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UCU calls for ESOL moratorium as protest goes to Downing Street

29 June 2007 | last updated: 14 December 2015

UCU has urged the government to implement a one year moratorium on changes in entitlement to free courses in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).

Today, after a UCU/UNISON 'Save ESOL' conference, a delegation of ESOL lecturers will reinforce the message by handing in a giant postcard to the new prime minister, Gordon Brown, at Downing Street.

Paul Mackney, associate general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), earlier this week wrote to then secretary of state for education and skills, Alan Johnson MP, urging him to consider a moratorium of one year to allow more discussion on what sort of ESOL provision is needed by society. The request follows a recent call by the Commission on Integration and Cohesion for the funding needs of ESOL to be reconsidered because of the value of such courses.

The government is introducing changes this autumn which will reduce the number of people entitled to free ESOL courses. For thousands of low income people who don't get fee remission - those in settled communities and migrant workers - fees of between £420 and £990 will be unaffordable.

Many colleges are currently making lecturers redundant in anticipation of reduced registration for ESOL courses despite recently growing waiting lists which had indicated a growing demand for classes.

The call for a moratorium will be repeated today at a 'Save ESOL' conference organised by UCU and UNISON, in London. Speakers include trade unionists, students, tutors and college principals. The keynote speaker is Jack Dromey, Deputy General Secretary, Unite T&G Section. The conference will hear professional concerns and develop an ongoing 'Save ESOL' campaign strategy.

In his letter to Alan Johnson MP, Paul Mackney expressed UCU's appreciation of the minor changes government has made to initial proposals following extensive campaigning and a mass lobby of parliament by language teachers, students and community organisations.

But he stressed that the case for a full review of the planned entitlement changes was now  greatly strengthened by the view of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion and growing evidence of the value to the economy of language training. He also raised questions about the legality of asking college staff to differentiate between students who could have access to free literacy courses or to ESOL courses requiring payment.

Paul Mackney wrote (and will say today): 'The Commission on Integration and Cohesion sees the importance of ESOL as "fundamental to integration and cohesion - for settled communities, new communities, and future generations of immigrants".

'We need a 'breather' for the period of reconsideration recommended by the Commission.  Redundancies are currently being proposed with insufficient time for full consultation and little consideration of future requirements. It is a criminal waste to allow colleges to make redundant the core ESOL staff that will be needed in the future.'

Christine Lewis,  UNISON national official for further education, said: 'UNISON is supporting the conference and campaign because ESOL cuts endanger its college members, fly in the face of social cohesion programmes and threaten to derail our training agenda for the public service workforce, many of whom have ESOL needs.'