The Skills Funding Agency wants to allay fears that a new payment regime could reduce funding for adult language courses.

Concerns about the future funding of English for Speakers of Other Languages (Esol) courses prompted the National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults (Natecla) to say the agency should clarify its new ‘streamlined funding system for adults’.

A spokesperson for the association said funding for Esol courses should stay at a level that allowed providers to offer “appropriate, flexible and high quality courses for all learners”.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) was also “concerned” about whether the new system would hit Esol learners and has been in talks with the agency.

However, a spokesperson for the agency said the funding for Esol learners “will not reduce” with the new system.

The current system, with a ‘demand-led funding formula’ that calculates funding levels based on guided learning hours, will end in July.

A Natecla spokesperson said Esol providers were paid for up to 450 hours, so if a student did a 100-hour course of study, the provider was paid for 100 hours.

Its replacement will use the Qualification Credit Framework (QCF). “From next academic year, Esol qualifications will be ‘listed’ on the QCF,” said the spokesperson.

“This means that providers will get a flat rate for a qualification, no matter how many or few hours are offered. Each credit on the QCF represents a notional 10 hours of study.

“We believe that the new ‘simplified’ system is unrealistic in terms of the number of hours on offer and that Esol providers will have to exclude the most needy learners — who are those who need Esol the most to access the jobs market.

“We ask for clarity about the future of Esol qualifications and demand that funding for these remains at a level that allows providers to offer appropriate, flexible and high quality courses for all learners.”

Joy Mercer, AoC director of policy, said: “The ability to speak English is essential for people looking for a job and wishing to participate in the local community. We were very concerned about how Esol provision might be affected by the proposed changes.

“We have discussed this issue with the agency, are working with them to find acceptable solutions and will continue to do so. We are confident our concerns are being listened to.”

A spokesperson for the agency said: “The introduction of the new funding system will not reduce the funding paid for Esol learners.

“The agency has not set any funding rates for the new QCF qualifications, as these have yet to be developed.

“It will be important that providers work with awarding organisations to make sure the new qualifications fully reflect the needs of learners.

“Within our plans for transitional protection, the current Esol curriculum will be funded at current levels until the new qualification offer is developed and put in place.”