Colleges are being inundated with requests from refugees and asylum-seekers to join English as a second language (ESOL) courses. While many are offering extra courses, they are unable to meet demand as they do not have enough teachers or accommodation.
Most colleges have reported a significant increase in requests for ESOL over the past 12 months. While colleges in London and the South-east are most affected, the trend has become more widespread since the introduction of the Government's national dispersal programme.
Newcastle College expects about 200 asylum-seekers to enrol on ESOL courses this autumn. "We're surrounded by people clamouring for classes," says Chris Lockwood, the college's director of ESOL.
Liverpool Community College has a waiting list of 700, while Park Lane College in Leeds is laying on customised one-term courses for asylum- seekers in addition to its regular ESOL programmes.
Bournemouth College normally has about 150 asylum-seekers taking ESOL courses at any time, around double the nmber it was teaching 18 months ago. As at most colleges, ESOL is combined with IT, along with careers advice and opportunities to progress to other courses and careers.
ESOL tuition is free because it qualifies for Further Education Funding Council support, but the Refugee Council says asylum-seekers are missing out because in many cases they cannot afford transport. "The number joining courses is less than it should be," says Deng Yai, the council's policy development adviser for employment and training.
Susan Pember, principal of Canterbury College and director of its adult basic skills unit, said colleges must "get in early" and offer ESOL to help people to settle in their new country. "If we get them into education, it can solve long-term problems," she said.
Canterbury has been working in partnership with other Kent colleges, with asylum-seekers directed towards those colleges with places available. It also ran a summer school for 19 students between June and August.
Special Report, page 25