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English classes essential, says UCU in response to social cohesion report

14 June 2007 | last updated: 14 December 2015

UCU said today that unless the government stops plans to cut access to free English classes it has no chance of meeting the recommendations of a Commission on Integration and Cohesion (CIC) report released this morning.

Despite government claims that a top priority is to provide courses in English for Speakers of Other Languages, known as ESOL courses, it actually plans to cut access to free ESOL provision for large sections of society.

The report, Our Shared Future, says that 'a lack of language or employment skills and difficulties accessing English classes' were two of the barriers faced by migrants trying to integrate. It also recognises 'the key role immigration now plays in the success of the UK economy, and the importance of interaction in reducing concerns about immigrants', and calls for ESOL funding to be 'reconsidered; and that more innovative ways of providing ESOL need to be looked at'.

UCU contributed to the original CIC consultation and today welcomed the findings that 'it is only right that those who benefit most from migration, including businesses that employ migrant labour, should pay a contribution towards the cost of ESOL training'. However UCU said it was disappointed the report does not go further and recommend the government to force employers to meet the cost.

Currently the biggest restriction for people who want ESOL classes is the waiting time. UCU believes that while cutting free access may bring down waiting lists, the prohibitive costs will result in far fewer people actually taking English classes – exactly the opposite of this morning's report's recommendations.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'If the government really wants people settling in this country to be English speakers it must realise it has to invest the money. It also needs to realise that this is actually investment and not a cost. We need a proper joined-up approach from government to ensure that no individual requiring ESOL is debarred through long waiting lists or an inability to pay.

'Failure to invest will result in embarrassment for the ministers who have backed English classes for migrants and an economy that is held back because employers cannot speak the same language. I cannot believe we find ourselves in this ridiculous situation. ESOL classes were a success story.

'The prime minister and chancellor were exhorting non-English speakers to go on courses and they joined in their thousands. The economy and society benefit from people being able to speak English and it is about time the employers were made to do their bit and help with the funding. We have learnt that the voluntary option does not work and it is time they were forced to foot some of the bill as well as reap the benefits.'

A recent National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults (NATECLA) survey showed that at least 40% of learners will be adversely affected by restrictions to free ESOL courses. The fee contribution for a fairly minimal length quality course of six hours a week will be around £426 whilst a notional 'full-time' programme of around 450 hours will be around £990. And on top of that there are exam costs and often childcare.

For thousands of low income people who don't get fee remission - those in settled communities and migrant workers - this is a cost they will simply not be able to prioritise. With the inevitable need to prioritise funding for essentials such as food and accommodation costs, paying for English classes is simply not top priority.