From education to employment

Union says Government needs to make sure policy does not marginalise the vulnerable.

When the Government announced changes to ESOL funding, ending the universal access to free English classes, UCU were at the forefront of protests with their Save ESOL campaign. They have lobbied Government to reconsider and welcomed the consultation announced by DIUS in January.

Speaking at the time, UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: UCU welcomes this fresh look at ESOL. We have been seeking such a review and we shall participate fully.

We have consistently warned that bringing in fees for ESOL would hit vulnerable people and jeopardise community cohesion. The government, quite rightly, has cited community cohesion as a central plank of building a fairer and more equitable Britain and this review appears intended to take account of that.

The funding must be found to ensure the most needy and vulnerable in society are not further marginalised through an inability to afford to learn to speak the language of this country. The government must also look afresh at ways of making employers pay their share of the language training costs of employees.

Dan Taubman, UCU’s senior national education official reiterates this; a view also supported by the TUC and NIACE.

“We would like the Government to enforce employer contributions. The idea of contributions from workers themselves, if they are doctors for example, who earn a decent salary is fine but you shouldn”t expect migrant workers who are on minimum wage or even less to pay for their English classes.”

Dan says that on the whole, the move to give local authorities the responsibility for ESOL is a good thing. He says: “It makes sense to run it at a local level although there are some concerns; there will need to be quite tight guidelines to ensure programmes are run properly. The need for ESOL is becoming more widespread, it’s no longer just in London and other cities but also the shires. There needs to be strict control so that ESOL programmes are delivered in the right way in these areas where there was previously no demand.

The LSC has yet to release figures from September 2007 which would illustrate what effect ending universal free ESOL lessons has had on enrolment numbers. Therefore UCU, and other campaigning organisations such as NIACE, have had to rely on figures correlated from their own members around the country. By all accounts, the overall picture is patchy. Dan says that some members report their classes have not really been affected whilst for others it has been a disaster with a dramatic fall-off of numbers.

The UCU is pressing for DIUS and stakeholders to sit down with them to compare the latest figures with the previous year.

Dan Taubman says: “If DIUS can prove that there is not a problem with the number of people enrolling and figures are not down then fine but they need to be able to show us those figures.”

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