EFA’s annual conference 2020

28 Jul

In early March 2020 we advertised our annual EFA conference and set the date for April 25th. This year’s theme was going to be ESOL and community organising. We aimed to explore ideas and approaches and we wanted to make a case for including community organising as an intrinsic part of participatory ESOL.

But we were very quickly taken over by events and it became clear within days that the coronavirus outbreak and rapid spread in the UK meant that our usual gathering of 50 people, plus tasty lunch, was not going to be possible this year. We spent the next couple of months responding to the emergency situation we all found ourselves in and I think most of just assumed that EFA conference 2020 would not take place at all. In mid-May however, after 2 months of online working, we decided that our annual conference might be a good way to:

  1. share the skills we had been developing with the participatory ESOL community.
  2. find out how others had been responding to the pandemic.
  3. continue to connect ESOL with social action outside the classroom, despite the constraints of the pandemic.

So, we advertised a conference of participatory discussion, on the new theme ‘ESOL and Coronavirus’ spread over three, two hour sessions at two week intervals. This new format was ambitious. Would people stay with us for the three sessions or drift away after each one? Would we be able to keep a sense of continuity over  six weeks? But the idea of a day long zoom wasn’t ever taken into serious consideration!

Within hours of us advertising the conference it had sold out. We wanted to keep the participatory nature of our conference at all costs so we capped at 60 participants. Many people who signed up had been to our conferences before, but we also had lots of participants joining us for the first time, from all over the UK and even internationally.

Our aim was to take forward two main strands:

  1. developing our participatory pedagogy for the online space including adapting our participatory tools for online teaching.
  2. taking action against social injustice alongside our students. This was specifically, but not only, related to how our students and migrants in general had been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.

We also hoped to cement and strengthen the growing ESOL participatory community of practice in the UK (and beyond) and strengthen our links with other participatory ESOL practitioners and organisations and migrants’ rights organisations.

What we did

The idea behind the three session structure was to follow our three part pedagogic framework: making meaning, going deeper and broadening out (read more about this here). This framework means starting from personal experiences and ideas, following with a deeper discussion and analysis of the most important themes to emerge and finishing by looking outwards, either to campaigning or to hearing expert voices to challenge and stretch our understanding. This is the same structure we use for our ESOL classes. So the conference became:

Day 1. Making meaning

Day 2. Going deeper

Day 3. Broadening out

Overall we wanted to explore our specific theme, ‘ESOL and Coronavirus’ alongside a more general aim of developing our participatory pedagogy, so throughout the conference we were tracking two separate but intertwined strands, the pedagogic strand and the discussion of the issue itself.

Day 1

In day one we used a couple of tools, the picture pack and card cluster (using google jamboard, see pic below)- to explore our own experiences of teaching during the pandemic. We talked about a whole range of issues affecting both teachers and students: fear of the future for teachers re job losses and conditions, deepening inequalities for migrants, making online classes participatory, how to include students who struggle with the technology, taking action with students during the pandemic, to name just a few. We also discussed participatory ESOL pedagogy in order to develop our collective understanding. Following day one, we picked out some of the main themes emerging for our ‘going deeper’ discussions.

Day 2

In day 2 (read about the tools we adapted here) we explored our two strands further. We used the iceberg tool and problem posing with a code, both adapted to online use. We used the iceberg to explore our pedagogic strand looking at three concerns that had came up in day one:

  1. Participatory ESOL is too political
  2. You can’t do participatory ESOL online
  3. You can’t do participatory ESOL in some settings.

The iceberg metaphor helps to explore what is going on ‘underneath the surface’ of issues. The  ‘surface’ statements were made deliberately provocative to allow us to express doubts as well as debunk some of the myths around participatory ESOL.

conference iceberg

One of our iceberg discussions. ‘participatory ESOL is too political’- what’s underneath this statement?

To explore ‘ESOL and coronavirus’ further, we made three ‘codes’ to represent the three most important themes that had emerged during the discussions day one:

  1. The exacerbation of existing inequalities for migrants
  2. Digital poverty and online learning
  3. Teachers’ workplace struggles.

We worked with these codes in groups using a problem posing framework developed from Paulo Freire. This framework uses a set of structured questions about the visual code to guide the discussion. The questions start from personal experience, move to collective experience and finish with how to take collective action (read more about this in Elsa Auerbach and Nina Wallerstein’s Popular Educators’ Guide). This code below shows the digital divide faced by so many of our students.

digital divide code

One of the codes in session 2- depicting the digital divide.

