From education to employment

Vijay Pattni Takes a Birthday Look at Government and the Language Lesson

It is my birthday today. Not so many happy returns, as another England washout threatens to ruin my entire week. As I sit here writing, I come to you a broken man; faith shattered beyond comprehension. Hope is nestling somewhere, somewhere in 2008 with a certain Mr. McClaren”¦

But let us focus on FE now, shall we? Read the newspapers and you will find a whirlpool of madness and chaos. Turn on the television and you see graphic portrayals of death, destruction, violence and ignorance. Switch on the radio and, amidst the poorly constructed and expertly manufactured pop artists, you will no doubt hear news of this tragedy; that death; those enemies; these problems. The world, it seems, is coming to a cataclysmic and gratuitous finale in which every last bastion of hope seems to have faded in a haze of spin, rhetoric, intolerance and stupidity.

A Hopeful Outlook”¦?

To whom do we look to in times of crisis? Why, none other than our elected representatives, shepherding our very souls away from one crisis; safeguarding our civil liberties and providing for a safe, unrestricted and peaceful future. But there is yet more gloom to the tale. It is nothing new to suggest that the Labour party, that once great citadel of modern socialism, is wallowing in the pits of voter confidence. Failed policies and the ubiquitous move to the centre right has guaranteed Tony Blair a place in history as the man who plunged Britain back into the dark ages of acceptable civil behaviour.

Yet even though he clings desperately to his high chair of power and authority, he has no inclination to review the failures of the past; the failures of his very government. As much as two years ago, the BBC reported on an immigration scandal, whereby bogus language schools were providing visas for immigrants without any premise of language learning. The then Home Secretary David Blunkett MP announced sweeping measures to counteract the threat, introducing a register to which all language schools would become signatories.

However, here we are, two years down the line with countless accusations of sleaze, spin and sedition and again, a government in tatters. Last week saw the release of another BBC report highlighting that these counterfeit language schools were still in existence, indeed, in abundance, around the country offering visas to immigrants looking to settle illegally in the UK.

Mirroring similar cries to tighten regulations and impose more stringent tests, the government has yet again failed to heed the warnings from within the language industry and from other such members in the sector. Dr John Brennan, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges noted the lack of attention government has paid to this most ludicrous violation of border controls: “We warned the Home Office repeatedly last year that creating a register which allowed anyone on it was wide open to abuse. There were no checks on quality or probity.”

Asleep at the Wheel

So it seems our beloved captains seated in power have succumbed to their most default policy making setting ““ legislate or create guidelines without actually listening to industry chiefs. And it has backfired spectacularly, not least considering the country’s heightened alertness for terrorist activity. Granted; I put my hands up in admittance for that rather sensationalist comment, but the consequences of yet another immigration scandal are absolutely terrifying. It would appear that they have not reckoned with the danger that these bogus language schools pose to the UK.

Dr Brennan, clearly understanding the gravity of the situation, continued, focusing on the abuses possible within the “register” the former Home Secretary introduced back in 2004: “The register has given an air of legitimacy to private operations without any real safeguards to ensure that they do not abuse their position”. And exactly what measures are possible to ensure these “private operations” do not succeed? Dr Brennan noted: “The AoC wants the Home Office to restrict the register to bona fide colleges which are in receipt of public funding or are properly accredited. That way, both legitimate students coming in to study from overseas and the public are properly protected. The AoC is campaigning for the official register to be restricted to publicly-funded further education colleges and private language colleges approved and accredited by the British Council or the industry body English UK.”

Taking Note

English UK noted the growing problem also, but focused on the solution. Richard Truscott, Deputy Chief Executive of the body, stated: “We”ve been working for a number of years to encourage mandatory accreditation. We are a professional association working with the British Council and this accreditation is regarded as the gold standard.”

While it is pleasing to hear that some gold standards within the country still exist, Mr Truscott continued: “We have been working with other members in the sector for about 18 months, not specifically on this issue, but including it also”. And refreshingly, he outlined specific measures designed to counteract the threat these schools pose: “Our accreditation scheme has independent and unannounced inspections. We want to put into place schemes with specific criteria including the welfare of students, the management of the different schools, and generally encompassing the entire student experience.”

Mr Blair take note: the Home Office is in desperate need of review. These bogus schools not only infringe upon the already shambolic nature of our immigration system, but also bring into disrepute an industry that seeks to encourage greater unison between countries, breaking down borders and providing a vital economic input. Yes, language learning, as highlighted by FE News, is vitally important in our infrastructure, and we cannot let the zealous and the incompetent ruin it.

Vijay Pattni

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