ESOL Voices from Scotland

Critical perspectives from Scottish ESOL Practitioners at the IATEFL Conference 2019 in Liverpool

Scottish ESOL had a remarkable presence at the ESOL Showcase Day at the annual  IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) Conference. Delegates had the opportunity to get a taste of where Scotland is heading in terms of curriculum development.

The Showcase Day started off with Jennifer MacDougall and Francesca Stella from Glasgow University delivering an exciting workshop on a newly developed resource raising awareness of equality and LGBT issues. The session on “Exploring equality, diversity and LGBT Lives: a classroom resource” provided participants with an overview of a research project that explored the experiences of LGBT ESOL learners in Scotland, which led to the development of teaching materials that can assist practitioners in creating a truly inclusive classroom.

The materials place a heavy emphasis on familiarising learners with all aspects of diversity and equalities and enable ESOL practitioners to engage their learners in meaningful dialogues about the diverse backgrounds that ESOL learners and their wider community might come from.

The design of the resource allows practitioners to adapt the materials to the varied needs of their learners and to tap into the themes of ‘identity’, ‘belonging’, ‘migrant equality’, ‘discrimination’ and ‘home’ – something that all ESOL learners can relate to.

Dr Steve Brown’s inspiring session “Critical pedagogy and teacher resistance: an exploration” also encouraged participants to reflect on their roles as practitioners calling for a more emancipatory approach to ESOL teaching. Steve observes that the impact that traditional teaching materials have on how ESOL learners perceive themselves and their own position in society should not be overlooked, warning that our choice of what to teach can become a vehicle for solidifying existing prejudices and encouraging compliance and acceptance of the hierarchy that ESOL learners are placed in.

By deconstructing and re-examining what themes, projects and topics we deem suitable and beneficial for our learners we can create a learning environment where students develop critical thinking and become active participants and instruments of change rather than needy recipients – a true reflection of the aims of Scotland’s ESOL Strategy.

Scotland’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion was further exemplified by Emily Bryson’s well-received workshop “Creating Accessible Materials” at the ESOL PCE Day. Emily’s session highlighted the need for practitioners to rethink their approach when creating learning materials that are accessible to students with a range of specific learning needs, as the choice of fonts and colours used in learning resources have a significant impact on learner engagement. A more critical approach to materials selection enables teachers to be inclusive to all protected characteristics in the ESOL classroom.





Article: ‘What a difference a day makes’; Being a Volunteer Tutor at SRUC

Here is a cracking story about a Volunteer’s experience of starting out in ESOL – enjoy!


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The song goes ‘What a difference a day makes.’ In my case, it was a couple of days before emailing and finally meeting Pauline Blake-Johnston (ESOL Co-ordinator for SRUC).

Here I was, working part time with my local pharmacy with a strong desire to do something different in my life. Then I came across the advert for a volunteer tutor at SRUC and I thought, ‘Jings, this is it!’

For me, it all started in January 2017 when I had an epiphany to do something different with my life, so I embarked on a 120 hour TEFL course, which I passed on 1st May 2017. After spending three months studying grammar, which totally flew over my head at the time, I thought the world was my oyster and I took off to Menorca in Spain, with high hopes of teaching English as a foreign language, renting an apartment and enjoying the sunshine.

One month later, I found myself back in Fife dejected and upset and feeling all my hard work was for nothing. I never used any of the TEFL stuff for the next year.

Fast forward 12 months and I came across the volunteer tutor advert at Elmwood. Perfect!! I emailed the contact and told her I had a TEFL qualification but not TESOL. After a few emails back and forth Pauline and I agreed to meet. I instantly clicked with her personality and, to my surprise, Pauline agreed to give me a trial as a classroom assistant, with a view to leading up to a TESOL qualification (basically, if I was any good). Pauline was amazing, both in her support and enthusiasm and at the end of three months she was confident enough in my ability to allow me to take on a beginner class for an hour a week on my own. In addition, she encouraged me to do the PDA TESOL training. I am now half way through this and considering further CELTA training should I pass.

At the end of the college year in June, Pauline expressed an interest in continuing with a class throughout the summer and I put my name forward with another tutor to support this, as I wanted to enhance my experience and confidence. After the first week, my partner volunteer tutor fell ill and I found myself in the position of having to run classes on my own, under Pauline’s guidance.

Despite my nervousness, and never having taught before, she gave me the courage to bring forward my own programme and supported me in terms of ideas and resources. The upshot was that I took on the classes, with the support of Pauline and other volunteers, and the Summer Programme ended up being a great success.