Day 3

In the third and final day, broadening out, we invited speakers from migrants’ rights organisations: Medact https://www.medact.org/ Migrants Organise https://www.migrantsorganise.org/, Bristol Refugee Rights https://www.bristolrefugeerights.org/, and JCWI https://www.jcwi.org.uk/and teachers unions (https://www.ucu.org.uk/) to help us understand more about our themes and to support us taking action around them, by providing us with further information and analysis and allowing us to make concrete links with existing campaigns and struggles. This jamboard shows one of these discussions.

jamboard 1

One of the breakout rooms in session 3- explored migrants’ rights and healthcare with Medact and  Migrants Organise.


The organisation and execution of EFA conference 2020 was, to say the least, a mega undertaking. Throughout the 3 days we tried to do as much as possible in small breakout rooms and this meant we needed almost every single member of EFA throughout the whole process. It was pretty labour intensive, but we learned huge amounts from each other as well as our participants in the process. Every EFA member brought particular strengths including facilitation skills, planning, creativity, organization, trouble shooting, technical know-how and artistic skills. It was most definitely all hands on deck.

During and after the conference we got a lot of feedback and suggestions from participants, which was great as it gave us the feeling we were developing it together. We even drew on three conference participants who are UCU activists to lead one of the breakout rooms in day 3. Perhaps the participation was somehow even greater than our face to face conferences to date? We got the feeling that participants had more than anything appreciated our efforts to try to adapt what we do to the online space we are all now working in.

Post conference there are a number of things to take forward/get involved in. These can be done by organisations, class groups or individuals.

  1. Monthly meet up to develop the participatory ESOL community of practice. We decided to start a monthly meet up to share ideas and experiences and take this idea further. EFA has offered to loosely administer this in the first instance and each month someone from the group will lead the discussion.
  2. Continue individual fundraising efforts to pay for tech, data and digital skills training for students or contribute to existing campaigns such as LGIG who provide phone data for asylum seekers. https://uklgig.org.uk/
  3. Sign up to JCWI’s ‘new deal for migration’ campaign and there will be calls to action coming up. https://www.jcwi.org.uk/news/we-need-a-new-deal-on-migration
  4. Join a virtual rally at https://www.buildbackbetteruk.org/
  5. Amy Jowett UCU is going to contact UCU to set up a meeting open to English language teachers in different settings FE, Adult and Community, gig economy, third sector etc. The idea would be to create unionised networks better equipped to resist the specific challenges English language teachers face.
  6. Get involved in campaigns against NHS charging https://patientsnotpassports.co.uk/campaign/
  7. Organisations sign up to the multilingual cities movement. http://mlm.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/call-for-a-multilingual-cities-movement/


Finally, a huge thanks to all who got involved, participants and invited guests. We look forward to working with you on campaigns and seeing you again in the monthly meet-ups.

The ESOL Podcast launches!

26 May


The ESOL Podcast

EFA is delighted to be working with Amy Jowett, of Hackney Learning Trust and Action for ESOL fame, to produce an ESOL podcast imaginatively titled, The ESOL Podcast.
We have long been thinking about doing a podcast with our students and are excited to be getting started.
Why does the world we need another podcast?
This is an ESOL podcast, and as far we we know there is no other. It’s an opportunity for ESOL students to have their say about the issues of the day beyond the ephemeral walls of their Zoom classrooms. The world needs to know what ESOL students are saying.
How will it be used?
We hope that ESOL students will listen to it in order to engage with the discussions of the day, learn new language and connect with the ESOL community across the UK. We hope that students will also have fun and learn lots making the podcasts. ESOL teachers can use it in their classes by using clips and designing listening activities.
How did we make it?
Once we’d decided on the format (students discussing the issues of the day with their teacher) we decided to experiment with the record function on Zoom. The quality seemed fine. Dermot lead on the first podcast and invited students to join him for a 15 minute interview on Zoom. They did the interviews and then moved on to the edit stage. We used Audacity, free audio software, to edit the three tracks together. We added a fourth track to drag and drop the chunks of interview from the others and then a fifth to record links. For example we needed to add an introduction, an end and some links between speakers for example “Anna agreed that it was too soon to reopen the schools…………..”. It was very easy to use the software and after a couple of hours of messing around we had 10 minutes of podcast.
Thank you!
Thanks to Nadifa, Veronica and Anna for being our brave podcast pioneers. I hope you agree they speak brilliantly. And thanks to EFA’s sound expert, Graham Backhouse of Three Squared Productions.


