Restricting rights to English lessons is counter intuitive

26th January 2007 at 00:00

Restricting free access to courses in English for speakers of other languages (Esol) could certainly damage public services (FE Focus, January 19), but the 150 people from 50 organisations who launched the Save Esol campaign last week also recounted other concerns.

We heard that many migrant and refugee parents need Esol so they can better help their children's education. And vulnerable asylum seekers need swift help with English, not delays until lengthy appeals are resolved.

Many migrant workers need training in English to be aware of their rights and to be safe at work. The Chinese cockle pickers who drowned (in Morecambe Bay almost two years ago) had phones but no English training. A migrant wife recently saved her husband using knowledge from an Esol course on how to access rescue services.

Ministers say that using English is central to better integration. Bill Rammell, the minister for lifelong learning, says employers could meet Esol costs, but has imposed no obligation on them to do so.

To say that those who claim tax credit can access free Esol provision is double-think because very few can fill out the long form required. Eight out of 10 migrant workers earn less than pound;6 an hour, yet only 3 per cent claim tax credit. The Government has rejected ideas for providing simple evidence of low pay and tax benefit entitlement, such as showing wage slips.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says a major source of UK economic growth has been migrant workers. This has been secured on the cheap because their schooling has been provided by the supplying countries. The sums required to enhance language skills are tiny in comparison.

College staff may risk breaching discrimination laws. The University and College Union has asked whether the Government has obtained legal advice regarding admissions tutors determining whether to accept a prospective migrant worker on a free literacy course or put them on a fee-paying Esol course.

The Leitch report called for a demand-led approach to lifelong learning, yet the Government says it is reducing entitlement because the demand is so great. We urge Government to rethink this policy.

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