A funding guidance document published on the Skills Funding Agency website in August quietly revealed a U-turn on cuts to ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).
The government has (belatedly) backtracked on proposed changes to funding eligibility, which would have seen as many as 70% of current ESOL students unable to access classes. This is a victory that we should celebrate and communicate to our students, colleagues and supporters who have been campaigning hard since the start of the year through Action for ESOL.
We must also acknowledge that this is a not a full victory.
In July colleges made pre-emptive cuts and teachers lost jobs. Some teachers are being re-employed, but on worse contracts, and others can’t get their jobs back because they took voluntary redundancy. Provision and jobs have been lost and there are industrial lessons we need to learn from this.
Furthermore the situation at the start of term is chaotic. The change has led to an increase in admin as new courses are created, putting increased pressure on administrative staff.
A full picture of enrolment is yet to emerge but there are many colleges where numbers are down. There may be many students who do not know about the u-turn and don’t think they are entitled to any funding. Other colleges, who scrapped ESOL and created functional skills courses, are unable to change this, meaning that students are not able to get the English language lessons they need and teachers will be working doubly hard to try and squeeze some English teaching into courses designed to do something else.
Finally, the victory is only guaranteed for one year. There is no long term commitment to the provision of English classes for migrants, so we’re ready to continue campaigning.
The Action for ESOL campaign held a well attended national meeting on Saturday 16 September. There were interesting political and pedagogical discussions, a manifesto for ESOL was collectively drafted and working groups set up.
We’re not starting again, but we are at the beginning of our fight for free and improved ESOL provision for all, and better working conditions for teachers.
As the whole of education faces further attack the ESOL campaigners seek to be part of the broader fight for free education.