From education to employment

FE News Exclusive: Frances OGrady, deputy general secretary of the TUC, on why ESOL is so crucia

Over the last 18 months, funding for English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) has rocketed up the political agenda. The TUC supports the Governments focus on improving community cohesion and tackling poverty. But recent proposals to redistribute resources from those in work to those seeking it smacks of robbing Peter to pay Paul – and fails to address the needs of Britains vulnerable migrant workers.

The reality is that most workers with ESOL needs are low paid. Eight in ten migrant workers signed up to the Governments Workers Registration Scheme (WR8) for A8 nationals earn less than £6 an hour. Half of all poor children in Britain now live in households where at least one parent is in paid work.

Migrant workers employed on the minimum wage in Britains farms, food factories and private nursing homes simply cant afford fees for English classes. But, without language skills, they face exploitation at work and isolation in the community.

Although the TUC supports the principle that employers should contribute to the cost of ESOL, recent research suggests that most employers are unlikely to pay for lessons voluntarily. The Government must act to sort out a fair funding settlement with employers, including gangmasters and agencies, or risk our communities paying the price.

To build cohesive communities we also need to tackle division in the workplace. Access to ESOL helps migrant workers understand their entitlements at work, not least health and safety protection and the right to join a union. It also helps people to move out of low paid jobs and make better use of the skills they already have, benefiting individuals and business alike. And crucially it helps break down prejudice and build friendships that keep local communities together.

Last year around 4,000 learners accessed ESOL through their union. Union learning representatives have been at the forefront of providing this support but tell us that the new funding arrangements are making this more difficult.

The ESOL debate is set to continue, with further possible changes signalled in the Governments consultation that concludes in April. The TUC and unions will continue to press the case for ESOL to be free to low paid people in work, helping workers to stand up for their rights, improve their skills and build stronger communities.

Frances O”Grady, Deputy General Secretary, TUC

Related Articles