11 May

Last year EFA joined with three other European organisations (Giolli in Italy, ELAN in France and Nyitott Kor Egyeseult in Hungary ) on an Erasmus+ project called ‘Migreat!’. The aim of the project is to build the capacity of individuals and institutions working in participatory approaches and migrants’ rights to build counter narratives around migration.

In order to explore this with our students, four of our teachers started a classroom-based research project around the theme ‘migration’ and this research is currently ongoing.

Our teachers are using an approach we call ‘making meaning- going deeper- broadening out’. We spend two or three classes at each stage depending on what comes up in the classroom and we use a variety of participatory tools (more info on our tools can be found here:…..)

At the making meaning stage, students explore the new theme in a very open way that draws on the thoughts, feelings and experience of those in class.

At the going deeper stage, we explore sub-topics that have come up and talk about the most pressing themes and problems that students identified at the making meaning stage.

When broadening out, we bring in voices and information from outside the classroom and we look at what action we can take on the things we want to change.

By the end of this project, we aim to deliver something visual (e.g. a video, animation, artwork) based on the research in class and the messages students want to put out into the world.



LGBT+ issues and ESOL

6 Feb


At EFA we hold a monthly learning circle to explore a specific theme, allowing us to share knowledge and ideas, and think of creative ways to explore a variety of themes in our day-to-day practice.

A recent theme we looked at was LGBT+ issues and ESOL. In the run up to the session, we read a chapter from the recently published book Brokering Britain, Educating Citizens: Exploring ESOL and Citizenship (edited by Melanie Cooke and Rob Peutrell). The chapter was entitled ‘Queering ESOL: sexual citizenship in ESOL classrooms which provided us with an overview of work that has been done in this area, including the Queering ESOL seminar series that ran from 2013-2015 which allowed for an exploration of the cultural politics of LGBTQI+ issues in the ESOL classroom (resources created as part of this series can be accessed here).

Dr Melanie Cooke (who co-wrote that chapter) then led the learning circle, encouraging us to reflect on our own experiences of LGBT+ issues in relation to ESOL. Some of the reflections included:

  • concern that conversation is often heteronormative and, therefore, silencing of other sexualities
  • students sometimes take the lead on challenging classmates’ homophobia
  • the culture created in the classroom through a variety of means including class ‘agreements’ that emphasise respect is important
  • contradictions in cases of generalised homophobia yet acceptance of LGBT+ individuals the students in question know personally
  • ESOL students include people from the LGBT+ community; teachers reflected on the (known) identities of students in their classes (this included students seeking asylum based on sexuality) and their experiences

As can be observed, the ESOL classroom can be a reflection of the homophobia and transphobia that exist in society as a whole, as well as the resistance that appears alongside them.

In conjunction with the activity above, we also thought of any challenges, fears and uncertainties that came to mind. Some of these included:

  • some confusion around using LGBT+ inclusive language has previously occurred in class
  • challenging homophobic comments can be taxing on the teacher (including if the teacher identifies as LGBT+ themself)
  • difficult power dynamics when teachers keep their identities (that they would be happy to share otherwise) private
  • concern about Islamophobic assumptions made about Muslim students in particular
  • difficulties experienced when conservative religious views (from a variety of religious contexts) appear in the classroom and how that can be countered
  • how much can a teacher share their opinion while trying to maintain a highly participatory space?
  • how do we ensure a safer space in the classroom?
  • concern that teachers lack sufficient knowledge and language to explore LGBT+ issues

Following these discussions, we thought of actions we can take to make our classes more LGBT+ inclusive and supportive of LGBT+ rights:

