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Refugee Action highlights lack of English language courses due to funding cuts

Date of Publication: 
9 October 2017

Funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses falls 60% since 2010

Refugee Action highlights lack of English language courses due to funding cuts

09 October 2017

In a briefing published last week, Refugee Action said that refugees are waiting up to three years to start learning English due to Government cuts to English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses.

The 12-page briefing is here.

The briefing was published as part of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness focus on refugees and asylum seekers for the month of October.

Refugee Action says a lack of English language skills can lead many refugees to feel isolated and lonely, with recent research finding most refugees and asylum seekers see loneliness and isolation as their biggest challenge in everyday life.

The briefing states: "Barriers to accessing ESOL classes came up consistently when we asked participants how they went about meeting people, engaging with their new communities, and combating loneliness. It was clear that everyone felt language was either their biggest obstacle to integrating with their community, or had been the most important enabling factor in allowing them to rebuild their lives in their new home."

According to the briefing, Government funding for ESOL in England fell from £203m in 2010 to £90m in 2016, a real terms cut of 60%.

Refugee Action found that the cuts mean the supply of ESOL courses continues to fall significantly short of demand.

Over half of the ESOL providers surveyed for the briefing by Refugee Action said their ability to provide high quality ESOL classes has worsened over the past 5 years.

Almost two thirds of the providers said they had waiting lists for ESOL courses, with almost half of providers saying the wait averaged six months or more.

Refugee Action also found that learners are receiving an average of 5 hours of ESOL classes per week, which is less than the amount calculated that the 'average' learner would need. Refugees with basic or no English would likely require much more.

One ESOL provider told Refugee Acton: "The Government says the number of adult learners is dropping, but they have reduced funding so we can take less. Demand is higher than it has ever been. We are continually asked to do more with less… we work really hard to help learners, and to paper over the cracks, and I think we are successful with that, but we are down from 9 hours a week to 5 or 6, and we cannot offer the flexibility we did, which badly affects those who are in variable work patterns."

Women with children were found to have particular problems accessing ESOL classes, often due to a lack of childcare. The briefing found 77% of ESOL providers were unable to provide childcare at all or enough to meet the needs of all those who want to learn.

Refugee Action says its briefing shows current English language provision is not fit for purpose, and it recommends that the Government should address the problems by:

  • Creating a fund to specifically support refugees learning English.
  • Publishing an ESOL strategy for England.
  • Ensuring full and equal access to ESOL, particularly for women.
  • Providing asylum seekers with the right to access free English language learning.
  • Facilitating a national framework for community-based language support.

Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: "Learning English is essential to end loneliness, and enable refugees to rebuild their lives through work, volunteering and socialising with their neighbours. Yet refugees face long waiting lists, and other barriers such as a lack of childcare. It leaves many feeling lonely and isolated. The Government must act now, and enable all refugees in Britain to learn English."