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Event reflections - Key Issues in Supporting Refugees in ESOL

Friday 14th October 2022 was a significant day for the team from the East of England NATECLA branch. It did something brave. It ran its first hybrid conference. It was brave as not only was it the first time we have done this, but we are a small team of 5 ESOL teachers. A team working without the big budgets that some organisations may have behind them when putting on a large hybrid event. Our (very) limited experience of running hybrid classes was of some use, and of course, we were very thankful for the facilities provided by Cambridge Regional College and the hard work of our committee member Jeni for trying out the tech in the room, but beyond that, it was up to us and our conference partners to make it work on the day. And it did. With 40 plus people face-to-face at the venue and another 40 plus joining in online, the event ran smoothly. And some great feedback was received.

It was an absolute pleasure to take part in what was also another new adventure for us; a joint conference. We joined forces with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and the East of England Local Government Association to deliver an event focusing on one of the most important issues facing the ESOL sector currently: supporting refugees in ESOL classes. The combining of forces in this event took our conference to a national level as colleagues from other combined authorities and strategic migration partnerships from across the UK joined in online. It was also fantastic to see the support of other organisations regional representatives such as the ETF, Holex and local councils (to name a few). Together we were able to shout out the message of just how significant the need was for further support to refugees, by providing English classes, as well as support for tutors and other professional assisting refugees.

I had the pleasure of speaking about one very important area in our provision currently: Trauma informed practice. Many of our ESOL learners suffer trauma. In my session we looked at the common causes of trauma and how that trauma manifests itself. This is a complex issue. Anyone with refugees in their classes can benefit from getting to know this topic better. I hopefully gave a taster also of some strategies that tutors can put in their ‘teaching toolbox’ to make their classes more accessible and meaningful to any learner experiencing trauma.

Let’s not forget that it is not only our learners that need support, but also our sector’s staff. In order to fully support learners with anxiety and trauma, we need to feel more aware of their issues such Potential Traumatic Events, PTSD and mental health in general. The consensus of the room that day was that this should become a mandatory and high priority focus of CPD for our sector.

I am always proud and inspired by my sector, however. Not only did so many speakers, organisers and guests give up their free time to attend this event but everyone contributed in the way ESOL practitioners always do. They shared their practice in such an engaging and relevant way. They gave candid examples of how they handled trauma in their classrooms. And, amid calls from the room for more funding and opportunities, some organisations said they would be going away to look at providing basic mental health training to their staff, and not just teaching staff. A message that came out loud and clear was that mental health training should be part of a whole organisational approach to supporting refugees in our provision.

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