  • embedding LGBT+ examples into materials/stories
  • case studies – positive/everyday representations of LGBT+ people
  • lesson about stereotypes
  • using a topical news story about LGBT+ issues
  • take a cultural reference, eg: LGBT+ characters from TV shows
  • have a lesson to set ground rules which cover respect
  • return to class ground rules if needed
  • contact other groups with experience/ideas
  • deliberately use sexuality as an example of discrimination in class
  • avoid unconsciously censoring LGBT+ issues
  • make the stance of the organisation clear
  • explore the word discrimination or equality in depth
  • safe space: created when people see the teacher standing up for rights of LGBT+ people
  • signpost to other organisations
  • seeing what opinions people have, rather than avoiding LGBT+ issues
  • looking at LGBT+ and gendered language in class

Green Month 2020

29 Jan

Screen Shot 2020-01-23 at 14.46.11

English for Action and Tower Hamlets Idea Stores are holding a Green Month between 3rd February and 13th of March. Starts next week!

The aim of this is to enhance learners’ knowledge of recycling, climate change and pollution and bring ESOL students’ voices into conversations about the climate crisis and allow them to be involved in the effort to mitigate it.

Here is a folder full of teaching resources we’ve made. We have a hashtag #GreenWeek2020 and it would be great if you could use it to post any classwork you do on the topic on social media. You could also encourage your learners to post themselves. The more we post, the more our learner’s voices will be heard!

For London folks: In the last week (9th-13th March) there will be workshops, talks and actions. These will be taking place across Tower Hamlets Idea Stores and some of them will be open to other ESOL students. We’ll share a programme once it’s been finalised. Watch this space!

UPDATE: Please find below the events we have organised with Tower Hamlets Idea Stores for Green Week.

GreenWeekEvents Thursday

GreenWeekEvents Friday

General Election 2019

14 Nov

At EFA we’ve been looking at the general election in many of our classes. We’ve been thinking about how best to explore the topic in class and create space for vital conversations to take place. We’re also interested in looking at the issues we care about and want to see take centre-stage during the election campaign. Many of these are issues we explore on a regular basis, such as ESOL provision, the NHS, housing, workers’ rights. In many ways starting the topic was a natural follow on in some classes as a result of this.

EFA students and teachers are also currently organising voter registration events as part of Promote the Migrant Vote to make sure everyone who is able to vote can. We’re holding events at several of our host venues and inviting ESOL students and people from migrant and BAME backgrounds to drop by to register to vote. EFA students are taking the lead on starting conversations about the importance of voting in their local areas, as is the case with two of our classes in Shadwell. In a conversation about this, one student said: ‘every vote makes a difference’. We noticed through these conversations that many students didn’t know they could vote; this was particularly the case for Commonwealth citizens.

We encourage other ESOL teachers to create space in their classes for conversations around the general election. For the 2017, we were part of a team at Action for ESOL who put together resources and lesson plans that teachers could use. These have now been updated for the 2019 election and can be accessed here.

The EFA team has also put together additional resources to supplement this:

General political education/information about the electoral system – includes speaking, reading, and vocabulary matching activity

Role play to encourage others to register to vote

Listening text with worksheet – how to vote, questions

Promote the Migrant Vote social media campaign template – language used to talk about the importance of voting

There are paper forms that can be used to register to vote. The easy-read version makes for good ESOL class material for E1 learners: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/register-to-vote-if-youre-living-in-the-uk

Feel free to comment with more suggestions!

Shout of Silence: ESOL Students Organise an Employment Rights Workshop and Photography Exhibition

17 Apr

ESOL students in Southwark have been discussing the topic of work for several weeks. During these conversations it emerged that this is a charged topic with many students having experienced difficulties in the workplace.

Analysing these work-related issues identified by students through participatory tools, such as word flowers, problem trees and theatre games, led the classes to take two actions: the first has been to organise an employment workshop to equip students with a better understanding of their rights. The second has been to share students’ experiences at work with a wider audience that may be unaware of the precarious working conditions in certain industries, such as cleaning.

For the first action, students drafted questions about employment law, and in partnership with Advising Communities we organised a day of activities through which these questions about rights, health and safety, discrimination, contracts and wages were addressed. We were also joined on the day by representatives from IWGB trade union who spoke about the importance of organising in the workplace.



Photo credits: Rocío Lira

With regard to the second action, students agreed that photography would be an effective vehicle for expressing the reality of their working conditions. Over the course of several lessons we analysed a range of photographs and their messages. The students then proceeded to take pictures of their own. These pictures capture the isolation, low wages, the mundane equipment that passes unnoticed, the early morning bus rides and the occupational hazards that are a part of everyday life for many of our students.

The photography:

The stories ranged from being underpaid to long commutes to work, from being overworked to unreasonable shift patterns.



This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This project was developed by English for Action students and teachers in ESOL classes in Southwark. It’s an exploration of how photography can be used to talk about the topic of work as part of a participatory approach to language-learning. This has given the students a new medium to talk about their experiences and express them visually. The photography series highlights stories that are often invisible.




Hosted by Electric Elephant Cafe in Elephant and Castle, students presented their photographs at a launch during which they welcomed the public and shared testimonies.

The exhibition will be there until early May so drop by and have a look.

Citizens UK Election Assemblies

2 May

“This is not a hustings”, explained Sarfraz Jeraj Lambeth Citizens leaders from the stage of a vast King’s College lecture theatre, “this is an assembly”.

Last week English for action participated in two Citizens UK council elections on the same night with 32 of our students, teachers, volunteers and trustees split between the two events in Southwark and Lambeth.

IMG-20180426-WA0015[1] 20180426_181357[1]

So what’s an assembly and how are they different to hustings? According to to Sarfraz, this event was an assembly because the candidates have been invited by the people to answer questions on their (our!) terms. In a hustings, the candidates have pre-prepared speeches and canvass for votes. Last week the candidates were asked to respond to specific demands that had emerged from months of listening and planning. They were given strict time-limits that were enforced diligently and when they failed to respond to the demand they were expertly pinned by one of the community leaders affected by the issue in question.

Both assemblies were full of theatre and emotion. People gave personal testimonies of their experience of injustice, from a young teacher desperate to rent a place of his own to a parent opposing the scourge of educational inequality that leaves working class children far less likely to achieve their goals than a kid with rich parents. The candidates were visibly moved by these testimonies and agreed to more than we expected.

IMG-20180426-WA0011[1]   IMG-20180426-WA0006[1]

English for Action contributed three of these testiomonies and we are really proud of Adela, Jandira and Adriana for bringing ESOL to life in front of hundreds of people and the next Council leaders.

Adela, who has been an EFA teacher/organiser:

“Hi, my name is Adela – I am an ESOL teacher for English for Action and we are a member of Southwark Citizens. My journey to where I am now was not easy. When I came to England 8 years ago I didn’t speak much English and not being able to pay for English classes prevented me for almost a year from attending any classes. I started working as a cleaner and found myself in a situation where I was treated in ways that I had never imagined – people were purposefully making their houses dirty to see whether I would clean them – I had never experienced such mistrust from people. These experiences had a profound effect on the way I perceive myself and have affected me til now – I felt like a lesser human. I wasn’t able to re-act to what was happening to me because I didn’t have the language. I wasn’t able to stand up for myself and express my feelings. Later on when I started working in a pub the mistreatment continued the customers and the staff would tell me to go back to Eastern Europe– this experience was absolutely shocking for me I always perceived myself as European and I didn’t understand this divide between countries and again I was not able to say anything back to them because of the lack of language. You’re experiencing something unfair and wrong but you can’t say anything – it is like being a prisoner.

This is an experience that stays with me now – I am not as confident as I would have been had this not happened. This is just one story – there are millions of people going through similar experiences of feeling disempowered, not valued and not able to contribute in the way they would like to.”

And Adriana, our student-turned-volunteer:

“It’s so hard to do things here if you don’t know the language. You feel like lost you need help all the time to do simple things. So with ESOL I can feel confident to do things. I know I make mistakes but I can see my English growing. It’s so hard but with the support I can feel better to do what I want. It is helping me to find a job and feel a part of the society.”

And Jandira, who attends our classes at Sacred Heart and Henry Cavendish Primary schools.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Jandira and I’m from Angola and I am a student from EFA. When I came to England my English was bad, like really bad even though I took English classes back home. ESOL has given me the confidence to speak openly without fear. Before I would listen and not say a word and people find it rude they took it the wrong way. ESOL is important to me because I need and because for a greater education we need a base and for people of other language ESOL is the base like the foundation of a building. Our English classes is not just about learning English it’s about learning how to respect one another to learn different cultures and the most important to build good relationships, to share our opinions and respect each one of them. Nelson Mandela once said: education is a powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. We don’t want to change the world at least not now. We want you to change our world by supporting ESOL. Before I finish I would like to share with you one of my favourite quote by Albert Pike. ‘What we do for ourselves dies with us, What we do for others and for the world remains and is immortal’.”

