ESOL policy and change

M. Hamilton, Yvonne Hillier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Britain has always had non-indigenous bilingual speakers of English (e.g. see Visram, 2002) Patterns of immigration have been tied to Britain’s historical role as a colonialist power and to more general events in international politics. However, discussions about the language needs of these groups have been framed by strong opinions on national identity and the English language. The historical record clearly indicates that ESOL, like adult literacy and numeracy, has received uneven and often unhelpful attention from government. The lobbying of what Andrea Yeatman calls “policy activists” at key moments has been extremely important (Yeatman 1998). Analysing the role of different agencies and activists contributes to our understanding about how change can happen in a field of social policy in the UK, with or without the intervention of central governments. This article focuses on the factors affecting the development of ESOL as a field of policy and practice over the last 40 years. It sets the Skills for Life policy, which currently funds much ESOL provision, in a longer-term perspective and makes comparisons with the fields of adult literacy and numeracy with which ESOL is now closely linked. Rosenberg, (forthcoming) provides a detailed examination of the history of ESOL and we offer here a more general analysis, based on a research project Changing Faces that tracked adult literacy, numeracy and ESOL from the early 1970s through to the advent of Skills for Life. The research comprised oral history interviews with many of the main players as well as collecting documentary evidence of policy and practice (Hamilton and Hillier, 2006). This material is now archived for future access by researchers, policy makers and practitioners (see details at the end of this article on our website and on-line catalogue).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-18
Number of pages15
JournalLanguage Issues
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


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