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Hackney Community College Unlikely to Receive Share of £20m English Language Fund

The English Language fund is only a drop in the ocean to reverse the damage done by the cut in funding to English as another language (ESOL) classes at Hackney Community College.

Hackney Library, English as another Language books. Photo credit: Valerie Browne


A spokesperson from Hackney Community College (HCC) says they doubt they will receive any of the new £20m promised for the new English Language scheme proposed in January, despite a Times Educational Supplement report that shows an unexpected eleven percent cut to the 2015-16 adult skills budget including English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses.

ESOL cut and eligibility protests. Photo credit: Stefan Szczelkun


HCC are experienced providers of local ESOL classes, a spokesperson said, “Although there is no clarity at present, we believe that the £20m will be aimed at ‘hard to reach communities schemes’, which set up volunteer-led conversation clubs.” Tried and tested ESOL classes such as those provided at the HCC, won’t see a share of the English Language fund – instead temporary, community conversational clubs will be funded.

Photo credit: Valerie Browne

Cuts to ESOL funding

The Association of Colleges chief executive Martin Doel told FE Week that the new fund would ‘not make up for’ previous cuts to English language provision, “The government had made a fifty percent (£160m) reduction in the funds available for ESOL courses from 2008 to 2015.”

 “Isolation of some women in society could help lead to a slide towards radicalisation and extremism”

The English Language Scheme

Earlier this year David Cameron targeted Muslim women when he launched the English Language scheme, claiming 190,000 women had little or no English living in Britain. Writing in the Times, he said, “Issues like gender segregation and discrimination and the isolation of some women in society could help lead to a slide towards radicalisation and extremism.”



The government proposed to change spousal visa rules, meaning those coming to the UK will be expected to take a language test to prove they’ve become more fluent in English. Which hints towards an apathy of women on spousal Visas learning English, when in actual fact, nearly 90 percent of ESOL learners over the last few years in Hackney were female, these figures show local women are intent on improving their English. The cuts to classes effect mostly women.


Gona Saed at the Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation International Women’s day celebration. Photo credit: Valerie Browne

The Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation

Gona Saed is a co-founder of the Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation (KMEWO) an organisation that holds free ESOL classes for women, after escaping prosecution in her home country and going through the UK ESOL system herself in the late 90s.

“People face so many different problems, especially [getting] immigration status.”

Saed says she was happy living in Iraq Kurdistan, she used to work as a women’s rights activist until, “Two of my co-workers were killed, they were left thinking activists like me. I was [associated] with them so I had to escape for my life.”

Saed says it was much easier getting a free place in an ESOL class when she did it sixteen years ago, now “People face so many different problems, especially [getting] immigration status.”

 Free eligibility to ESOL classes

Access for free eligibility to ESOL classes have been changed as well as funding models in Hackney, all London boroughs and Nationally making it very difficult to measure cuts to ESOL funding comparatively.

A spokesperson from the HCC says, “Now if students are employed and on low incomes and undertaking ESOL to better their employment prospects, they are charged a pretty hefty fee for learning, whereas previously they were eligible for full government funding to learn English.

Gona Saed says, “We at KMEWO fill the gap for women who are not eligible for ESOL classes whatever reason, we do not check immigration status.”


The problem with ESOL placement

7. Graph

This graph shows that from 2013 to 2015 there was only a 1 percent increase in learners placed in ESOL language classes. You can begin to see the problem when this number is offset against ONS figures that show a 40 percent rise of long-term international migration to the UK within this time frame. In early 2015 there were 330, 000 migrants compared with 200, 000 in early 2013.

With the growing number of migrants coming to the UK competing for a smaller number of places or free eligibility to ESOL classes, it is clear why the waiting lists for government funded ESOL classes, such as those at HCC college, are becoming an increasing problem. A spokesperson from HCC confirmed that there are currently 320 people on their ESOL waiting list to enrol for the course.

In light of all these problems, the English Language scheme enraged ESOL supporters, mostly because it was understood that the £20 million wouldn’t be much help to struggling ESOL courses who have suffered funding cuts over the last five years and even more so when it came to light that ESOL colleges like the HCC would not receive any of the funding.

The opposing opinion

Despite ESOL supporters and The Prime Minister’s somewhat misguided attempts to target marginalised communities with the English Language scheme, Katie Hopkins wrote, that “those arriving in the UK should not receive free access to English classes on the British Taxpayers public fund” in the Daily Mail.

 “If I could choose to abolish government funded English Language classes I would.”

You need to learn the language

Sabina Tocia, a 30-year-old retail assistant working and living in West London agrees with Hopkins. Tocia is originally from Romania, she is a migrant who moved to England four years ago because she said she has friends in the UK and moved for better job prospects, “You need to learn the language before you make the move.”

“Now that I pay taxes in the UK, I’m not happy that the government uses this money to provide migrants with free English lessons. I took the responsibility of learning the language before I came. If I could choose to abolish government funded English Language classes I would.”

Photo credit: Valerie Browne


Local councils robustly defend ESOL programme funding, Islington Councillor Asima Shaikh said, “Islington is one of the few councils left who directly fund ESOL from its core grant.” Although Islington borough resident migrants are still subject to same restraints on free eligibility for ESOL classes that the rest of the UK suffers.

Jo Thorp, head of the ESOL programme at Hackney Community College says, “Despite often difficult or challenging backgrounds, students come to college with such an appetite for learning. For some, it is their first time in a classroom, having had their education disrupted through war. The humour and fun they bring with them and their desire to help each other is an inspiration to us all.”


Case study: local people using ESOL

Susan Ali left Kurdish Iraq in 2000 with her five-year-old son. She had been detained as a political prisoner, freed only after her husband was killed.

“I was going through depression, I left my home and went to Turkey where I found an agency, I paid $3000 for me and my son to take a lorry from Turkey [which was driven onto a British bound cargo ship] to Dover,” says Ali.

Susan Ali at the Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation International Women’s day celebration. Photo Credit: Valerie Browne

She continues; “It was very very hard, it was winter and the tent [tarpaulin shielding the lorry cargo] was ripped, we were all wet and I had a very bad cold, a friend from my country had to look after my little boy. When I arrived in England I was bed ridden for at least five days. I didn’t know anything about hospitals, I didn’t speak English. Language is always a problem.

I went to ESOL classes, a friend put me in touch with the Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation, unfortunately, I couldn’t finish my leavers because I had a problem with a right side headache, Trigeminal neuralgia. I had to wait a few years for a brain operation. Now I’m better, I go to ESOL classes in Finsbury Park, I am not working at the moment so I am going to do the computer classes because I don’t know anything about them, I used to work as a cashier in my country.”

Susan Ali wrote a book about her laborious journey to Britain, from her five-year-old son’s point of view in her own Kurdish language which was translated into English and published, called Mohammed’s Journey – A refugee diary.

Written by Valerie Browne

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