Skip to main content

Refugee Action says Government must invest more in English lessons for refugees and asylum seekers


Report finds majority of refugees feel they don't receive sufficient English lessons

Date of Publication:
24 June 2019

Refugee Action said in a report published earlier this months that cuts to funding for English lessons for refugees is leading to isolation, loneliness and an inability to get jobs.

You can read the 12-page report, Turning Words Into Action: Why the Government Must Invest Now to Let Refugees Learn, here.

Refugee Action welcomed the Government's recognition of the importance of learning English and commitment to support it, but says this stands in stark contrast to the resources the Government makes available for the purpose.

According to the report, the budget for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) has suffered heaving due to Government cuts, with funding in England shrinking dramatically from £212.3m in 2008 to £105m in 2018.

"Research undertaken by both Refugee Action and NATECLA has identified cuts in funding as being the single most important barrier to the ability of providers to continue to provide high-quality ESOL to learners. Yet to date there has been no action taken to address the huge fall in funding over the past decade," the report finds.

For the report, Refugee Action surveyed 128 refugees across England and found only 41% of respondents thought the number of hours of English lessons they had received each week was enough for their needs. The majority - 59% of respondents - said that they didn't think they had received enough teaching hours.

In addition, almost two thirds of respondents said they did not feel that their current level of English makes them ready to work in the UK.

On the more positive side, Refugee Action was encouraged to find that only 11 of the 128 people surveyed had not been able to access ESOL classes at all.

Refugee Action makes a number of recommendations in its report, including that funding should be provided to allow all refugees to receive a minimum eight hours a week of formal, accredited English language teaching for their first two years in the UK.

Other recommendations include that free English teaching should be provided to asylum seekers in England from the point of their asylum claim.

Stephen Hale, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, said:

"Imagine being forced to flee your home, leave behind your belongings and your entire life, and arriving in a country where you don't know what anyone is saying. You can't book a doctor's appointment, read street signs or even fill out the forms you need to get your children into a school.

"Refugees are acutely aware learning English is critical for integration. Politicians keep telling us how strongly they agree. But where's the action? The steeps cuts in funding for English language classes means we're letting refugees down, denying people the chance to become an active part of our society and fulfil their potential."

In response to the report, a spokesperson for the Department for Education told the Metro: "As the report from Refugee Action rightly recognises, everyone should have access to the English language skills they need to get a job and play an active role in society. We invested close to £100m through the Adult Education Budget in 2016/17 to support 114,100 adult learners to improve their levels of English through fully and part-funded ESOL courses."

The spokesperson said the Government has developed and would be publishing a new strategy for ESOL this autumn so as to improve the access to, and the quality of, English language teaching for those that need it.