From education to employment

Pressure for change in policy “gathering steam” according to union

The University and College Union (UCU) launched a massive campaign yesterday to lobby government in a bid to reverse the decision on ESOL funding.

Unions, colleges and other assorted organisations gathered in London to debate the future of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), following the recent shift in priorities for the adult education budget.

According to the UCU, nearly 100 MP’s have signed an EDM calling for the government to “reinstate appropriate funding for ESOL learning particularly for those least able to afford to pay for their own training”.

Paul Mackney, Joint General Secretary of UCU, said: “This government is basing much of its economic success on labour from overseas. It has an obligation to provide the language lessons which enable migrants, refugees and their families to play their full part not only at work but also in society”.

“We would encourage all those who agree with us to engage with our campaign for a ministerial rethink”, he added.

Other commentators who are pushing for ESOL’s free status to be reinstated include Lisa Nandy, from the Children’s Society. She said: “In light of the efforts being made to aid integration and build social cohesion it seems at best short-sighted to pursue a policy which will create “pools” of exclusion containing people who may remain in the UK for the rest of their lives”.

Vicki Fagg, Principal of the College of North West London, highlighted the course closures she has overseen at her college: “We have been forced to cut 750 places from ESOL and other adult education courses this year. We have just under 1,000 people on the waiting list for English language lessons. These people may therefore be prevented from accessing other training and education programmes and/or the labour market and contributing to our economy. The risk they will be socially excluded will be greater”.

And a spokesperson from the Learning and Skills Council was quoted as saying: “Restricting access to ESOL and other FE provision for asylum seekers is inconsistent with Government policy on integration, community cohesion and citizenship. The Government’s own policy document “Integration Matters” recognises that although “full integration” may well not start until the granting of refugee or similar status, the integration process starts on arrival. There is widespread recognition that English language is essential to integration”.

Hashmat Ghezally trumpeted the benefits of free ESOL training: “I came and sought asylum to the UK on 15/02/00 with no word of English, on 16/02/00 I went to an ESOl class in Dover, soon after three months I registered to the local library and started to borrow books”.

He continues: “It would be interesting to calculate and find out how much money was spent on me for attending ESOL classes and how much I have contributed as a part time and full time tax payer since January 2001″.

“If ESOL wasn”t free, I wouldn”t have been able to afford to learn English”.

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Vijay Pattni.

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