Thirteen years ago I celebrated my 18th birthday. I didn't celebrate it in May as I was preparing for my A-levels.  I had saved some money so in the summer I went to Crete with some friends from school. Each night we went out to the bars and clubs. Each day we recovered by the swimming pool. It was a typical summer break for someone who had just left high school in 1998.

Maybe that's why I am particularly affected by what's happening at my workplace.

A number of my students will be turning 18 this year.

I think it will be an enjoyable milestone for the Pole and the Latvian and their families.

The three Afghan boys are in a very different place.

Although they are supported by Social Services they are essentially alone here in the UK.

As these Afghans turn seventeen and a half they are prepared for "leaving care".

The Government plans to return 400 young Afghans to Kabul this year.

Deportations have begun because the Government deems Kabul to be safe, despite the two suicide bombs which have killed 17 people since the beginning of this year.     

The government is opening a reception centre for returnees where, supposedly, they will be given support.  I believe this was put out to tender for a three year contract in March 2010.  The centre will house 76 returnees (link). This does not fill me with confidence. 

It is well documented that the most extreme of the Taliban linked insurgency groups is stepping up its activity in Kabul.
            Spate of Kabul Suicide Bombs Blamed on Nearby Valley, The National, 17 February 2011
EXCERPT: "Two suicide bomb attacks in as many months on shoppers in Kabul, after a seven-month lull in serious violence in the city, have raised fears that insurgents are bolstering their strongholds on the outskirts of the capital.”

My students could be included in the 400 returned to Kabul this year. What can I do to stop this? What guidance and support is available? I'm not sure the college guidance and welfare team are experienced in supporting students in deportation cases.

I have decided to discuss my thoughts with my students and try and support them in setting up a support network for themselves and others who may be in similar positions. Giving this group a voice through media, the internet and direct actions may help.

Writing about it may help.

At a time of cuts in all sectors of society I doubt the plight of a few Afghan boys is of much concern to the general public.

A quick Google search, however, has produced this campaign - -  Young People Seeking Safety Week

Between 28 March - 3 April 2011, groups will be hosting events during a week of nation-wide awareness raising about this issue, YPSS Week 2011 will be showing films and art of young people made for the occasion. For more information visit the campaign website
I believe that these young people have suffered enough and that returning them to Afghanistan will endanger their lives.

I hope that supporting my students to find their voices will prevent what seems to be a dark and fearful destiny.

In Leeds, systems have been developed to quickly engage new arrivals, aged 16-18 and get them enrolled in  ESOL classes. A strong partnership, between Leeds Social Services and Leeds City College, has ensured that new arrivals are fast tracked into college. The systems were developed in response to a large number of migrant children missing enrolment due to their arrival date being after the start of an academic year. They then fell into the NEET category (Not in Employment, Education or Training). Good community links and a reputation for accommodating young people has created a dynamic solution to their needs. Please contact me if you would like to know more about my work.

Thanks for reading.


Mike Harrison

Thanks for this, Mike. Such an important read, and I do hope as many people read it, whether in ESOL or EFL or some other area of teaching.

I'm not aware of any particular students who I teach being in this situation, but given that there are a number of them from Afghanistan there must be some who are maybe facing this in the future. I am a little ashamed to say that I had little to no idea that this is on the cards for this government and these students.

Thank you for opening my eyes


On behalf of Mark from Croydon.

I'm an ESOL teacher in Croydon. I totally agree with what you've said based on my experiences here.

It seems the government has increased to an almost unreachable level the requirement to prove that one is in danger, which Afghani asylum seekers have to prove in court to be granted leave to reamain here, while at the same time now counting Kabul as safe, and using that as an argument for saying that those from other more dangerous areas can be sent back there specifically regardless.
This is certainly what happened to a young man I know, who has now gone awol rather than be deported.

I would be keen to hear about awareness-raising and other actions regarding this, and will have a look at the links you've mentioned.

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Is Functional Skills going to replace ESOL?

I've just been reading the latest publication from The Skills Funding Agency - Policies Summaries 2010/11

On page 32 I found this paragraph,

Functional Skills in English and Mathematics are new qualifications
(that fall within the Skills for Life suite of provision) that will replace Key
Skills in Application of Number and Communication from August 2010.
Functional Skills qualifications still have to be accredited onto to QCF
and this is unlikely to be until 2012, the Skills Funding Agency will
continue to fund them in the interim. BIS will take a decision in Spring
2010 as to whether the Functional Skills will replace the Certificates in
Adult Literacy and Numeracy. Functional Skills in English will not
replace the Certificate in ESOL Skills for Life. These SfL certificates are
also not accredited on to the QCF, however the Skills Funding Agency
will continue to fund them until a decision is made about their

It would seem that there are definitely plans to replace ESOL with Functional Skills once it is accredited to the QCF (2012)

You can also read an article on NATECLA's (National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages) website which gives Ministerial comments and more details on planned cuts.

