Esol funding cuts will have 'devastating' impact on thousands of learners, charity warns

Darren Evans

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The withdrawal of funding for Esol (English for speakers of other languages) courses will have an “immediate and devastating impact” on thousands of learners, warn organisations representing teachers and colleges.

On Monday, a letter from the Skills Funding Agency revealed that all funding for “Esol plus mandation” would be cut as part of the £450 million in savings that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has been asked to find by the Treasury.

Some 47 colleges and about 16,000 learners will be affected by the cuts, according to the Association of Colleges (AoC).

An estimated £45 million had been allocated to the programme of mandated learning, which is targeted at jobseekers' allowance claimants identified as having poor spoken English skills that prevent them from finding work.

In a statement, the National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults (Natecla), said: “This will have an immediate and devastating impact on Esol provision across the country, with the timing of the cuts being particularly pernicious, not only after the implementation of existing cuts, but at a time during the college cycle where planning for the next academic year is finished, prospectuses have been published and learners and teachers are in place.”

It said thousands of claimants would have to find other ways to access classes and claimed many were likely to remain on benefits as a result. The impact on providers and teachers would also be huge, the association claimed.

The AoC said 47 colleges in England currently benefited from “Esol plus mandation” funding, with £26 million shared between them. About 16,000 college learners would be affected, it added.

An AoC spokeswoman said: “This will prevent them from not only integrating with society, but from getting into employment and off benefits. Many high-level professionals who come to this country could now be held back from offering their vital skills to the economy.”

The timing of the announcement has also been criticised, coming on the same day the prime minister announced a review of how to boost integration in deprived and isolated communities to tackle extremism, including how to ensure people learn English.

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