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Ethnic minority women hit hardest by Esol cuts

FE news | Published in TES Newspaper on 22 July, 2011 | By: Stephen Exley

Minister admits ‘anxiety’ as union brands plans ‘a huge body blow for community cohesion’

FE minister John Hayes has admitted that women from ethnic minorities will be “disproportionately” affected by Esol (English for speakers of other languages) cuts.

Mr Hayes told FE Focus he was “anxious” about the “unintended consequences” of the policy, which could have a “consequent negative effect on community cohesion”.

He said extra funding would be made available to tackle the problem, and has spoken to local government minister Eric Pickles about taking cross- departmental action.

“British Asians, and British Asian women, will be disproportionately affected by the changes,” Mr Hayes said.

He insisted the results of the delayed Esol impact assessment published this week supported the rationale behind the changes, which will see Esol funding focused on those not in work.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the assessment “confirms our worst fears”, adding: “These plans are a huge body blow for community cohesion, and fly in the face of David Cameron’s call for more immigrants to learn English.”

Shadow FE minister Gordon Marsden said: “(The impact assessment) underlines that our fears - that vulnerable people, especially women in communities, would be hit hard by these restrictions - were justified and that action needs to be taken.”

A raft of complex changes introduced in the Government’s FE strategy, published last year, included the removal of programme weighting (extra money to reflect the difficulty of teaching some of the most needy students); removing full fee remission for learners on inactive benefits such as housing benefit and income support; and forcing employers to pay for Esol training in the workplace.

The latter change was intended to focus public funds on settled jobseekers whose lack of English is a barrier to employment.

Of the women taking Esol courses in 2009/10, the impact assessment revealed that 32.6 per cent were white but non-British, and 14.3 per cent were Chinese.

Mr Hayes said: “I am confident a significant proportion are migrant workers. Business should actively fund the cost of their learning.”

The minister said he had “listened carefully” to concerns about the impact of the cuts, and had asked the Association of Colleges to report back to him on “how we can make sure that extra resources will be targeted to the most vulnerable people” and avoid “short changing learners”.

The impact assessment said that a “significant proportion” of evidence warned women could be left “isolated in their community” without being able to speak English.

A letter sent to chancellor George Osborne last week signed by the Women’s Leadership Network and the Network for Black Professionals expressed the organisations’ concerns about cuts to Esol provision.


Original headline: Ethnic minority women will be hit hardest by Esol cuts

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Comment (1)

  • It's a wise saying that you judge a person by their actions and not by what they say. And so it is with governments. We are told by both this government and the last that being able to speak and understand English is essential for the individual and of key importance to the workplace and society at large. And yet each time we are told this there are cuts to classes in English for speakers of other languages. First they removed ESOL from the 'skills for life' portfolio. Then they took away the right of asylum seekers to learn the language of the country they were in. Later they made it clear that they didn't want migrant workers 'elbowing their way to the front of the queue'. Finally they removed fee concessions from ESOL for most students (though not from literacy classes) and ceased the discretionary support fund for ESOL.

    And after a huge fuss - one of the largest education campaigns - the minister promised an equality impact assessment and a discussion about it before the parliamentary recess. We have the desk-based assessment the day before the recess and it says people will be disenfranchised, particularly women on 'inactive benefits'. It is they who will have to pay fees in September.

    To the rescue comes the Department for Communities and Local Government, using money for social inclusion for ESOL work in pursuit of community development. This is excellent news. Just when all was despair among the larger ESOL providers and BIS was repeating that there was only funding already in the system and intended for other learners, providers have been told that some new money, to replace something of what has been cut, will be forthcoming - albeit from another department.

    The minister is right to be worried. However there are two things to welcome warmly. First, it shows that the government is listening and can change its mind when it needs to. And second, more important really, it shows that two departments can work together on a common problem if the will is there.

    The proof of the pudding, though, will be - as ever - in the detail. This has yet to be announced. Here's hoping that it's enough to make a difference and to meet some of the demand, encouraging learning among those at entry (beginner) levels. The next conundrum to address will be how to reach those people who most need to learn and who are living in communities where their language skills can be used in order for them to contribute to both everyday activity and the community itself. Funding to encourage these people into learning would be a brilliant achievement. Here's hoping that it will - though if the minister is worried then we should all be worried.

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    22 July, 2011


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