A lack of proper investment in courses for English for speakers of other languages (ESoL) will impact the success of the government’s proposed integration strategy, according to the Association of Colleges (AoC).
One of the key proposals is to open up new routes to learn English and to encourage people to overcome reluctance or a lack in confidence to take up a course.
'Genuine attempt to improve cohesion'
David Hughes, the chief executive of the AoC, said the proposals looked like a genuine attempt to improve cohesion from a secretary of state who clearly understands the issues.
“But the lack of proper investment will hamper the impact and the success. Any attempt to support the community cohesion agenda is to be welcomed, but the focus needs to be on supporting and developing the infrastructure necessary to deliver it,” he added.
"The ESoL budget has been decimated over the past decade and this extra funding will not go nearly far enough to address those cuts let alone to achieve the ambition in the strategy which rightly go far beyond that. To learn English properly, requires better engagement and encouragement as well as simple, local and accessible skilled, professional language teaching.
“We would also remind the government that colleges, at the heart of their communities, have a vital role to play in this, and must not be overlooked.”
Javid: Learning English transformed my mum's life
Communities secretary Sajid Javid said some 770,000 people settled in the UK do not speak English as he pledged £50 million for a series of measures to boost English language skills and increase social cohesion between different communities.
Mr Javid, whose family came to the UK from Pakistan, said his mother took about 10 years to learn English. "I remember as a six- or seven-year-old going to the doctor's surgery with her so I could interpret for her," he said, but learning the language "absolutely transformed her life,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday.
Pressed on whether the money promised to support the strategy was enough, Mr Javid said: "It's not just about the £50 million, there's actually a substantial amount the government already spends on helping people learn English,” But acknowledged there hadn't been enough of a joined-up approach between Whitehall and local government.
ESoL budget cut significantly
Stephen Evans, Learning and Work Institute chief executive, said English language skills were central to life and work, adding: “The government is right to focus on better support for the 770,000 people who lack these skills. But we need to will the means as well as the ends.
“The budget for ESoL has been cut significantly and we lack a strategy for engaging adults in learning and ensuring high-quality provision. So we need investment in the ESoL workforce and infrastructure and to find new ways to engage people and deliver learning."
Sue Pember, director of policy and external relations at Holex, the umbrella body for adult and community learning providers said it is a good start, adding: “The funding will go some way to alleviate the cuts of the past and we are pleased that government has listened to our requests to have a joined-up strategy across government and we are looking forward to working with them.”
Target to all speak English
Dame Louise Casey, the author of a report on integration in 2016, Dame Louise Casey, welcomed measures to promote English tuition, telling Today: "It is really important that as a nation we are all able to speak a common language and that common language is English."
On Monday she said the government should consider setting a date for everyone in the UK to be able to speak English by. "I would be quite old school about this and I would set a target that says by 'x' date we want everybody in the country to be able to speak a common language,” she told the BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour.