Esol cuts 'not thought through', claims Niace

18th February 2011 at 00:00
It says promised impact assessment is `stuck at minister's office'

The Government has been accused of going back on its word and failing to assess the impact of cuts to English for speakers of other languages (Esol).

Complex changes to Esol funding include the introduction of fees for many students, a change in programme weighting and the removal of a discretionary pound;4.5 million Learner Support Fund used to help the neediest of students.

The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace) has warned the cuts could have a devastating impact on students, including refugees and women who are trying to integrate into British society by improving their language skills.

Come September, Niace fears many students who cannot afford the tuition fees will be forced to drop out of education.

Chris Taylor, Niace's programme director for Esol, said the Government had promised to carry out an equality impact assessment to gauge the impact of policy changes, but is still waiting for skills minister John Hayes to give it the go-ahead.

"We were promised this (assessment) in January. We are concerned this still hasn't happened," she said. "I have been back to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills several times and I understand it has got stuck at the minister's office."

Among those likely to lose out are people on inactive benefits, such as working tax credits. "These include migrants and refugees who are doing their best to integrate, but are on very low wages," Ms Taylor said.

"They will be asked to pay significant fees to continue their education. It's a policy we think the Government hasn't had a chance to look over and think through.

"The ministers are new to office and, in some cases, new to Westminster. They may be making major decisions based on limited experience. It has not been thought through."

Niace and the Association of Colleges (AoC) have written to members, asking them for data on how many students will lose out on funding.

At City and Islington College in London, more than 1,260 learners (54 per cent of Esol students) are on inactive benefits, along with 669 learners (61 per cent) at Luton Adult Community Learning and 583 students (45 per cent) at Wolverhampton Adult Education Service.

A Niace spokesman said: "Niace believes it will strengthen evidence-based policy-making if Esol providers are able to demonstrate which groups of learners will be hardest hit.

"If, as appears likely, a significant proportion of women learners are in receipt of income support, or are the spouses of people on active benefits, Esol providers would be able to make a more powerful case for this group to be included within the national systems of concessionary fees."

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) spokesperson said: "As Esol training provides clear benefits to employers, it is right that employers as well as learners contribute towards the costs when public funds are limited. Colleges and training organisations are responsible for meeting local learning needs and they retain the flexibility to set their fee policies accordingly.

"A full equality impact assessment on the Government's skills strategy was published in November 2010. It found that there are unlikely to be disproportionate impacts on protected groups. A separate assessment of how the changes will affect Esol learners will be undertaken by BIS shortly."

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