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ESOL Campaign Success

Many City of Sanctuary supporters have been involved in campaigning for the Government to change the policy which would have excluded many of the most vulnerable people from English language classes. A recent and last-minute change in policy marks a welcome success for the campaign, and a great relief for many language learners.

The Skills Funding Agency has confirmed that full funding is available for ESOL and other adult courses formerly subject to the restrictive eligibility criteria that would have excluded up to 75% of adults on so called ‘inactive’ benefits.

As one of the members of the Action for ESOL campaign, Migrants Rights Network was concerned about the proposals which represented a huge attack on adult education, and would have affected students from some of the poorest inner city communities.

The campaign was also particularly concerned with the impact on non-native speakers of English who need English to support their children, find work, access education and play a full role in their communities.

250,000 adult places that were risk this year can be now be saved! This is an important victory for the Action for ESOL campaign.

Action for ESOL brought together teachers, students and others, from up and down the country, in an effective and visible campaign which included letter writing, lobbying, a national petition, rallies, demonstrations, teach-ins and the London march on Downing Street and ESOL festival. The campaign was effectively supported by a number of MPs.

Important changes as a result of the U-turn:
Full funding is available for ESOL and other adult courses regardless of active/inactive benefit status. Students simply need to be unemployed and declare they are seeking work.

There is no financial barrier to colleges enrolling the same volume of ESOL students as last year. Indeed, recruiting students on inactive benefits will now help colleges to achieve funding allocations which means no clawback and less risk of a reduced allocation in 12/13. In brief, colleges will benefit from providing ESOL classes.

How are colleges reacting?

Colleges around the country have been reacting to the new announcements by

asking students on inactive benefits to sign a waiver to say they are ‘seeking employment in the future’ and not charging fees
reimbursing students who have already paid
changing the learning aims back from literacy to ESOL
contacting students who were turned away and asking them to return by placing ads in local papers, and texting students asking them to come back and enrol
re-instating ESOL teachers who had been made redundant
Action for ESOL urges all colleges providing ESOL to adopt similar approaches, and where redundancies had been threatened to withdraw such threats with immediate effect.

The U-turn is a tremendous success for the campaign and those who have supported it. It shows how working together as teachers and students, in alliance with other educational, trade union and social organisations, can make a difference. Its success should be a welcome boost to everyone concerned with educational opportunity – including those seeking to defend community learning, Access, and adult education, as well the campaign to restore the EMA.

Where next?
Although this reversal is great news for us, we should not assume that the changes are here for good. The government has set out its position on ESOL very clearly. ESOL remains vulnerable. But at least we have time to draw breath and consider our approach.

Action for ESOL remains committed to free ESOL provision for all and a right to language education for all those who need it including asylum seekers.

Action for ESOL thanks the thousands of people round the country, the students who came out on the marches and wrote letters, the MPs, community and refugee groups, NIACE, AoC and UCU, and encourages ESOL teachers to get together with students and others in their locality to continue the campaign over the coming year.
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