Hundreds of campaigners attended a protest against cuts to mandated English for speakers of other languages (Esol) and adult learning courses today.
Staff from across the FE sector gathered at the rally in London to criticise the government's decision to axe the £45 million Esol plus mandation programme, which is targeted at Jobseeker's Allowance claimants identified as having poor spoken English skills that prevent them from finding work.
The protest, organised by the University and College Union (UCU) and Action for Esol, involved about 600 people with banners gathering in Parliament Square.
Matt Early, an Esol teacher at Hackney Community College, said he was "absoutely dismayed" when the cuts were announced. "They're trying to deskill us, and there seems to be a culture of squeezing the teachers as much as they possibly can," he said. "There have been massive job cuts."
Esau Fayed, an adult learner at Greenwich Community College, said many people would be prevented from attending his college and others around the country as a result.
Millie Wild, a teacher at Hackney Community College, called for a more holistic approach to Esol. "It's not simply just not being able to study in English," she said. "Can you imagine living here and not being able to read what's on the buses, or not be able to go to hospital? People are scared to go anywhere because they're scared they won't get home."
At a lobby event within the Palace of Westminster, MP for Ealing Central and Acton Rupa Huq said that as the daughter of immigrants who had to learn English when they arrived in the UK, she felt Esol was important. "English is the great leveller," she said. "Esol needs to stay."
Speaking to TES after the rally, Elizabeth Lawrence, president of the University and College Union (UCU), said: "It was encouraging that 600 people turned up. This is the third lot and it is important we keep on with these lobbies.
"The FE sector contributes so much to society and it's important we continue with these lobbies."