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February 2017

Mandatory Esol – and some money for it

Kurt Bauschardt Parliament UK

A report by a policy-forming group within the UK Parliament has called for mandatory Esol classes for newly arrived immigrants – but also called for a lot more money to pay for this. The UK’s cross-party All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration has a mission to examine ‘how government and local authorities could better support communities to manage rapid demographic change’ in times of Brexit and an alarming rise in xenophobic hate crime nationally.

In January the APPG, chaired by former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, published its Interim Report into Integration of Immigrants. This called for immigrants to ‘have either learned English before coming to the UK’ or start compulsory English language classes on arrival, adding that speaking English is ‘the key to full participation in our society and economy’ and a ‘prerequisite for meaningful engagement with most British people’. Noteworthy in the report is its emphasis on the need for much more funding for such measures – a ‘funding pot that should be significantly larger’, as it puts it. Among its recommendations it urges ‘the government to markedly increase Esol funding as well as explore innovative policy ideas to increase the availability and take-up of English classes’, with more autonomy to be given to local authorities to pursue their own Esol initiatives.

As an indication of how important Esol policy is becoming in UK politics, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn made several mentions of Esol in his speech laying out his vision for a post-Brexit Britain, also in January (see February 2007 Gazette). Corbyn pledged that, if elected, a future Labour government would be ‘restoring funding for English language lessons – let’s not forget that it was this Tory government that slashed funding for learning English as a Second Language’, adding that ‘it seems the government’s second language is actually hypocrisy.’ While the last comment got a laugh and some applause from the audience, it’s not the whole story – the most significant cuts to free Esol provision for adults in England occurred under Tony Blair’s Labour government in 2007 (see February 2007 Gazette)

Esol teachers’ association Natecla has written to Transport for London (TfL) expressing concern at the introduction of extra English language tests for minicab drivers, who are licensed by TfL. Natecla noted that the tests call for a CEFR-level B1. While more expensive tests such as Ielts and Toefl are mapped to the CEFR scale, most recognised Skills for Life Esol qualifications taken by adults (some minicab drivers have one already) are set at Entry Level 3, which ‘roughly equates’ to B1, although, at the time of writing this isn’t stated on TfL website for the benefit of those minicab drivers seeking to take an English test.

Pic courtesy: Kurt Bauschardt

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