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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 October 2006, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
Language courses 'overwhelmed'
Adult learners class
279m was spent on teaching English in 2004/05
English language teaching is being overwhelmed as it struggles to meet increasing demand from adult migrants and refugees, an inquiry has found.

The inquiry by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace) found there was a shortage of teachers, providing often inadequate teaching.

Niace said despite huge investment, the money was not reaching the most needy.

It now wants employers and learners themselves to contribute more, with help for the poorest from government.

The report comes after Chancellor Gordon Brown said immigrants entering the UK should "play by the rules" and that means learning English in order to get work.

'Condemned to poverty'

Niace director Alan Tuckett said there was a "disturbing and disagreeable underbelly" in British policy that "blames foreigners for their foreignness and fails to recognise the enrichment of our lives that cultural diversity brings".

He said this negative strain also fails to recognise the economic contribution settled refugees and migrants make.

"Giving English language skills to migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers alike makes economic and social sense."

He added: "Lack of fluency in the language condemns many people to poverty."

Free provision

The report says that demand for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses has risen, in part from migrant workers from new members of the European Union, but also from refugees and settled communities.

In 2004/5 the Learning and Skills Council spent 279m on teaching 538,700 adults in England, but Niace said it recognises such high levels of funding are not sustainable.

Currently, adult students are offered free English classes up to level two of the ESOL course - equivalent to A-C at GCSE level.

In future, Niace wants to restrict free provision to level one only, to allow funding to reach a wider number of people.

It also wants employers and agencies recruiting workers from abroad to contribute to the cost.

The inquiry makes 39 recommendations in total, including:

  • improve teacher qualifications and teacher supply
  • cross-government review of ESOL
  • minister appointed to implement conclusions of review
  • national advisory forum on ESOL
  • local ESOL forums to deliver provision in their areas
  • inspections of ESOL by Ofsted and the Adult Learning Inspectorate

Deputy director of Niace, Peter Lavender, said: "Among Bangladeshi women, only 8% speak fluent English. They don't seem to get access - whether they don't have the time, or the money or lack confidence.

This is a challenge that as a nation we cannot afford to shirk
Derek Grover
Inquiry committee chair

"Effective ESOL is critical to enabling half a million adults to gain independence and control over their lives.

"It makes economic sense to help people communicate effectively and it's a precondition for social inclusion."

Derek Grover, chair of the inquiry committee, said successful ESOL was of fundamental importance to the country.

"This is a challenge that as a nation we cannot afford to shirk."

The findings will be presented at a conference, due to be attended by Bill Rammell, Minister for Lifelong Learning.

English is foreign to more pupils
29 Sep 06 |  Education
Brown's language call to migrants
05 Jun 06 |  UK Politics

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