So what did the candidates agree to? Here are the main agreements:


1 – First four Syrian refugee families to be rehoused in the borough by the end of the year and 20 by 2020

2- Sign the Peckham Citizens Charter for the Aylesham Centre so that it benefits local people and does not change the character of the town centre

3 – Work with Citizens to challenge the Home Office fees of £1012 for citizenship for children

4- Employ an ESOL officer to promote and coordinate ESOL provision/services.

5- Task this new officer to work with us to create an ESOL strategy for the borough.


1 – A further 28 refugee families to be resettled in the borough

2 – Create and resource an ESOL strategy for the borough

3 – Work with Citizens to challenge the Home Office fees of £1012 for citizenship for children

4 – Help build Lambeth’s first community land trust (27 homes) in Streatham

5 – Work with us to create a Lambeth Social Mobility and Access to University Strategy within 6 months of the election

Tomorrow (May 3rd) is the day of the elections and we will find out who will control Lambeth and Southwark Councils. Then the hard work really begins as we work to turn the agreements we have secured into action.


ESOL at City Hall

26 Sep

Over 100 ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students and teachers participated in an outdoor teach-out to celebrate the European Day of Languages today. The teach out took place at City Hall because we want to work with the Mayor of London and his team to make ESOL central to his plans for adult education and integration in the capital.


Students from English For Action classes across London were joined by allies from Hackney Learning Trust, City Lit, Lewisham College, CARAS, Haringey Citizens, Southwark Citizens, Share Action and Action for ESOL. There were people from all corners of the world (as well as London) and at least 15 languages spoken among us.

The teach-out was planned by EFA students Jenny and Jandira, Jenny’s daughter Alejandra and their teachers, Jess, Dermot, Anne and Amira. Jandira, originally from Angola, told the gathering about the vital importance of supporting people to learn English: “ESOL is the base, like the foundations of a building”. Next year she hopes to go to university – something that would not have been possible without ESOL.


The students all wrote personal messages to the Mayor which they assembled into a banner that said #LoveESOL.

DSC_2909.JPG                                      IMG-20170926-WA0024

At the same time Jenny collected signatures from everyone at the event underneath a message asking Mayor Sadiq Khan to work with us to promote ESOL in London.


Some of the students organised an impromptu march to the entrance of City Hall.


DSC_3089.JPG           DSC_3072.JPG

Jenny, Alejandra and Jandira went inside to deliver our message to the Mayor, who couldn’t be there to collect it personally. Next time………


Jenny, originally from Bolivia explained why so many people had come out to City Hall today:

“The ability to speak English is fundamental to participating to life in the UK and many of us need free ESOL classes because we don’t have the means to fund private lessons, so ESOL is the route to living a full dignified life here, allowing us to contribute to life in this city.”

We need to Talk about Grenfell

16 Jun

ESOL is a community, like may others across the country, deeply affected by the Grenfell fire. Many of our students and teachers at English for Action are terrified and heartbroken in equal measure. Nasrine Malik of the Guardian writes that the victims were overwhelmingly migrants, from all parts of the world. Many of them were ESOL students. Our own students in Tower blocks in Tower Hamlets reported being able to see Grenfell burning in the distance. Others couldn’t help but picture themselves and their families when they saw the footage and heard the horrific accounts in the news. One of our students used to live in Grenfell and spent Wednesday scouring the streets for her friend, who still lives there.

How can ESOL teachers support our students and support each other at this time? And how can we channel some of the anger and thirst for change so that some justice can be done?

How can teachers support one another?

At EFA we have a staff Whatsapp Group, which has proved a really effective way to support one another, share experiences and lesson ideas. Sometimes we simply report little things that have happened in our classes, things that have been emotionally difficult or uplifting too of course, and sometimes we ask for help and ideas. It is more accessible than an email group or Facebook group and there are fewer barriers to participation.

Many of our teachers also belong to the ESOL campaign group Action for ESOL, which is another place teachers can share ideas and ask for support. ESOL teachers around the country will be dealing with students’ shock and grief and dealing with their own. We can ask each other for help and what has been effective in classes.


How can you deal with these feelings in class?