It gave the students the opportunity to continue with an English class once per week during the summer recess. Pauline encouraged students to bring their children along and, whilst I dealt with the adults, Pauline gave up her own time to take the children and teach them. She brought in many games and arts and crafts which the children enjoyed immensely.

It was a challenging experience as we had various degrees of learners. Some had been in Scotland for a number of years and others were refugees and had only been here a short time. Cultural and linguistic understanding was diverse and had to be overcome. Despite that, we ran a very successful programme and the students were grateful for the opportunity to continue lessons throughout the summer.

Lessons were based on a variety of topics. For example, we held clothes lesson, when we had a ‘cat walk’ with students describing clothes and, at the end of term, we held a Murder Mystery ‘Cluedo’ type lesson where the students were involved in role play and dressed in character. Pauline even volunteered to be the Policeman😂😂👮‍♀️

Pauline had always been keen to set up an evening class but had found it difficult to obtain premises. After some searching she secured a room at the local Parish Church Hall and weekly evening classes commenced on 10 September from 7pm to 8.30pm. I agreed to run these on a 3 month trial basis with Pauline.

The response was amazing. We now have 11 students registered with us and most weeks nine of them attend. The students welcome the chance to come in the evening as many of them work difficult shifts during the day and cannot always attend Pauline’s daytime classes.

On the first evening class, Pauline accompanied me but I have since been taking these on my own and I am loving the opportunity to build my confidence and engage with the students on a more personal level. The evening class is called ‘Wee Chat ‘ and, although, it’s more informal, sessions are still structured around improving vocabulary or grammar. We have a beautiful venue and the students feel comfortable. They mix well with each other which makes it so much easier to host.

I have absolutely enjoyed the opportunity that Pauline has given me and would encourage any other prospective volunteers to do the same. I had never taught before in any capacity but volunteering is such a wonderful way to tap into yourself and your own strengths. I would encourage anyone with any desires to broaden themselves to take this up. Who knows where it might lead??? Just look at me? Never in a million years did I think I would be teaching a class on my own after 4 months. Pauline has inspired and given me the confidence to do that.



My name is Audrey Milne and I live in Fife.

I’m currently a Volunteer ESOL Tutor for SRUC, based in Cupar, and just completing my PDA iTESOL with them.

I began working with the RBS in 1978 and stayed with them until 2001. After that I’ve had a variety of jobs, most of them in an admin role.

I first became interested in teaching as a career change in 2017, I undertook an TEFL 120hour course, but never used the knowledge in any kind of teaching role.

In 2018 I found out about volunteering at SRUC Elmwood Campus. Pauline interviewed me and invited me to try out being a classroom assistant. By the summer I was running my own classes with advice and resource in pout from Pauline. In September this year, we set up an evening class, which we now hold on a weekly basis.


Scottish Representation at the NATECLA National Conference 2018

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We were delighted that not only a Scottish Practitioner, but NATECLA Scotland’s very own Orsi Dunn was invited to speak at this years NATECLA National Conference.

Here are Osri’s thoughts on her time there:

Susan Wilson (South Ayrshire Adult Learning Team) and Orsi Dunn (Ayrshire College) had a fantastic two days attending the annual NATECLA conference in July in Birmingham.

They ran a workshop sharing best practice in delivering and accrediting ESOL literacies in a Scottish context and received a very warm welcome from practitioners around the UK.

Scotland’s SQA ESOL Literacies units and the projects that can be built around them generated a lot of interest and a great number of engaging conversations at the conference, nearly as much as Susan and Orsi’s singing at the conference highlight, the annual Friday Night Ruth Hayman Trust Quiz!

Massive well done to Orsi and Susan 🙂 it would be fantastic to get more Scottish voices at next years….who’s up for it?




Article from Ayrshire College – An evening in the life of an ESOL student


We’re delighted to share this article from the Ayrshire College Blog with you, enjoy reading it 🙂

An evening in the life of an ESOL student

Claire Todd, who is on a work experience placement with our Marketing team, has been spending time visiting students around the College.

Recently she met with Orsi Dunn, ESOL lecturer, and her students. ESOL is a course designed for people whose first language is not English, and who wish to develop their skills through writing, listening, reading and speaking.

Here is how she got on.

The ESOL course aims to help students understand information, to use their knowledge of language in practical and relevant work areas, and to gain confidence to begin new, challenging tasks.

