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Posted on Monday 28th March 2011

Students Resist the ESOL Cuts

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Have just received this from CALL and am republishing it here as it is a vital campaign. Please support Action for ESOL 

ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) is publicly funded English language classes in the UK. It is an essential service for migrants. But now ESOL is under threat.

Proposed government cuts to ESOL will mean that from August 2011:

  • Only people from ‘settled communities’ receiving ‘active’ benefits (Jobseekers or Employment Support Allowances) will get free classes
  • Students on other benefits (so-called ‘inactive’ benefits) will now have to pay fees, and students who currently pay will pay more – perhaps as much as £1,200 per course
  • It will become much more difficult to learn English
  • It will be even more difficult to gain citizenship or permanent residence in the UK
  • Asylum seekers will no longer have free classes
  • At the same time there are cuts to advocacy and interpreting

ESOL provision is not a luxury

If people can’t speak English how can they find work, help their children at school, take part in their local communities or assert their rights? Over 50 % of ESOL students who got free courses this year will have to pay for their next course. Most of these students are women. From August  2011, around 99,000 students will have to pay fees of between £400 and £1,200 and colleges fear that many will be unable to pay. In London alone around 40,000 students may lose their ESOL place. This means courses will close and teachers will lose their jobs.

Cuts to ESOL will be devastating for everyone, but women, people on low wages, and asylum seekers will suffer most. David Cameron, In his recent  speech on multiculturalism,  said  that immigrants should  ‘speak the language of their new home’.

But at the same time his government is cutting the English classes that would help them to do that!


The current government, like New Labour before them, say migrants have to learn English for ‘community cohesion’ and ‘integration’. As teachers and students we need to question what these words mean. Which communities lack cohesion, exactly? Probably not the exclusive communities of the very rich who live behind gates and walls to keep out their poorer neighbours.

When the government says it wants ‘integration’ does it actually want obedient citizens who do not assert their rights?


Of course, the need to find a job, or get a better job, is one of the reasons people join an ESOL class – but work is not the only reason people want to learn. Adult learning helps all of us to have a better life,  socially, emotionally, mentally and politically.  ESOL is for everyone who needs it, for many many different reasons.


I am part of the Action for ESOL campaign which is fighting against the threats to funding. Large numbers of ESOL students have been writing letters to their MPs, organizing in their colleges and communities and demonstrating alongside their teachers. I went to Tower Hamlets College in East London to interview a group of ESOL students who have started their own campaign against the cuts. The interviewees were Rakib, Naz, Raz, Shahnaj, Malika and several other students who did not wish to give their names.

Why is ESOL important to you?

This was the first question I asked the group. One man, Naz, said: “Without ESOL we can’t help our children. We can’t go out shopping. We will have a dark life. We have eyes – we can see the world, but with education we will see more. If ESOL students like us have no education, we can’t understand things. ESOL is giving us life, giving us experience to work. It stops isolation of communities. When I came into this country I felt shy, I couldn’t buy a chocolate bar. My younger sister or brother had to come with me. So I was isolated. All the women, they are isolated. They are working in the home, doing housework. If they come for ESOL they know more about how the world is. They can fill in forms. They can do many things” said Naz.


I asked the other students if they agreed. “Yes, they all said, YES.” What do the women think? Is this true? One woman said, “Yes, if anyone came to our door, and we didn’t know English, we wouldn’t open it, because we were scared.” Another said, “If ESOL is cut we won’t learn more English. Women will have to stay at home – there will be more isolation and depression.” Malika explained, “Four or five years ago I was taking my children to school and the head asked me if I wanted to learn English. I was so, so happy. I had no education in my country. Others, they should be able to learn, like me.”


Why else is ESOL important? “If ESOL is cut then we can’t have an education or get jobs” said one woman, and another, “I’m a student and housewife. Without ESOL how can I learn English? If we can’t speak English, how can we help our children?” A Somali woman observed, “I come from Somalia. This country is my country now so I need to understand everything – the hospital, the council. No ESOL, no life. Without ESOL I can’t go to college, I can’t get a job. In my opinion ESOL is important. English is an international language; you need it all over the world. In Somalia you can’t get a good job without it.” Ironically, she feels, she is being deprived the chance of learning the most powerful language in the world, in an English speaking country.


Why are the cuts happening?

At the second question, the students all started to speak at once, “because of the credit crunch, because the government has no money. If we don’t have enough nurses we will get sick, if there are not enough teachers we can’t learn, if there are not enough police there will be more crime.” What could they cut? “Cut the bonuses of the people in the banks. The problem started from the banks. Cut spending on war. If they cut education now, there will only be more problems in the future.”


Raz said cutting ESOL would not change the recession, “After war the country is damaged, like a river. But if you try to stop a flooding river with a small jug it does not work. They are cutting small things, like teachers, like ESOL. This is not going to do anything, this does not fix it.”






What are you going to do about it? Tell me about your campaign

“We are doing a petition, a leaflet, a poster and a demonstration – all of the students together. Last week we organized a big meeting, about 50 students. There are 1000 ESOL students at Tower Hamlets College, we need to let them all know and have a meeting of 200/300 students.”


There was a discussion about whether the campaign can win. One student said, “We can e-mail, face-book, send letters, but then it is David Cameron’s decision, we have to accept it.” Will David Cameron listen? “No he won’t, he is a rich man” said one – but others thought, “No, we can win – in Egypt they joined together and they did it.”


Get in involved in the campaign “Action for ESOL”


It has been set up to fight the cuts, and for free ESOL provision, for all who need it. For ideas of what you can do go to


Thanks to the students at THC and their teachers Becky Winstanley and Melanie Cooke

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