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Funding structures for ESOL were yesterday cited as suffering from constraints that would act as a barrier to promoting social cohesion.

Further, rules governing the allocation of free ESOL courses were deemed inflexible.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday morning, Minister of State for Further Education and Lifelong Learning, Bill Rammell, was forced to defend the Government's controversial policies on English for Speakers of Other Languages courses.

Michael Gove, Conservative MP for Surrey Heath, asked: "This country benefits hugely from an influx of new citizens who contribute immensely to the national health service, other public services and economic growth, but one of the barriers to effective social cohesion is the mastery of the English language".

"How can we promote social cohesion and build a successful multicultural Britain when there are constraints on the spending that would enable people to speak our shared, common language?"

Responding, Mr Rammell said: "I agree that it is important for us to give people opportunities to learn, study and understand English, for the purpose of community cohesion and for many other reasons. That is why we have tripled the budget and the numbers since 2001. However, the present situation is unsustainable, as the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education has pointed out".

"We need to make a change".

Andrew Love, [Lab/Co-Op, Edmonton], requested some flexibility in policy, arguing that asylum seekers have to wait much longer than the minimum period when getting their status resolved, while immigrants earning minimum wage would find it difficult to pay for courses.

Mr Love asked: "Will my hon. Friend allow some flexibility in the policy in recognition of those constraints?"

Mr Rammell pointed to the statistic that 80% of claims for asylum were being dealt with within eight weeks: "So it cannot be seen as a public funding priority to continue to fund learning for those who will not have the opportunity to remain in the United Kingdom".

He added: "I am trying to determine whether there is another indicator of low income besides the working tax credit that we could use to determine low income, in order to enable people to access free provision".

Ann Cryer, Labour MP for Keighley, pointed to an apparent anomaly in the Government's policy: "Is my hon. Friend aware that our ethnic communities already have to achieve a certain level of English to acquire citizenship, and that from April they will have to achieve a certain level of English to secure indefinite leave to remain?"

"I agree that we cannot go on and on increasing the number of places, but we do not want people to be sent away because they do not speak English when there is nowhere for them to learn it".

Mr Rammell replied: "The impact of the current unsustainable position is that in parts of the country people are having to wait for as long as two years to obtain a place on an ESOL programme, and the most vulnerable individuals are losing out most. The changes we are making are intended to ensure that such people gain access to provision".

Vijay Pattni.

What do you think about ESOL provision?

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UCU To Lobby Govt Over ESOL


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