An internship with the Workers’ Educational Association

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February 23, 2015 by Amy Ryall

Sarah Lund is a PhD student in the School of English at the University of Sheffield. In her PhD research she is exploring what the language attitudes, perceptions of learning, motivations and opinions of first generation migrants can reveal about the draw-backs and benefits of learning English in a community centre environment. 

She is currently on a sabbatical from her PhD research on an internship with the Workers’ Educational Association and this is the first of a series of blogposts about her internship.

In July/August of last year I arranged an internship opportunity working in the Yorkshire and Humber (Y&H) Region of the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) – a national charitable provider of adult education (http://www.wea.org.uk/). The bid for funding to support the internship was co-constructed with the region’s Educational Director. The application described a research project aiming to assess teaching provision of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) throughout the Y&H region of the WEA. The application discussed the value of a dedicated ESOL research project for the WEA as ESOL provision is often assessed alongside ‘skills for life’ and ‘key skills’ in adult learning. The application also discussed the benefits of engaging with examples of ESOL provision through work with WEA for my own ethnographic research on ESOL learning (http://sarahflund.wordpress.com/). Our bid successfully secured funded leave from my PhD research through the TUoS Careers Service and the Arts Enterprise Public Engagement Fund from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. Thanks to these two funders, I will be working with the WEA for the next six months.

Over the last two weeks, I have developed the structure of the research project with the region’s education coordinator & organiser, and a member of the regional organisation team. We agreed that commentary on ESOL provision from learners, tutors and activity organisers across the region would provide much needed qualitative feedback on ESOL learning to complement detailed statistical and numerical data already collected by the organization.

The geographical area covered by Y&H is quite substantial: the region covers Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire and is divided into four geographical (and administrative) areas which I will be visiting in turn. For my purposes, the fieldwork approach meets my desire to engage with a wide range of contexts in which the WEA deliver ESOL as the visits I make will cover as many different examples of ESOL classes across the region as possible. The information that I collect through the fieldwork in each area will be used alongside an analysis of the organisation’s quantitative data to characterise ESOL provision and inform the regional management team’s ESOL development planning.

I’m currently working at the regional head office in Leeds where the staff’s wealth and breadth of knowledge on the organisation, and on adult learning, has proved to be a hugely supportive platform for the project. So far, I have started an analysis of the range of ESOL course types, levels, learning aims and outcomes from the quantitative data already available, and I have begun reading through a number of internal and published documents to identify possible discussion topics for the fieldwork. My task for the next few weeks is to organize the fieldwork visits to different examples of ESOL provision with tutors and to confirm with the regional management team the questions and discussion topics that will guide feedback.

Watch this space!

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