Developing language, building integration
With over 200 learners, Brushstrokes is one of the largest providers of ESOL in the Smethwick area. Staffed by a dedicated and enthusiastic team of volunteer teachers and classroom assistants and a qualified ESOL Coordinator, we provide courses ranging from compete beginners to academic IELTS.
We have no criteria for acceptance onto any of our ESOL courses but prioritise asylum seekers wherever possible. Our largest ESOL cohort is always beginners and we encourage learners to access college provision when they feel confident to do so. ESOL courses range from beginners to Entry 3 including a phonics class to help people with no reading skills.
Brushstrokes is an accredited ESB centre www.esbuk.org . Learners can work towards ESB exams but these are not compulsory. As an exam centre we welcome learners form other organisations to take exams with us and this number is growing. We receive no government funding for any of our ESOL provision.
Classes run from Monday to Thursday throughout term time. Initial registration and assessment is done the first week in September and the first week in January. We usually fill classes very quickly and run a waiting list. An additional Entry 1 class is currently being taught at Smethwick Baptist Church.
The ability to speak and understand English is the most important component in enabling individuals to be able to build strong relationships in the local community. Our community based ESOL continues to help individuals in their process of integration , as Alexandra one of our students says , “I can talk to my neighbours and now I can talk to new people in the park when I take my children.”
Life in the UK
We run a Life in the UK class runs every Wednesday from 10 – 11.30am. This course runs for two terms and prepares people for the Life in the UK test. We use comprehensive resources and multimedia to bring the course to life and help people understand the, often, bewildering amount of information they need to learn. Learners should be at Entry 2 or Entry 3 to access this course.
IELTS (International English Language Testing System)
Overseas professionals need to get good pass marks in academic IELTS tests in listening, speaking, reading and writing to be able to gain registration to work in the health sector in the UK. Working with the USE-IT project we currently provide IELTS classes at an academic level for overseas health professionals wishing to continue practicing in the UK. We also run a conversation/discussion group for people to practise spoken English.
Through our work club, volunteering, partnership with NHS Learning works and IELTS provision individuals have been given hope and help to move closer to employment . This is especially true for the migrant health professionals we are working with, recognition of the skills they have , which are needed by the local health service, we have secured funding to deliver free IELTS classes to help them move towards work in the profession they are skilled in.
T comments, “You created a CV and uploaded it and helped me search for jobs, built my confidence so I am ready for work and I got a job and you helped me with transport.”
As part of the ESOL year we have regular visits from outside speakers and we take part in projects such as running an election as part of Parliament Week and a multi-faith project. We also have social get togethers, trips, an annual certificate presentation and big Christmas party.
It is so rewarding to see learners grow in confidence as their language skills improve and they develop the ability to communicate in English on a daily basis. A huge part of ESOL classes is the social aspect and many friendships made in class continue long after people have left. Breaking down language barriers and breaking down barriers of isolation is an important part of what we do.
Y is a 30-year-old asylum seeker from Afghanistan
She is profoundly deaf and only communicates with her mother. They have developed a sign language of their own that only they can understand. Y wants to learn British Sign Language (BSL) and learn to communicate with people in the deaf community in the UK. As an asylum seeker, it was difficult to access support for her locally. She attended ESOL classes with her mother and father and although watched what was going on was not able to participate. As her teacher, I communicated with vague gestures and facial expressions but she wasn’t interacting with me or other members of the class. Social media to the rescue. I contacted a Facebook friend who is a BSL interpreter in London. She put me onto a BSL interpreter in Birmingham who was prepared to come out and meet Y, her mum and myself and do a basic BSL class with us. Tariq Mahmood is a Muslim BSL interpreter who is in great demand. He gave up two afternoons of paid work to come and help us begin to learn the alphabet and numbers in BSL. Now Y and I practise the BSL alphabet and basic words together and slowly we are communicating. Her family have just got leave to remain so we can now get Y more support and next month Y and her mum are going to the Sign Café in West Bromwich to practise their new skills. Not only can Y make her life in the UK but she has already become less isolated and will soon be able to communicate and make friends.
N came from Pakistan to be with her husband who became violent towards her.
In 2011, she found herself in one room in a hostel on her own with two young children and struggling to communicate in English. N had no schooling in Pakistan so was unable to read and write in her first language, Urdu. I visited N at the hostel and for the first few weeks she learned how to identify and write the alphabet. When she gained her leave to remain and moved into a house, she came to classes at Brushstrokes with extra one to one help from a volunteer teacher. Although vulnerable and with low self-esteem, N was determined to learn to read and write in English. She came to class regularly and gradually started to put sounds together to form words. She joined the Sandwell College class at Brushstrokes and when her youngest child started school, she registered for Sandwell College in West Bromwich where she could now hold her own with other ESOL students.
Fast forward to 2016: N has passed her driving theory test and is about to take her driving test. She came to work club at Brushstrokes and learnt how to apply for work using the computer. She found herself some work experience in a greengrocers and a shoe shop in order to have some experience on her CV. She registered with an employment agency and currently works as a kitchen assistant in a local school. She is more confident and no longer asks for help to make phone calls. Next week she will be taking her first ever reading exam in English.