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Dagestan, ESOL and UCAS points

He was 17 and from Dagestan, I had to look it up:

He was in the unusual situation of having a choice between attending school or college.
I say unusual for a number of reasons; Many young people who arrive into the UK 'unaccompanied' and about his age are:-
  • unable to access schools as they are age disputed or their age has not been assessed.
  • required to present documentation that shows them to be older than 16, on the 28th August of that academic year, if they want to gain access to FE
  • not arriving in July or August and therefore they are unable to enrol onto a course for the start of September.
  • potentially missing the opportunity to enrol and then waiting until January or even the next academic year before they can begin learning the language of the country they live in.
For these reasons meeting a young asylum seeker who was having to choose between continuing his education in school or attending college was unusual. He didn't want to go to school. He found it embarrassing being in the same class as his younger brother. He was turning down the dream that many young people I have worked with would have wanted. Full-time education in a Secondary School.

So what options are available to 16-18 year old young migrants? 

Full-time FE education is considered to be 16 hours or more. Considerably less than in a Secondary School. The opportunities are limited to ESOL, Maths, ICT and possibly a 'first-language' GCSE or A-level. There are opportunities for progression into vocational areas and for the very best students the ultimate goal of attending a university. This is the route that the young man from Dagestan took, as his English was not good enough to attend a 6th form college.

However, there are other routes that are starting to open up and these routes offer UCAS points!

I met some old students whilst walking home the other night. They are studying at a local 6th form college. They had been students on a summer programme and I had referred them on with a reference about their exceptional educational history as they were schooled in Portugal... The 6th form college accepted them and they are studying there full time. English, Mathematics, Computers, Art, Law...

I also spoke to a colleague regarding a student from East Africa - she had not been attending her Entry 3 ESOL classes - he explained that the student had sought out academic studies at a local 6th form college. She was doing Functional Skills English, GCSE's in Science and A'level mathematics.

So it seems that young people and their support workers are finding new avenues into educational opportunities that will fast track them into university places. I wish them the best of luck and I hope that they can achieve their full potential.

The faces of New Arrivals seem to be changing. Since the closing of the infamous 'Jungle' at Sangatte and the arrival of the UKBA in Calais the number of asylum seekers has dropped. (The number of applications for asylum, excluding dependants, was 29 per cent lower in Q2 2010 (4,365) compared with Q2 2009 (6,110).

The number of young people from Eastern European (Polish, Lithuanian, Slovakian, Czech, Russian, Serbian) seems to be on the increase in Leeds. These more educated, Westernised individuals are changing the face of some ESOL classrooms and challenging tutors to provide more differentiated materials and tasks that push their learners. Learners are also working their way from Entry Two to Level One in one academic year.

·     The Government has already confirmed a 6.2% increase in the total funding available for the education and training of 16-18 year olds across England in 2010/2011. ( So it looks like colleges are likely to continue working to accommodate these students. 

       Positive interventions such as 'holding classes' or 'summer programmes' that catch New Arrivals and engage them in learning have proved to be one way of ensuring that large numbers of 16-18 year olds are enrolling. I can probably count on one hand the number of students who will be choosing between school and college like that young man from Dagestan.

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Functional Skills vs ESOL?

I've recently received an e-mail regarding the introduction of Functional Skills. I went to Google and typed in
I followed this link

In this document the explanation is -

ESOL learners are to be included in the adult pilot (of Functional Skills) because we want to see whether, in principle, Functional Skills qualifications are suitable for their needs. Decisions on whether ESOL qualifications are to be replaced by Functional Skills will be taken in the light of QCA's report on ESOL qualifications and the impact on the Government's ESOL strategy, both subject to the evaluation of the adult pilot.
QCA will give advice on the suitability of the qualifications for adults by end March 2010 and subject to this advice we would expect Functional Skills qualifications to be delivered by adult learning providers from September 2012 at the latest."
I sit and wonder how this will affect an ESOL Tutor who works with 16-18 year olds in an inner-city FE college. 

Comment please...


  1. Is it possible that Functional Skills will actually improve the classroom practice for language learners? I don't know. Changing the assessment method will impact greatly on the teaching and learning environment; it might be that a portfolio measuring tool as a formative means of measuring language progress is better than a single summative test. Again, I don't know.


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