As well as this, each student interviewed agreed that they have met a great group of people. Just look how cheery they are!

pic 1(In order-left-right) Pilar Santos, Marlena Szere, Orsi Dunn (lecturer), Hamidullah Sultani, Claudia d Lpince and Rahmatullah Mohammad Juma.

First I interviewed Pilar Santos, who had me keen to learn more about her from her answers to my very first question: ‘What made you decide to study this course?’

Pilar tells me that she experienced a horrific traffic accident before joining this course, and that she contacted Orsi to get enrolled: “I had a brain injury at level 3 and was in a coma for 5 days, in hospital for 5 weeks, and off work for a further 7 months.”

This is a very rare condition with only a 1% survival rate. Her doctors told her that she was a miracle.

Pilar now wants to improve her communication skills which is necessary for her current job with Food Standards Scotland. When she completes this course, she plans to sit an IELTS (International English Language Testing System), where a high score of at least 7 is essential for her to progress in her career.

When I ask what her biggest worry of the course is, she replies:

“I was worried that my brain would not work in the same ways it used to and that I would struggle to learn. Repetition helps me to learn and I am amazed at how easy I found this.”

What she enjoys most about this course is the chance to disconnect from her work with learning. She gets along great with the other students and says it’s nice that they can all share their experiences together.

She tells me that she struggles with the speaking element of the course: “Orsi tells me that I speak too fast and need to work on that. My writing skills for emails have definitely improved. My manager at work actually promoted me for my writing skills!”

The main thing she wants to continue to get better at is her communication skills to prepare her for the real life situations.

Finally, I ask what she would say to people who are thinking of applying for this course: “I’d tell them not to worry, as you are surrounded with similar students and this makes the thought of starting a new class much less daunting.”

She also comments that the course is an affordable price, that it is very manageable, and that the times are convenient as it is an evening class.

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Next I speak with Rahmatullah Mohamma Juma.

Rahmatullah tells me that he chose this course to improve his English and that he actually studied a similar course in his home country of Afghanistan three years ago. He says he likes the idea of the class environment and decided to enrol on this specific course.

Rahmatullah has a wife and two kids and plans to improve his English skills as he feels this will help him to provide for his family.

When asked what he enjoys about the course he tells me: “I enjoy learning about other students’ experiences from their own countries and learning about different cultures.”

What he struggles with is writing, in particular punctuation when writing emails, however this course has certainly helped him to improve his skills.

I ask what his plans are for when this course is completed: “I plan to continue my studies at Ayrshire College in a different area. I currently work at Newton Security Doors Ltd and I am considering studying Mechanical Engineering to help me progress in my career.”

Lastly, he tells me that his wife is intending to study this same course : “My wife has completed level 4 and is completing level 5 at the moment before progressing to level 6. We have also encouraged our friends to enrol on this course to improve their English. I feel that the skills they would learn would be very beneficial to their families.”

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The third student I interview is called Abduhlrahman Ali, who is Kurrdish from Syria. He has been studying English for a long time, since high school. He feels that he pays more attention to this class and that it will help him to find employment as well as further study in the future. His main goal for this course was to improve his writing skills.

When asked what he enjoys about this course he tells me: “I like the atmosphere in the ESOL class with other international students. I like that we are obliged to speak English to each other as well as learning about their different cultures. It’s a great way to meet new people.”

He has already bettered his written English but he will continue to improve until he is satisfied himself. He says: “My lecturer is great at helping me with my writing skills. I concentrated mainly on improving these compared to listening, reading and speaking. I receive a lot of homework and Orsi’s marking helps me to improve. All of the homework and assessments are very beneficial.”

The writing aspect is what he struggles with the most, particularly the punctuation. He tells me: “Learning English compared to Arabic is extremely different as Arabic generally uses very long sentences, whereas English does not always. This is difficult to adjust to. Orsi has helped me to improve my skills and I am feeling confident and optimistic for my upcoming assessments.”

Adduhlrahman has no specific plans for this summer and he has only been in Scotland for four months. However, he plans to continue his studies and find a job in something he is genuinely interested in and finds exciting.

When this course is completed, he plans to enrol on a Health and Safety course. He feels this course has been very beneficial and has supported him.

If he had to encourage people to apply to this course he would tell them: “It’s a great opportunity and it’s good to have a lecturer to mark your assessments and help you to improve your speaking, writing, reading and listening skills. It’s not an overly intense course which is ideal.”

Finally I interview Orsi Dunn, who seems to have a true passion for teaching.

She tells me that she likes a challenge and that it is really important to continue evening classes, although it requires a huge commitment from everyone. She feels it is necessary to give everyone a chance to participate.

