The government has today agreed a partial u-turn on ESOL cuts after an impact assessment ordered by FE and Skills Minister John Hayes revealed that at least 58,000 women would lose all entitlement to fee remission under the new system.
But initiatives being drawn up jointly by the departments for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Communities and Local Government (CLG) fall well short of what colleges and campaigners were demanding and will have no impact on learner recruitment this autumn or on the numbers of lecturers facing redundancy.
Funding to pay for extra classes will come entirely from the CLG following a deal struck last week between the departmental secretaries Vince Cable and Eric Pickles. The size of the pot is unlikely to be announced before late August or September but it is understood that a condition of the initiative will be that money is targeted at local community groups rather than colleges.
will have no impact on learner recruitment this autumn or on the numbers of lecturers facing redundancy.”
The impact assessment confirms what organisations including Lsect and the Association of Colleges reported, that the planned cuts will have the biggest impact on women with families who are unable to work full time and are on inactive benefits. Surveys through the spring estimated that the number of learners to lose out was closer to 100,000.
John Hayes’ pronouncement this week following the Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) will be seen as a double whammy for many colleges and providers already facing swingeing cuts. He says that in addition to retaining the new criteria and giving full fee exemption only to those on active benefits such as Job Seekers Allowance (JSA), he will be imposing new “tough performance measures” for providers of ESOL in consultation with Ofsted.
it is understood that a condition of the initiative will be that money is targeted at local community groups rather than colleges.”
This point is further emphasised in the BIS EIA report, which says while providers should be responsible for delivering high quality, they must be “pro-actively” improving their offer. “Poor providers must make rapid improvements, or lose funding.” Mr Hayes added: “By targeting public funding on those in greatest need, and setting higher standards for providers, our reforms will make ESOL provision work better for learners, employers, and taxpayers.”
Responding to accusations that BIS had failed to do a proper EIA when it should have last autumn, a BIS spokesman said an assessment was done but this covered the whole skills strategy, not just ESOL. Hayes had called for a more focused analysis following angry responses to the cuts. In addition to the BIS-CLG initiative, Hayes had asked the AoC to explore more effective methods for targeting funds where they were most needed in “settled communities” and to involve Lord Boswell and Baroness Sharp – who are leading inquiries on Adult Literacy and Colleges in Communities – in the work.
But the reforms – announced a day before Parliament went into recess – have failed to impress most providers. Alastair Thomson, Principal Policy Office for Niace, told FE Week: “We welcome the fact that the government has listened to the concerns that we have expressed and the fact that there will be a joined-up government approach. But – and it’s a big but – there is no doubt ESOL provision will be considerably worse from September. Our concern is that the most vulnerable adults will still be unduly hit.”
His comments were echoed in many similar statements to FE Week from organisations including the UCU, Action for ESOL campaign and the Refugee Council. The response from colleges was summed up by one North London principal who said: “These measures don’t go anywhere near meeting the needs of our learners.”
Our concern is that the most vulnerable adults will still be unduly hit.”
The Association of Colleges said it was happy to work with government but had a long shopping list of demands including measures to ensure those who would unduly lose out are reclassified as Employment Support Allowance recipients (and therefore eligible for fee remission). The Chief Executive Martin Doel said: “We would also want parents of children aged seven or under to continue to use ESOL as a means through which they play an active part in their children’s education and as a springboard to the labour market.”
Click here to download a copy of the ESOL Impact Assessment