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NATECLA RELEASE: Migrants on huge waiting lists for English courses as government funding is cut again

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22 May 2014
NATECLA RELEASE: Migrants on huge waiting lists for English courses as government funding is cut again

Press release

Migrants on huge waiting lists for English courses as government funding is cut again

With government pressure on migrants to learn English at an all-time high, the UK’s membership association for English language teachers, NATECLA, has released figures showing that, due to a lack of government funding, demand for places on English language courses is significantly outstripping supply.

A survey conducted by the National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults (NATECLA) of 212 colleges and adult education centres in the UK has revealed that over 80% of providers have significant waiting lists of up to 1,000 students on English for Speakers of Other Language (ESOL) courses. 66% of providers cited a lack of government funding as the main reason.  As a result, migrants who want to learn English are regularly being turned away.  

Survey respondents expressed serious concerns about the way cuts have affected migrants with low levels of English, in particular. The worry is that those who are not able to develop their language skills will be unable to fully participate in life in the UK. In addition, there appears to be a lack of suitably qualified and experienced specialist ESOL teachers.

The shortfall in funding is primarily down to successive cuts in the Adult Skills Budget which pays for most ESOL provision; the most recent of these being February’s cut of 19% (£463 million). This has resulted in a dramatic 42% drop in the number of migrant adults able to access an English language course in the UK – from 82,900 students in 2012/13 to 48,300 students this academic year.  

The figures are being released less than a year after George Osbourne’s Spending Review in June 2013 when he told unemployed migrants, “If you’re not prepared to learn English your benefits will be cut”. It also comes only a few weeks after the government’s introduction of a new spoken English assessment for migrants on jobseekers allowance and government pressure on care workers to learn English and at the same time as MP Sajid Javid called for Migrants to the UK to learn English and "respect our way of life". 

Judy Kirsh, NATECLA co-chair, said: 

“ESOL provision in the UK has been subjected to a number of cuts over the last few years, but with waiting lists of up to 1,000 students at some colleges and adult education centres, the situation is now at its most severe.

As an organisation, we believe the government should enable migrants to learn English so that they can participate fully in UK life.  ESOL learners are a diverse, multi-ethnic, heterogeneous group; they live and work in all areas across Britain - are young or old - and the unifying feature is their desire to learn and develop their language skills in order to integrate and lead full and productive lives.  In order to meet the demand for English language provision, the funding to provide the necessary courses needs to be in place. Investing in ESOL makes sense.” 

An extra £30 million of government funding was announced in February to cater for unemployed adults identified as having ‘poor spoken English’. As part of the new plan, those identified will be mandated to attend local ESOL provision in order to improve their English within six months. However, the focus for this funding is on providing short courses for beginner-level learners. Experts in the field have questioned whether learners who complete these entry level programmes will have the necessary language skills to find work. Higher levels of ESOL are excluded from this additional funding.  Moreover, seeing an improvement in the use of English within six months is just not possible for many learners.

Research conducted by English language specialists in Australia a decade ago found that, in order to acquire the language needed to work in a basic clerical role, an individual with no or little English would need an average of 1,765 hours of lessons. This would translate to a four year full-time course. To move up one level, 360 hours of time spent in a language classroom per year is the average requirement. 

Clearly, there is recognition that good English and Maths skills are crucial for society and the economy: Functional Skills English and Maths are fully funded. Why, then, is the provision which develops the ability to speak, listen, read and write English not funded in the same way? As one NATECLA survey respondent points out:

ESOL is co-funded whilst Functional Skills English is fully funded. The government needs to make ESOL fully funded.’

NATECLA is a charitable organisation which provides a national forum for ESOL and community language practitioners. It provides high quality training events and promotes the sharing of good practice in the sector. NATECLA campaigns to promote and protect ESOL provision in the UK.

Find out more about NATECLA.   . 

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