Bea Groves hits back at links made between immigrants who struggle to speak English and terrorism.

f anyone thinks that being a person coming to the UK from abroad is a simple task of just a task of “integrating” and learning English, then you’re wrong.

My experience as an FE teacher of adults new to the UK has strongly impacted upon me over the past year.

I have, since spring 2015 been the course leader for the Certificate in Education and Training (CET) course, run by Bridge, a small not-for-profit independent learning provider located in Gateshead. What has been unusual about the experience is not so much what is being taught (teacher education) but the students I have encountered.

What unites them is an extraordinary optimism about the power of education to change lives

On my first day as tutor, I met an extraordinarily varied group of individuals from a host of national backgrounds.

These included adults from Poland, Romania, South Korea, Thailand, France, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Italy, etc.

I have students who are refugees, others who came here with their partners to work, some who could be termed economic migrants, those who have relatives already established in the UK.

What unites them is an extraordinary optimism about the power of education to change lives, something that I seem to encounter less and less in the indigenous population.

This, of course, is contrary to the media scaremongering about the role of migrants and their intractable reluctance to
integrate.

Certainly, there are individuals who operate under the exigencies of cultural and religious pressures that make attendance at courses a fairly complex matter.

Power over English gives a gateway to other learning: something they are all very aware of. But is our Prime Minister aware of the very high priority that English has in migrant lives?

The focus that is applied by government and parts of the media alike is of a “bunch of migrants” who are incapable of managing to integrate into British society without the stick of government coercion. Terrorist activity in the news has diverted the public gaze towards the issue of how confident we each feel about the motivations of the stranger in our midst.

Consequently the simplistic diagnosis is that those who have the poorest English skills must also be those who are most likely to foster hostility to the British way of life.

But anyone who has ever taught refugee or migrant students knows this is clearly not the case.

It is right only in the sense that anyone who travels to live in any country should learn the local language, both as a matter of pragmatism and out of necessity.

The same rule applies equally well (for example) to non-Muslim English women living in Spain or France for example.

Teaching English to migrants is just one part of what should be a European issue, part of a generalised concept of learning as a means for newcomers to embed themselves in local culture and practice.

Such things do not occur spontaneously, and the current FE/adult education system is far too stretched financially to make an impact.

We have the teachers, we have the initiative, and we have the enthusiastic students, but currently we are being told to make bricks without straw.

The “straw” we need is much better and more consistent funding for ESOL and other language-development courses.

These are absolutely vital as an access point for all kinds of learners who are finding their feet in the UK.

It is socially detrimental (even destructive) to assume that language ability can simply emerge out of thin air.

Without the necessary support, individuals will remain linguistically exiled from the interactions that make a thriving and varied community possible.

In addition, FE providers need to extend the presence of their language tuition out of the walls of their colleges and centres.

Fragile learners, unused to the UK educational system, want to access language provision at venues that accommodate them and in which they feel secure.

Old fashioned community-based adult education? Yes, we need it for its flexibility, not just in the UK but across the entire European Union.