Almost two-thirds of 71 English for Speakers of Other Languages (Esol) providers surveyed in England said they had waiting lists.
Some providers said they had closed their waiting lists to new learners ‘because it sets up false expectations’.
One refugee had waited as long as three years before being offered a place, the survey said. The providers surveyed cater for more than 35,000 Esol learners, half of whom are waiting an average of six months to start lessons.
And the situation is particularly difficult for parents: 77 per cent of providers said they were unable to provide childcare. The survey was carried out by charity Refugee Action and Natecla (the National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults), which is pushing for a national strategy for Esol in England.
Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: ‘Leaving refugees isolated and unable to start learning English is a huge barrier to integration.’
Colleges and organisations providing Esol classes said they often struggled to meet demand due to dramatic funding cuts. According to Natecla figures, funding for Esol has dropped from £203 million in 2009–10 to £90m in 2015–16.
Jenny Roden, co-chair of Natecla, told the Gazette that the association ran a similar survey in 2014. ‘Figures have actually got worse,’ she said. ‘With funding slashed, many teachers have left – and now we have a teacher shortage as well.’ Ms Roden told the Gazette there is currently a ‘postcode lottery’ determining access to provision. An Esol strategy, she says, is needed to ensure better coordination and management at both local and national level.
Charities and other community groups are stepping in and supporting refugees, the report says. However, the voluntary sector can’t substitute formal and accredited Esol classes, Refugee Action pointed out.
Natecla published its Towards an Esol Strategy for England document last year, calling for the creation of a national plan for Esol in England. Scotland and Wales already have one. The city of Manchester developed a strategy after Natecla launched their document.
According to the organisation, the document has had a ‘considerable influence on policymakers’ and has been used in the All Party Parliamentary Group Report on Social Integration. But more needs to be done, Ms Roden insisted, especially in regards to the ‘infrastructure of Esol’ – including curriculum, teacher qualifications and CPD certification. Natecla is planning to get more learners on board with the campaign, lobbying MPs and mayors to support the creation of a national strategy. It also wants to engage other sectors such as health and social services as well as the ELT industry.