I have been involved as a board member of SAVTE for 15 years, for the last 8 as chair. My involvement came about because the Moorfoot office of the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE), for which I worked, adopted SAVTE as its Christmas charity.
We raised a substantial sum of money for it and when I handed it over, I asked if there was anything we could do for it on a continuing basis. The reply was that they wanted help with governance and strategy and I thought I could help with that for a couple years. I’m still here 15 years later, still very impressed with the work SAVTE does and still excited by the opportunities we have for the future.
In my professional life I was at one stage Director of Adult Learning in DfEE and in that role chaired the committee which produced the first national curriculum for ESOL English for speakers of other languages.
When I retired, already involved with SAVTE, I was asked by the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Learning to chair a group on English language learning for adults to look at policy and good practice. The report we produced, More than a Language, had a big impact on the then Labour government although we were never able to persuade them to make available the levels of funding we thought necessary. Sadly the situation now, ten years later, is very much worse in terms of public funding and in terms of the level of unmet demand for language learning.
SAVTE has evolved in response to these new challenges and the aspect of my job as chair which I have enjoyed most has been helping develop our strategy to enable us to help meet these new challenges.
In addition to our 1-2-1 learning opportunities, which remain the core of our work, we now run a wide range of conversation classes, many of them delivered in innovative ways and in partnership with many different community groups, and we manage entry-level learning classes funded by Sheffield City Council. We play a major role in the development of the ESOL strategy for the city.
The other main part of my role has been to help find funding sources for our work. As for every other voluntary organisation, this has got steadily more difficult just as public funding has been sharply reduced. Despite continued support from Sheffield City Council, every year we faced the worry of having to look for funding from many different sources to enable us to continue our much-needed work.
So it was a huge relief to us when we secured a major Lottery grant which will ensure that we can continue for the next five years at least.
I am very glad we have been able to continue our work for so long, and I have gained so much from meeting and learning from our learners, our volunteers and our staff. I am still excited by SAVTE!