'Dear Mr Cameron': college principal warns PM of danger posed by Esol cuts

Peter McCann, principal and chief executive of Kirklees College in Huddersfield, has written to prime minister David Cameron about his government’s decision to withdraw funding for mandated English for speakers of other languages (Esol) courses. Here is his letter in full:

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Dear Mr Cameron,

On the day that you made a very important and courageous speech regarding the Prevent agenda (20 July), my college, along with others in England, received notification that adult funding for English as a second language (Esol) provision and other adult skills training would be reduced again for the academic year beginning 1 August 2015.

As you know, this is on top of the 24 per cent reduction announced in March 2015 and the 17.5 per cent reduction in the funding of 18-year-old full-time students announced in 2014. These previous cuts amounted to £2.3 million for this college and it is estimated that these latest cuts amount to a further £450,000.

To achieve the previous reductions and agree a budget that the governing body has been able to approve has required another painful and difficult process. This was however concluded to meet already demanding timescales for 10 July. To then be told, 10 days later (and 10 days before the new financial year), that this process has to recommence, demonstrates a lack of understanding of both the value and the complexity of adult further education in an area such as Kirklees. It also demonstrates a lack of respect for the work of the skills sector.

What is perhaps most concerning is the fact that this funding decision will impact severely in the area of Esol when this college has been publicly applauded in Home Office circles for the Prevent work we undertake in Dewsbury, and the rest of Kirklees, to foster integration through Esol provision and our culture of proactive, harmonious integration of students from all sections of society.

Through this further cut, your government department has exacerbated the very problems you rightly identified in your speech.

While no doubt there will be advisers who remark simplistically that where the cuts are implemented is a matter for each college to determine, the reality for a college is somewhat more complex, as I am sure you will understand.

Should the cuts fall instead on 19-year-olds following the second year of a two-year course?

Should the college refuse to take 19- to 23-year-olds undertaking access courses, only accepting adults aged over 23 with 24+ learning loans?

Should the college refuse retraining for unemployed adults in skills shortage areas in our community such as health, care, and construction? I could go on.

While I applaud the focus on apprenticeships, employer-led developments and higher level skills gaps which your government has brought to bear, this should not be at the expense of other important parts of the adult skills sector. I therefore hope that you will instruct your minister to look at alternative ways to find the necessary savings rather than undermine the important process you have stimulated through your 20 July speech.

While I recognise the great financial challenge the government has, the further education sector has borne a disproportionate burden compared to other public sectors and this latest decision demonstrates a lack of understanding as to the benefit that broader adult further education brings to the lives of those whose background is a long way from that of Whitehall advisers.

Yours sincerely,

Peter McCann 

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