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David Blunkett joins MPs backing English 'ESOL' courses

27 April 2007

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UCU today welcomed former education minister David Blunkett MP's support for calls for the government to rethink plans to restrict access to free courses in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).

Mr Blunkett this week signed a motion asking the government 'to reinstate appropriate funding for ESOL'.

The 161 MPs supporting the motion now include seven former ministers, a former Labour deputy chief whip and a former chair of the parliamentary Labour party.

On Saturday (28 April), staff and students from North London colleges will demonstrate their opposition to the government's continued cuts in adult education and its plans to restrict access to free ESOL courses. The protesters will highlight the impact on London. London is facing a 6% (£25 million) reduction in funding for adult education which will cut cash for some colleges by £1million and cause course closures and job losses from September. This will affect many adult education courses valued by low income and retired people including ESOL courses below Level 2.

Adult education has recently been 'devastated' according to NIACE (The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education - England and Wales) with a million course places lost in the last two years.

On Saturday, three marches from across North London will converge on Hackney Town Hall for a 2pm rally with speakers including students and lecturers, Paul Mackney, joint general secretary of UCU, Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow. Lecturers and students are expected to attend from further education colleges in Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Tower Hamlets, supported by many local residents and community organisations.  An ESOL choir will sing a version of  'Silent Night' to highlight restrictions on language learning opportunities.

The protest has been organised by lecturers from north London colleges - members of the University and College Union (UCU) - and several community organisations.

From September, many ESOL students will have to pay new fees which are unaffordable for many women and low paid workers who need language skills for work and to integrate into local community life. In London, despite waiting lists, some ESOL courses are expected to close and teaching jobs will be lost. Similar problems face Sheffield and several other cities. A national 'Save ESOL' campaign has been resisting the government's plans.

Paul Mackney, UCU joint general secretary, said: 'I welcome support for free ESOL courses from yet another former minister, this time a former education minister. We have the ridiculous position of skills shortages and educational needs not being met, waiting lists for courses increasing and teaching staff facing job losses. Government plans will hit skills training needed by older workers, leisure classes vital to pensioners' health and their quality of life and language courses needed by immigrant residents trying to join in community life and work.

'Londoners will be among the hardest hit including vulnerable people of many backgrounds. The policy is designed to serve business interests, though employers are not required to contribute to its cost. Even business interests will not be well served as the plans don't address the need to retrain older workers or to take advantage of the skills of immigrants.

'Residents in many of London's poorest boroughs were promised that the Olympic Games would bring them jobs, but research shows that there are not the skills in the area and private training firms are not filling gaps. This crisis won't be helped by further cuts in adult education and ESOL.'
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