid by FlashAcademy and South & City College.

The West Midlands has a growing population of individuals whose first language isn’t English, and one of the highest rates outside of London, of individuals reporting that they cannot speak English well or at all.  The Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted the current lack of digital resources for BAME background learners. This challenge represents a threat to the economic prospects of the region, with evidence showing that £3 of social value is created for every £1 invested in ESOL education (Demos, 2011).

Dr. Julie Nugent, Director of Productivity and Skills at the West Midlands Combined Authority, commented: “Not being able to speak English is a key barrier to employment across the region and this project represents an exciting opportunity to see how one of our region’s leading colleges and tech companies can innovate to help transform digital English provision – providing new opportunities for our community.”  

The grant will be used to develop an exemplar digital ESOL provision that students are able to benefit from whether in class or learning remotely.  Students will be able to access digital ESOL on a smartphone, tablet, or PC and from over 30 different home languages, helping to accelerate their progress and catch-up on lost learning.  The new state-of-the-art technology will combine remote access to live college ESOL lessons and resources, together with digital lessons and games that students can complete anytime, anywhere.

This project will create an exemplar for the region and train a cohort of ‘200 digital ESOL champions’ to encourage accelerated regional transformation for innovative new approaches to digital ESOL provision – creating far more inclusive and equitable learning opportunities for the BAME community.

South & City College is one of the largest ESOL providers in the UK, supporting over 4,000 ESOL students each year.  Discussing the new project, Greg Dugdale (Deputy Faculty Head) commented: “We’ve seen the challenges for ESOL learners first hand during the pandemic and we’re fully committed to innovating a digital future that provides an easier and more effective way for ESOL learners to keep progressing both in the college classroom and remotely. ”

FlashAcademy were selected as technical partners for the project based on their already award-winning technology assisting hundreds of schools across the UK with their EAL challenge.  Veejay Lingiah (CEO) of FlashAcademy commented: “We’re excited to be taking our work with schools across the country into the college sector, helping adult students with more engaging ways to accelerate their English acquisition and working with ESOL providers across the region.”