From education to employment

Continuing the debate on ESOL, FE News hears from NIACE

Anita Hallam is development officer with the literacy, language and numeracy team at NIACE. For the past year Anita has been researching the impact of ESOL policy changes which were announced in 2006 and came into effect in August 2007. Here, she discusses the current Government consultation on ESOL and what NIACE hope will come out of it.

Priority groups

The DIUS consultation sets out the national priorities for who might be eligible for free ESOL classes. If you have a look at the list in the consultation document it includes a number of groups who are already eligible for fee remission and we welcome that. However, there are two groups who previously qualified for the discretionary learner support fund but don”t appear on the consultation list. At NIACE we think this puts them at risk of social exclusion. The first of these groups is low paid workers. We are concerned that they may miss out and should be added as a priority to avoid problems in the future such as cohesion issues.

The second group is spouses and other family members who are reunited in the UK. They currently have to wait until they have been in the country for one year before they can take up ESOL classes. We first highlighted this issue in the NIACE report More Than A Language which was published in Autumn 2006. Our view is that there is a negative impact in delaying learning. Delay prohibits language learning and prevents settlement. Access to learning can be delayed indefinitely as circumstances change so early access is the best thing to enable settlement to take place.

We welcome the inclusion of provision for asylum seekers but it should be from day one, not after waiting six months.

All in all it is a good thing the list is part of the consultation process and its important that people can have their say and the process is democratic.

Local need

We welcome the proposed emphasis on local responsibility. In our view, the proposed Local Government area strategies are an effective way to identify local needs and priority groups in different areas. To be effective they should be straightforward and established in ways that achieve the buy-in of providers. The work currently in progress in Manchester to develop a city ESOL strategy for employability and social inclusion could provide an effective model, as could similar work taking place in the London region.

One concern is that while local authorities will be responsible for planning, the LSC will still have the budget and planning for all post 16 learners. There is potential tension there between national and local priorities but careful planning will be the way forward.

Employers contributions

The Government should ensure employers have to secure ESOL provision for their workers ““ both migrants and those who have settled in the UK. We believe there should be regulatory and enforcement measures on employers. We welcome the employer pledge which is a good first step but we have to wait and see whether it will be enough.

NIACE welcome the consultation and will work with DIUS to support the consultation process. The consultation is important as it ensures people are invited to take part and have their say. We also welcome the consultation’s focus on the issues we raised in the “More Than a Language” report.

Anita Hallam, development officer, NIACE

Frances O”Grady: “Make ESOL free for low-paid workers”

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