Learning English is important
Huddersfield researcher outlines ‘must-follow’ advice for government language fund
The creation of a £20 million fund, to teach English language skills to Muslim women so that they can enter the world of work, was met by controversy in January when then Prime Minister David Cameron made the announcement.
However, this week a University of Huddersfield researcher has argued that the policy could in fact be a ‘positive development’ provided that lessons are learned from two major research projects he helped spearhead in the past.
Dr Royce Turner has published a new article in response to the language fund proposal, which was set up in the following the publication of statistics showing 190,000 Muslim women had little or no English and alleged that gender segregation could lead towards radicalisation and extremism.
This was followed by Opposition claims that he risked ‘doing more harm than good’.
The aim of Dr Turner’s article is to alert politicians and policymakers to projects in which he was closely involved almost a decade ago when he headed a social research organisation named the Policy Evaluation Group, based in Sheffield.
One was a scheme carried out in 2007 on behalf of the Learning and Skills Council. It took place in areas of West Yorkshire and was one of the largest ever in-depth surveys of Muslim women’s attitudes towards work and their views on life in Britain.
The other was a highly successful 2005/6 Jobcentre Plus initiative in Sheffield that targeted ethnic minority women – mostly Muslim – who faced numerous barriers that kept them out of paid work, including poor English plus objections from family, friend and the community.
Writing alongside researcher Dr Andrea Wigfield, of the University of Sheffield, the duo explained how the government must provide an intelligent strategy to make the £20million fund work.
“You can’t expect women who may have spent decades without any engagement to suddenly start volunteering to sign up,” they wrote.
“You have to go and find them; let them know what is going on, where.”
The duo also wrote, following previous research, that it is important to maintain attendance, again with a pro-active approach, and the language sessions need to be close to home, in ‘non-threatening’ places such as community group venues, ‘to ensure that participants, who often lack confidence, feel comfortable and, through this, to maximise attendance’.
“The Jobcentre Plus project also recognised the importance of a tailored, individualised approach to helping women,” they added.
“When people are at such a distance from employment, or in the case of the government’s new initiative, at such a distance from fluency in English and social engagement, they cannot be herded as one towards a learning destination.”
In their article the authors conclude that: “The opportunity then, is available to deliver a non-contentious and, potentially, hugely rewarding educational intervention to teach women English… providing it is done in the right way.
“If it is not, the very least of the discontent that might ensue is a poor return on £20 million of taxpayers’ money.”