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What Orsi enjoys most about this course is the challenges it brings. She describes it as jigsaw.

“It is a very complex course and each student needs help with different things, whether that’s pronunciation, understanding concepts or grammar. It’s very interesting and rewarding. I love to hear the spectacular stories from my students. I learn from them, as they learn from me, and I hope that this is a mutually enriching experience. I hope that my students leave with a great sense of achievement.”

The most challenging aspect for her is the complexity of the course and the different aspects involved. Interpreting the different gaps and strengths within her students.

She loves to see the journeys travelled from her students, whether this is through volunteering, employment or further study. She feels that this is without a doubt the most rewarding aspect for her.

In three words she describes this course as rewarding, challenging and fun.

Many thanks to Orsi Dunn for sharing this article 🙂

Education Round the World Project – East Renfrewshire Council

Hi Folks,

We’re really delighted to share an exciting project from Cheryl Taylor from East Renfrewshire Council, it makes terrific reading. Enjoy!


Education around the World

logoHaving offered SQA ESOL National 4 in East Renfrewshire last academic year, the ESOL learners working with Adult Learning Services, were focused on the topic of charity work and raising money for worthy causes. It was decided that we should link our learning in the classroom with a community event. Our SQA group continued to meet after the assessments were completed and started to plan the event.  We decided to tie this in with the National 4 Added Value Unit, making our presentation topic, Education around the World.   As one of our local schools, St John’s Primary School, is a Rights Respecting School and we had successfully worked in partnership with them previously, we approached them with the idea of running workshops in the school to share our experiences of education in our home countries.


Part 1:  Eight different countries (Japan, Pakistan, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Syria, India, Egypt and Ethiopia) were represented by our ESOL learners and 3 by parents of the school. After much preparation, the ESOL learners delivered workshops to primary 6 and 7, to help the children gain an understanding of what it is like to go to school in other countries.  This was achieved through games, number and language activities, arts and crafts, dancing and visual presentations. p2Topics such as, the lack of educational opportunities in certain countries, private and public schools, school facilities and how the war in Syria has impacted on education, gave the boys and girls first-hand experience of education outside of Scotland.

Part 2:  As part of the project, children were given the opportunity to respond to letters and videos sent from Pakistan, Hong Kong, Japan, Poland and Syria by children of the same ages, who were friends and relations of the ESOL learners.


Part 3:  In class, children shared information learnt during the education week, with their peers and put together a presentation which they delivered to their parents. The ESOL learners came back to the school to hear the presentation and watch a video which was made by the school during the Education around the World week.  During this time they showcased their work and carried out activities with some of the other classes from the school.

Part 4: A booklet has been designed which is a compilation of all the work the ESOL Learners have produced and information from the children about what they learnt during the Education Around the World project.

Feedback from the children:

‘I liked learning about the different countries. My favourite was Japan because I got to try on the school back pack that they wear and I wrote a letter to a girl from Japan.  I hope she replies.’

‘I liked the Syrian workshop because I liked using Arabic and learning about the war.’

Feedback from the ESOL learners

‘I’m always happy to do the projects for children of St Johns and see children reactions and engagement. There are always interesting questions from children. I feel proud to pass some information to pupils about my home country, Poland. Projects like that make me feel more confident to use English language to speak up to wider audience.’

‘The project was very amazing. It helped me to improve my English and my confidence to speak in front of people and it gave us a chance to share information about our country’s education system. The school staff, the children and the teachers are very friendly . Hopefully they enjoyed the presentation and I want to say thank you so much to all the St John’s Primary School staff, teachers and the children . They respected our ideas, gave us this chance and helped us with everything. Also all East Renfrewshire Adult learning staff, thank you so much for helping us.’

Teacher Feedback

Workshops were well organised with a fantastic range of active and engaging resources. The speakers used their first-hand knowledge and experience to ensure the children got an accurate and interesting lesson that was appropriate to their level. The lessons provided fantastic opportunities for further learning and we will build on this in class.


Cheryl Taylor – CLD Worker and ESOL Tutor, Adult Learning Services,

East Renfrewshire Council

I have been teaching ESOL for over 15 years now, in both England and Scotland.  My career, to date,  has gone full circle, starting  as an ESOL tutor in the community, moving on to teaching in colleges and in various work places and now back in the community as a CLD worker, teaching and developing ESOL courses for East Renfrewshire Council.  Currently, I am lucky enough to be in a position where I can create and develop project-based ESOL courses that help our learners bridge the gap between the classroom and the outside world.  I would like to share our latest project with you, as I feel it was beneficial, not only to our ESOL learners, but also to the children and staff at our local primary school, with many great outcomes. Our first project with St John’s Primary school was 2 years ago and can be found on the National Improvement Hub.  This latest project is a follow on from that.  I hope you enjoy reading about it and if anyone would like further information, please do to hesitate to contact me.


