Foreign nationals denied access

2nd November 2007 at 00:00

Official: long waiting lists for English language courses are set to become the norm for two-thirds of immigrants. Two out of every three immigrants to Britain cannot get access to English classes, the Government has admitted.

In response to a report by MPs, which urged ministers to rethink their policy of charging most non-native speakers for English classes, the Government conceded that long waiting lists were common.

The House of Commons education select committee report said that the Government's priority of meeting targets for adults earning level two qualifications (equivalent to five good GCSEs) had the unintended consequence of causing a contraction in the number of English for speakers of other languages (Esol) classes.

Added to that, new rules in operation from September this year, which require migrants to pay for language courses unless they are on benefits or receive tax credits, have priced others out of the classroom, they said.

In response, the Government said: "Current funding is estimated to meet about a third of total demand, with long waiting lists the norm."

Demand for Esol has soared in recent years as immigration has risen: ministers were this week forced to admit that they had revised figures for the number of foreign nationals coming to work in the UK since 1997 from 800,000 to 1.1 million.

Foreign nationals now account for more than 7 per cent of the UK's 29.1 million-strong workforce.

Between 2000 and 2005, funding for language classes almost trebled from pound;103 million to pound;298 million, with 490,000 people enrolling each year.

The Government argues that, with limited funds, it has to target those most in need. Responding to the select committee, it said: "Changes to the funding of Esol provision will ensure that these priority groups of learners are able to access English language courses and that we are extracting maximum value for money from our Esol budget."

But the Government did not answer the committee's calls for an urgent review of Esol funding, arguing that the extra pound;35 million support package for London colleges and new job-focused Esol-for-work courses, part-funded by employers, were enough.

Barry Lovejoy, head of further education at the University and College Union, said: "There is no doubt there is a great demand for Esol that is not being met. This term the picture is still unclear, but many of our early respondents report the loss of many Esol and potential Esol students.

"Esol helps people to protect themselves, engage with their community and work colleagues, access services and contribute to society and the economy. These benefits run across government departments responsible for business and the economy, community cohesion and education. Employers also benefit and have responsibilities for their employees. Some joined-up thinking and joined-up funding could resolve this."

Martin Freedman, head of pay, pensions and conditions at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "The select committee has produced a reasoned report that questions some of the main tenets of the Government's demand-led policy. However, ATL believes the Government's response indicates it is not willing to change a single item in its policy. On Leitch, on adult education funding, on Train to Gain and on Esol, the Government just brushes aside objections and sails on.

"Its promise that these things will get better is simply not good enough for the creation of a world-class skills economy."

Association of Colleges bags Bob to talk to delegates

Bob Geldof, the architect of charity concerts Live Aid and Live8, is set to address college principals on how they can play a part in shaping the world's future.

The Irish-born campaigner is scheduled to speak on the final day of the Association of Colleges' November conference.

Des O'Hare, director of AoC management services, said: "We picked him because of the things he could talk about, the sorts of things he's done, organised and been involved with.

"We want him to talk about the big world issues and we want the conference delegates to think about the bigger issues of global warming, overseas aid, etc."

Other speakers will include John Denham, Secretary of State for innovation, universities and skills, and Marlon Devonish, the Olympic gold medallist and a former student of Henley College, Coventry.

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