Esol cuts: ‘Without this course, you don’t know how to live’

The end of mandated provision will hit thousands of learners and cut millions from college budgets, particularly in London (pictured) – we hear from those affected

William Martin & Julia Belgutay

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In July the government announced the complete removal of funding for Esol Plus Mandation (English for speakers of other languages) courses. The £45 million programme of compulsory language learning was intended to help Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants with little spoken English to find work and integrate into UK society.

The policy shift will affect some 16,000 learners across 47 colleges, the Association of Colleges has calculated, with female and ethnic minority learners being disproportionately affected. In addition, many providers have had millions of pounds slashed from their budgets at a stroke.

Colleges in London, the North East and the Midlands were among those worst hit, with the capital being particularly severely affected. According to Gerry McDonald, principal of Tower Hamlets College, London institutions will miss out on £16 million as a result of the cuts.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that Esol provision would continue to be funded through the adult skills budget. They added that the department had spent an estimated £140 million on fully and part-funded Esol courses in 2013-14 (including £45 million on the mandated courses), supporting 142,000 learners in the process.

But beyond the raw figures, what impact will the Esol Plus Mandation cuts have? TES asked learners and college staff what the changes would mean for them.

Mohammed Sharif Mahmoud, a student at Tower Hamlets College

“I come from Somalia. Esol class helped me to speak English and helped me to read and write English. I want learn English to help my children and I need it to speak to and understand the community. I need to speak English to visit the hospital, to talk about housing. I need to learn English to get a job. I don’t want to use an interpreter; I want to say something for myself.”

Nathaniel Ghilazghi, former student at Lambeth College

“I came to this country about 10 years ago. Esol was a stepping stone for me. It was the foundation. It is the beginning for everyone’s lives in this country. If you haven’t done Esol, you don’t know how to communicate. You don’t know how to live. Cuts to Esol will not keep the peace and liberty and love and unity of the country. I’m a living example of Esol working. Now I work – now I’m independent. We want more people to go through what I went through. And if I had to pay for Esol, trust me, I would not be able to and I wouldn’t be here. Esol should be free.”

Joanna Saphir, teacher at Barnet and Southgate College

“The cuts to Esol funding mean that our students are not going to be able to progress with their lives. They can’t get anything, or communicate with people or get out and find jobs. They can’t start paying tax or contribute to the society that they want to contribute to. And for us, on a personal level, it means a massive loss of jobs in the Esol department.”

Millie Wild, Esol teacher at Hackney Community College

“Mind, the mental health charity, has said that being able to learn English is fundamental to mental health, because without it people feel powerless and that they’re not in the driving seat. Our students are really vulnerable without English. One day I spent the whole break writing medicine instructions in Spanish because the student had not been able to read them. Can you imagine living here and you can’t read what’s on the buses? People are scared to go anywhere that isn’t where they usually go because they’re scared they won’t be able to get home.”

Mandy Brown, tutor at Lambeth College

“I have been teaching Esol for 13 years. In that time, things have changed a lot. We are left doing more and more of the stuff that doesn’t benefit the students. The last year has seen a real escalation in the amount and pace of the cuts. There are fewer people to do the work, but we have courses to run. Class sizes are increasing all the time. This is now a hard place to be. Everyone is really anxious and there are a lot of tears. And what if there is another huge cut about to be announced?”

Gerry McDonald, principal of Tower Hamlets College

“For us, mandated Esol, in cash terms, was worth about £500,000 a year. That represents between 400 and 500 students. So it’s quite a significant thing for us. No Esol will slow down the integration process and it will make some communities more insular and not able to access services or the job market, or support their children well enough in school, or access doctors and health services. Actually, all you do [by cutting Esol] is place strain on other parts of the system.”

How cuts are affecting London colleges:

Barnet and Southgate College

Jobcentre Plus funding has been cut by £2 million, resulting in the loss of the equivalent of 4.3 full-time Esol teaching jobs.

Brent Start

A third of Esol provision has been cut, equating to £424,000 – 9 per cent of the overall budget. As a result, there are “significantly fewer” courses on offer.

Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College

Jobcentre Plus funding has been cut by £1.2 million, leading to 65 per cent of Esol provision being scrapped.

Lambeth College

Esol cuts will wipe £1.1 million from the institution’s budget.

Tower Hamlets College

The future of Esol courses beyond December is uncertain, after a £505,000 reduction in Jobcentre Plus funding.

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William Martin & Julia Belgutay

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