Prime minister David Cameron has today announced a £20 million programme to fund Esol (English for speakers of other languages) courses for Muslim women who do not have access to English language learning services.
The initiative will provide courses for women from isolated communities, either through community groups or FE colleges. Announcing the new programme, Mr Cameron said it would be a “dramatic improvement” to current Esol provision, adding: "With English language and women’s empowerment as our next frontier, I believe we can bring Britain together and build the stronger society that is within reach."
However, the move comes just months after an estimated £45 million in funding for Esol courses was withdrawn. At the time, the Association of Colleges (AoC) said 47 colleges and approximately 17,000 learners would be affected. The Esol plus mandation programme was targeted at Jobseeker's Allowance claimants who identified as having poor spoken English skills that prevented them from finding work. In October, hundreds of campaigners attended a protest against the cuts.
AoC chief executive Martin Doel welcomed today's announcement. “We share the prime minister's determination to promote integration but his plans to promote the learning of English need to encompass all communities, as well as focusing on women mainly from the Muslim community," he said. "This latest funding announcement does not make up for a 50 per cent (£160 million) reduction in the funds available for teaching Esol courses between 2008 and 2015.
"It is good news that the government has protected the adult education budget in cash terms for the next four years but recent spending cuts have had an impact on the number of people learning English in our further education colleges with approximately 2,000 fewer women attending Esol courses in the last year."
A statement from the National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults (NATECLA) questioned the "prioritisation of Muslim women alone in benefiting from this funding". "To ensure all migrants integrate successfully into British life, surely more funding needs to be made available to support both men and women from all religious backgrounds so that they can learn English," it added.