Learning English, My Experience: Dr Martin Nickson

Lecturer in Education at the University of Hull and MESH Trustee Dr Martin Nickson tells us more about finding inspiration in LEYH and LE+:

My interest in the Migrant English Support Hub (MESH) began…

when I read the paper “Bits here and there” –  Fragmented ESOL Provision in Leeds 2012 by Dr James Simpson. Dr Simpson mapped the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provision in the Harehills neighbourhood of Leeds. The paper concerns the critical issue of ESOL provision fragmentation, which I felt was relevant to Hull, too. A key outcome of the research was to support a move to more appropriate and targeted ESOL provision. Essentially, to help make ESOL learners aware of what is available in the neighbourhood via a coordinated approach.

It’s a simple, beautiful idea…

Dr Simpson’s paper laid the groundwork for MESH to move forward with the Learning English in Yorkshire and the Humber (LEYH) and (later) Learning English Plus (LE+) websites. Following the Harehills pilot, the emphasis was on providing learners and their supporters with the information they needed at their fingertips. It is simple yet impactful – giving users access to all available ESOL learning opportunities for the region in one place and improving their chances of success. 

Before LEYH and LE+, an ESOL student with a partner, sibling or friend looking to attend a class could not find the right one because of a lack of resources. As an ESOL teacher, it was impossible to help them for the same reason. With LEYH, the information is easily searchable and filterable by postcode or local town. Meanwhile, LE+ provides resources to the professional ESOL community, offering specialist information and advice that helps those in the profession to thrive.  

MESH has provided a model for the future of online ESOL provision. Its approach and initiatives align with the pathways to progression we are building in Hull. Therefore, I was honoured to become a trustee in 2020. Together, we continue to progress these ideas, helping to give access to better learning opportunities for ESOL students.

The spirit of collaboration is powerful…

A secret ingredient of the MESH team’s success is its collaborative nature. We work as equals, whatever our role and something joyful about this method comes across and spills out into LEYH and LE+. The approach is evident across every activity from what I’ve seen – from the incredible development work of the MESH team to the more advisory roles of a trustee, and I would like to see this supportive model continue – however large our community grows and develops. Perhaps nationwide? I hope so!

ESOL teachers are very often isolated. Many learners are too. The ability to connect people through resources, workshops, networking and events is a powerful thing. So, the collaborative thread runs through everything we do, from initial research to final web listings. We can quickly communicate current developments and ensure they are visible to our user base. Users of the site can be sure that the information provided is up-to-date and relevant. 

From personal experience, I run local twice-weekly ESOL classes (on campus at the University of Hull and off campus, open ESOL) and use LEYH weekly to aid learners. I also support the students (and future ESOL teachers) I teach with LE+ regularly. I can now quickly answer questions on what is available to suit specific needs in the Hull area.

In the future, I would like to see…

The MESH model adopted nationwide while maintaining an eye on locality. I’m in no doubt that the service would be useful to ESOL learners and their supporters further afield. Current website data indicates that users visit LEYH and LE+ from a much broader radius than Yorkshire and the Humber. However, the MESH model highlights the need for localised resources. An understanding of regional dialects, for example, might be introduced through a local gardening group – these types of wider learning opportunities are very specific to each region and the learners attending. The attention to local detail is important, allowing the MESH team to realise their vision in a way that is accessible to ESOL learners.

Martin is a lecturer in the School of Education, University of Hull, where he lectures on Informal Education, Education Policy and the Sociology of Education. Find out more about Martin here.

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