North Ayrshire ESOL Buddy Project

Huge thanks to Ann Gentilomo in Ayrshire for her terrific story about her Buddy Scheme 🙂

I teach refugee students who attend local secondary schools in North Ayrshire. Their language levels vary from ESOL literacies 2 to National 4.

I have recently developed a buddy system, where the ESOL students work with college students who attend a Routes to Careers course. My aim was to integrate the school students into the college learning environment and allow local college students to feel less apprehensive towards refugee teenagers.

The team teaching method is working well. The refugee students now have college log in and with the help of their buddies are improving their IT skills by e- mailing and working on a college learning log book.

The learning that takes place helps the literacy needs of both groups. We are now preparing for our ESOL celebration evening on 22nd March. The Routes to Careers group are helping our ESOL refugee teenagers learn a traditional Scottish song that all young people know here…’ You cannae shuv yir Grannie aff a bus’… They will perform at the celebration evening by singing this song.

. The Routes group achieve their Working with Others Unit by helping the ESOL group.


Anne plans to keep us updated about the group’s progress.

Send us any more stories like this to share!

East Ayrshire ESOL Case Study

English for Speakers of Other languages (ESOL) is an area of work within Vibrant Communities, Lifeskills and Inclusion Team which has seen a growing demand recently from people living and working in East Ayrshire. We support people in their own community initially and work closely with Ayrshire College to ensure that they can progress and move forward in their English Language Learning. Our work with English language learners is illustrated below:

Tea at Two ESOL Group In the Killie Browser

The need for a supportive and welcoming learning environment was identified through discussions between Vibrant Communities’ Stacey Manson – an Essential Skills Support Worker with responsibility for ESOL – and a group of refugees who had recently settled in East Ayrshire. They were having difficulties with everyday communication which created a barrier to their confidence and independence.

The Killie Browser is a community-run café based in Kilmarnock Train Station and was chosen as a suitable venue for the group to meet as it offers an informal and relaxing space. The group started meeting on a weekly basis and looked at everyday English Language learning and communication skills. This approach provided them with new opportunities to improve and develop their communication skills, helping to break down the barriers to their learning and to integrate with their local community.

The group started with 6 adults of mixed English levels. Two of these adults were working within Access 2, one learner was working towards Access 2 and three learners were at a pre-entry level and had literacy needs.

All of the learners had to overcome the obstacle of using an alphabet that they were not familiar with, as they are native Arabic or Kurdish speakers. Some of the learners did have some knowledge of the English language before they came to Scotland, but it had been many years since they had taken any lessons. One learner in the group did not have any experience of being in an educational setting passed primary school.

Over the last year, the learners have made fantastic progress through their involvement with Tea at Two. The composition of the group has changed since June 2016, with a family leaving the area and a new family arriving in October 2016. The new family was warmly welcomed into the group.

All of the learners have become engaged in community projects through their involvement with Tea at Two. Two of the learners have been involved with local projects as volunteers since August 2016. They have been involved with the food bank and also the local Workers’ Educational Association where they helped maintain a community garden. One of the learners who; had literacy needs and had been very reluctant about using English and would not come to class independently, was involved in an Armistice Day art project in November 2016. This involved the learner attending the Browser on their own and meant that they would have to use their English to communicate. The art work was displayed in the café, with many members of the public making enquiries about making a purchase. This learner has since become involved as peer mentor – with learners who have just been settled in the local area – in a Preparation for ESOL Literacies course that was run in partnership with Ayrshire College.

The two learners who had been working within Access 2, are about to complete an Access 3 course at Ayrshire College in Kilmarnock. The latest feedback from their college lecturer is that they will progress into the Access 4 course in August with without any problems.

All of the learners gained vital communication skills, improved in self-confidence and most importantly, took steps toward to becoming more independent. They still meet every week to progress further with their learning and are positively looking ahead to future life in East Ayrshire.

staceyThis article was written for NATECLA Scotland by Stacey Manson

Current role: Essential Skills Support Worker supporting ESOL in the local community in East Ayrshire. TEFL Qualified – 140 Hour Combined TEFL Course. TEFL Internship – 4 months teaching in China. Voluntary experience and work experience in Australia teaching ESOL.