It is important for people arriving in the UK to be able to communicate. I have seen first hand how English for Speakers of Other Languages (‘ESOL’) courses can be a highly effective way of gaining these essential language skills. Nobody should face being excluded from the mainstream of society and the world of work because of their inability to speak to others. Access to education provides hope and empowerment to those who receive it. It is a vital tool in ending poverty, improving health outcomes, and tackling gender inequality by empowering girls.
An All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees report published in April 2017 presented evidence that a drastic reduction in ESOL funding has meant that many refugees have no provision in their local area. The report highlighted evidence that refugees are often placed in classes that do not match their level of proficiency. It also noted substantial barriers faced by women due to the timing of classes, as well as the lack of childcare facilities.
The Casey Review of opportunity and integration published in December 2016, raised concerns about the possible disadvantages caused by not being able to speak English. Its recommendations included a review of whether the current provision is being sufficiently co-ordinated, and further targeted English language provision.
At the last General Election, I stood on a manifesto which pledged to replace Advanced Learner Loans and upfront course fees with direct funding, making FE courses free at the point of use, including English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses.
The government needs to do more to bring together and deliver ESOL services and budgets in a more coherent, consistent way. Without which, isolation and subjugation are more likely. Adequate funding for language lessons is vital to foster better integration and community cohesion.
I will continue to follow this issue closely.