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Women Breaking the English Barrier – Research Report

Speaking English is essential for integration, empowerment and economic opportunity in the UK. Wonder's 2016 research report reveals that vulnerable refugee women living here in the UK face significant barriers to learning the language and provides recommendations to the government to meet the complex needs of refugee and migrant women in order to support their personal development and integration into society.

Current provision of English education in the UK is not meeting the complex needs of vulnerable female refugees and migrants, leaving them unable to reach their full potential in UK society. 

We set out to give a voice to vulnerable refugee and migrant women who often feel invisible and go unheard by decision-makers. Listening to 66 refugee and migrant women from different continents and cultures, we heard that they shared many of the same barriers to learning English and accessing English classes. We also spoke to community workers and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teachers to get a broader perspective. 

Recommendations for Government

Our findings illustrated a complex web of barriers to learning that cannot be solved by looking just at education. Therefore, to enable vulnerable female refugees and migrants to get the skills they need to gain confidence, integrate better and access employment opportunities, our report recommends the following actions:

  • A national UK English-learning strategy that specifically considers the additional challenges that women face and recognises the value of learning English for female refugees and migrants.
  • A strategy that also recognises and offers different, effective, options to meet the varied needs of vulnerable women with low confidence.
  • Guaranteed funding for accredited ESOL classes, with the freedom to adapt their provision to the needs of learners.
  • Government funded volunteer training to offer additional support and informal mentoring to vulnerable women.
  • Services should be mapped to aid a whole-person approach to the needs of vulnerable female migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Empowering spaces where women feel safe and welcome are essential for learning, and their value for vulnerable women should be recognised in local and national funding decisions.
  • It should be made easier for all migrants to volunteer.
  • Migration policies that require certain levels of English proficiency should recognise the enormous specific barriers the most vulnerable women face to learning English.

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