ESOL classes are really important spaces where people can talk to others about shared concerns and support each other. They are communities in their own right. It is very natural that people will want to talk about what is on their mind. This week that is likely to be Grenfell.

One way to approach it is to ask the class if they saw the horrible news this week/last week. The teacher can then gauge whether people would like to talk or not. It could be a good idea to put people into small groups so they are less exposed. The instruction could be “share some of your feelings in your group. Ask your classmates, “how are you?”.

Then you could board some of these feelings (angry, sad, overwhelmed, devastated, scared, tearful) and tell the group how your feel. Perhaps say you have lots of questions.

Students will probably have lots of questions too and could be good to put students into pairs to write down questions on sticky notes (if they have not developed the literacy skills to do this, they can create them orally and you can scribe them, walking around from pair to pair).

Questions could include:

“why did it happen?”

“who lived there?”

“how many people died?”

“how can we help?”

“what is the council doing?”

“who is responsible?”

When the students have created a lot of questions, you can cluster them as a whole class.  Clusters might have two, three, four or more questions. You can add a title, like “Causes”, “Responses”, “The Future” etc.

The question ‘who is responsible’? is a really important one. You could ask students who the key players are in the Grenfell fire. Students could use their smart phones to get information. Some ideas:

– Kensington Council
– Teresa May/David Cameron
– Housing Minister (Gavin Barwell)
– Minister for Local Government and communities (Eric Pickles and now Savid Sajid Javid)
– Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (managing the block for the council)
– Rydon (contractor who did the £10m refurb)
– Boris Johnson and now Sadiq Khan
Students could write a sentence or two about who each person or body is and why they are responsible. They could rank who they believe to me more responsible.
Here is an article in the Guardian about the complex web of companies involved. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/16/manufacturer-of-cladding-on-grenfell-tower-identified-as-omnis-exteriors?CMP=share_btn_fb


It’s really important people know who is responsible for safety of their own houses. ESOL students are overwhelmingly renters and it can be really unclear who is responsible for their housing. Some people don’t know who their landlord is and the system of sub-contraction and housing associations managing council owned-properties is obfuscating (some would argue, deliberately so). Students, could check with their classmates, search on the internet or after class, check with their neighbours and housemates if they are not sure. We checked the website of Tower Hamlets Homes who manage the housing blocks of some of our students in Bow. There is already a statement about Grenfell up on their site:


There is a contact us page and next week students will prepare some questions they have for Tower Hamlets Homes and send them in during the lesson.

Possible questions:

When was the last risk assessment?

Can we have a fire safety check?

What company supplied the fire doors?


How can students take action to improve housing?

EFA have been involved in housing activism for years now. It is consistently one of the biggest priorities for our students (and teachers). In 2015 we organised a housing and ESOL day to explore how housing activists and ESOL teachers and students could work together for housing justice. We have worked really closely with Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth and had some big successes winning improved conditions for many of our students thanks to their support and relentless energy.

Here are some of the ideas our students, teachers and activist friends have had that we can do  to improve housing conditions:

  • Learn about our rights
  • Organise meetings with housemates and neighbours to share concerns and make plans
  • build local housing action groups
  • Stop evictions
  • visit the housing department of the council
  • accompany people to meetings with landlords and councils
  • demonstrate  inside the council
  • occupy buildings
  • Call the council/housing association/landlord to follow up emails
  • Tweet the councils/housing association to publicly shame them into fulfilling their promises or take action

You can ask your class “what action can we take to make our housing safe?” Or, “what action can we take to improve housing conditions”? It’s nice to focus on things we can do and not only things that other people can do, like government or landlords. Not to say that we need to make our own improvements but that action planning can focus on what can we do to force those responsible to act? Ask students to discuss who will do the action, why and when.

One idea that works well is to cut out symbols of action on paper or card and distribute several to students in small groups. One one side they write the action and on the other side why? who? when?

eg. Hold a community meeting to collect questions we have for our housing association

why? We need to get organised

who? Roberta and Aisha with help from neighbours

When? Before the end of June

Please share your ideas and resources with us at English for Action. Please share groups and actions that you are involved in. If Grenfell teaches us anything it is that we cannot trust the government, local authorities and private companies to look after us. We need to organise, learn and take action together to keep ourselves safe and to bring housing justice for all.