No part of the further education sector is as emotive as Esol. The reason is simple. Among the providers that took part in the Refugee Action survey published today, around 40 per cent of learners are refugees or asylum seekers.
Accordingly, it can be difficult to avoid the divisive rhetoric around immigration. But there is one issue on which commentators at both ends of the political spectrum agree: immigrants should be able to speak English.
At the point of arrival, not all of them can. English classes are crucial to giving them the opportunity to become part of society. Without Esol, simple tasks such as getting a doctor’s appointment or going shopping become a struggle. And once an individual has enrolled at a college or training provider, they often stay in education. As the Casey Review explained, 27 per cent of Esol learners progress to further learning.
Funding available for Esol through the adult education budget was cut by a staggering 55 per cent over a six-year period. An additional £8 million from the Department for Communities and Local Government since 2012 has certainly not filled the gap. A wait of six months or more for a place on an Esol course is common. In one case, learners face a three-year wait.
The contentious immigration debate means that Esol is unlikely to benefit from the magic money tree. But a coordinated strategy for England would go a long way to ensuring proper oversight of this diverse, tangled and crucial area.