Three-year Esol waiting list caused by 'chronic underfunding'

A new survey by Refugee Action finds almost half of providers have a waiting list of six months or more for Esol courses

Stephen Exley

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During the last six years, funding available for Esol (English for speakers of other languages) through the Department for Education’s adult education budget has dropped by more than £110 million.

Today, new research by the Refugee Action charity reveals the impact of what it describes as “chronic underfunding”. It found that, in some cases, refugees are having to wait up to three years to learn English.

Among the Esol providers surveyed, 45 per cent said that prospective Esol learners face an average wait of six months or more. Across the 71 providers who took part, there was a collective waiting list of more than 6,000 currently waiting for a place on an Esol course. Across the entire FE sector, the figure is believed to be significantly higher.

Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of the providers surveyed said that they were concerned that the quality of Esol classes available was not meeting the needs of people wanting to learn English.

And more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of providers said that they were unable to offer childcare for learners, and raised concerns that women face the biggest barriers to learning English.

‘Barriers’ to learning

“Learning English is essential to end loneliness, and enable refugees to rebuild their lives through work, volunteering and socialising with their neighbours,” said Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action. “Yet refugees face long waiting lists, and other barriers such as a lack of childcare. It leaves many feeling lonely and isolated. The government must act now and enable all refugees in Britain to learn English.”

At Bolton College, around 1,000 people are currently enrolled on Esol courses – and a similar number are currently on the waiting list.

Typically, applicants spend around a year on the waiting list, according to Peter Griffiths, the college’s head of essential skills. Around a third of the total are given informal English classes taught by volunteers while they wait for a place.

Despite increasing the number of Esol classes over the last two years, demand for places at the college has not dropped, Mr Griffiths added. “It’s not like we're cutting the provision – we’re increasing the provision, but it’s still nowhere near enough to meet demand.”

The current situation for Esol learners is “the worst we can remember”, said Jenny Roden, co-chair of the National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults.

“I’ve never known Esol to be in such a fragile state. The whole infrastructure is crumbling and in some places, they can’t find enough staff to teach the classes because many teachers are demoralised and are leaving the profession.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting adults in England secure the English language skills they need for life and work. Adults who are granted refugee status are eligible for the same skills funding as any other English resident.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 6 October edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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