This month saw a fantastic result for the campaign, as the government announced that the huge U-Turn on their plans to make students on benefits pay for English (ESOL) classes would now stay until 2013. Many feared the changes were ‘just for one year’ but this has now been extended for a further year until 2013/14.
The initial plans changed funding eligibility for all adult learners on so-called ‘inactive’ benefits. This meant that up to 75% of students learning English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), mainly women from black and minority ethnic groups, would not have been able to afford to pay for English classes, as students on benefits such as income support would be asked to pay up to £1200 for a course. The fees would have been unaffordable for the vast majority of ESOL students and would have had a devastating impact on ESOL students and all of our communities.
The August U-turn was an important victory for Action for ESOL as, althoughthe concessions did not apply to those on working tax credit, low-income workers not on benefits and so-called ‘failed’ asylum seekers, most of the 250,000 adult places at risk could be saved for one more year.
Action for ESOL was founded in January 2011 by students, teachers, researchers, union representatives and many others, who collectively worked together to oppose the eligibility changes and campaign for the promotion
of ESOL. Action for ESOL is actively supported by the University and College Union (UCU), the National Association for Teaching English and other
Community Languages to Adults (NATECLA), the Refugee Council and other
organisations. This successful campaign has raised awareness of ESOL at a local and nation level through students and practitioners in colleges and community groups speaking to MPs, parliamentary lobbying and holding ESOL protests.
Action for ESOL’s success is due to the hundreds of students, ESOL teachers, trade unionists and supporters who took part in the demonstrations and
letter-writing, spoke to their MPs, lobbied in parliament and came on the
marches and protests around the country. And the amazing work done by everyone who responded to the chaotic last-minute U-turn by getting students back into college and in some cases getting ESOL courses and teachers re-instated.
The campaign still has work to do for those students to whom the concessions did not apply, and many colleges are still trying to undo the chaos caused by the
last-minute funding changes.
- We should be approaching management of colleges and providers to ensure they fill places, recruit staff and plan for the extension.
- Many colleges received extra funding following the riots and we should welcome this and approach management to re-instate those ESOL staff lost, replace ESOL closed courses and invite in all ESOL students who are on waiting lists.
- This 2 year extension gives us time to regroup and take on the challenges down the road including fees, loans and changes wrought by the ‘universal benefit’ system due around 2015, all of which will facilitate privatisation and undermine adult and further education. We will seek to work with students and workers campaigning against cuts and privatisaion to the whole of education.
But for now, this new announcement means that Adult Education is now protected for a further year and the majority of ESOL students can continue their studies until 2013.
Read more about ESOL and Further Education: UCU FE paper – Jobs and Education, Regaining the Trust of Young People at http://bit.ly/sy6kOh