ESOL Announcement: a qualified welcome

19 July 2011

NIACE welcomes the government’s modification of its earlier decisions concerning the funding of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), to help overcome the negative impact on learners in settled communities needing to learn English.

The Equality Impact Assessment – issued on Monday 18 July – highlighted the risk that women in the poorest communities, and particularly women with children, would be unable to learn English when government subsidy of fee levels was withdrawn. The new measures will help offset that risk, but to what extent will only be clear later in the summer.

Alan Tuckett, Chief Executive of NIACE, said:

“The decision to develop new forms of community-based support using funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government is welcome. But this welcome has to be qualified, until the size of the new funding available is clear, and until these new measures are complemented by local flexibility for institutions to ensure that people in need do not miss out.”

“NIACE broadly accepts the three principles informing John Hayes’ approach to ESOL – that people actively seeking work should receive support; that people in the most disadvantaged communities should be protected and prioritised, and that employers should pay for workers without English skills recruited to work in Britain. There are however many people needing ESOL provision – in work and out of it – who are not covered by these criteria and who will be excluded because they cannot afford the fees to take classes. At the same time, colleges in areas with ESOL demand risk being unable to draw down their full funding allocation.”

“As a result, NIACE strongly recommends that the government complements the new measures with advice to Principals and heads of local service to help address the need for ESOL provision in their local area, in the light of the three principles informing policy, and to use discretion over fee collection to ensure that disadvantaged learners are not excluded.”

NIACE further welcomes the involvement of two of its patrons, Lord Tim Boswell and Baroness Margaret Sharp, in the committee to advise the minister on how funding should be most effectively prioritised.

NIACE is holding a policy briefing on Thursday 21 July in Leicester to discuss the implications of the Equality Impact Assessment, this announcement and the future challenges for ESOL provision.

NIACE sponsored More Than A Language (2006), an independent inquiry into ESOL provision, and continues to highlight the need for asylum seekers to have access to English classes on arrival.