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Last Updated: Friday, 4 January 2008, 12:45 GMT
Migrants language lessons rethink
Adult learners class
Demand for English courses trebled between 2001 and 2005
The government is to target free English language classes on immigrants to England who have long-term needs.

The tuition will be free for those on benefits, and aimed at long-standing residents whose English is still poor - rather than those who may not stay.

The government introduced means-testing for English courses last September, following a surge in demand.

But concerns have been raised that a lack of courses to improve people's English affects community cohesion.

Now, councils will be told to decide which groups of people in their area should get priority, and employers of working migrants will be asked to fund lessons.


In recent years, colleges in many areas have been inundated with applicants for English language courses.

Demand and spending on the English for Speakers of Other Languages (Esol) courses trebled between 2001 and 2005, officials say.

Ministers complained the then system was "unsustainable" and announced they were stopping free Esol lessons for all except immigrants on income-related benefits, the very low paid and asylum seekers under 19.

People who do not speak English now have to pay a contribution to the course fees - 37.5%, rising to 50% in 2010. A typical Esol course costs around 900.

The priority is to reach long-term residents for whom poor English is a real barrier to integration in work or in the community
John Denham, Skills Secretary

Skills Secretary John Denham said English language skills were vital to promoting community cohesion.

"Recent reforms are already ensuring that those who can afford to pay for English classes do so and are encouraging employers to take more responsibility for funding training for economic migrants in their workforces," he said.

"Now we must go further and ensure that the priority is to reach long-term residents for whom poor English is a real barrier to integration in work or in the community."

Under proposals now being put out for consultation, the current funding structure would be changed to give local authorities a say in who receives free English language lessons.

Integration will be improved without excessive language barriers
Jamie, Harrogate

At the moment, Esol courses are funded by the Learning and Skills Council, (LSC) which passes money to colleges running the courses.

The LSC would continue to fund the courses but would liaise with local councils to decide which groups to prioritise.

Decisions would be based on local needs and a new set of national priorities for Esol, which include:

  • legal residents expected to stay in the country long-term
  • excluded women, particularly those with children under 16
  • parents or carers in families with multiple problems
  • those identified as raising particular issues for community cohesion
  • people with low levels of literacy in their own language
  • those with no secondary education
  • refugees
  • asylum seekers still in the country beyond six months awaiting a decision on their status or who cannot return home
Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said not speaking the language was widely seen as the biggest barrier to integration.

"Speaking English is the greatest asset you can possess for getting involved in your community, and getting on and doing well for yourself and your family," she said.

Last month she advised councils to "think twice" about spending money on translation, suggesting integration might be better achieved through English classes.

One family whose English lessons have been stopped

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11 Jan 07 |  Education
Migrants 'should learn English'
13 Dec 07 |  Politics
Call to save lessons for migrants
14 Jun 07 |  Education
Councils urged to translate less
07 Dec 07 |  Politics

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