Association of Colleges (AoC) chief Martin Doel has spoken out to say that new government funding for Muslim women to learn English “does not make up for” previous cuts to English language provision.
Mr Doel’s comments came in response to an op-ed by Prime Minister David Cameron in today’s edition of The Times, where he announced that the government would be providing a £20m English language tuition fund with the aim of helping Muslim women integrate into British society.
The new scheme will be targeted to women in specific communities, based on a ongoing review into segregation in England. Classes will take place in homes, schools and community facilities, with travel and childcare costs provided.
In the article Mr Cameron said: “Britain has a claim to be the most successful multi-faith, multi-racial democracy on the planet. We got here because we fought and won those long struggles for liberty, equality and mutual tolerance.
“But the job of building a more cohesive country is never complete. With English language and women’s empowerment as our next frontier, I believe we can bring Britain together and build the stronger society that is within reach.”
Mr Doel responded to the PM’s announcement with a statement, pointing out that the government has made a 50 per cent (£160m) reduction in the funds available for courses that teach English for speakers of other languages (Esol) from 2008 to 2015.
“We share the Prime Minister’s determination to promote integration but his plans to promote the learning of English need to encompass all communities, as well as focusing on women mainly from the Muslim community,” he said.
“This latest funding announcement does not make up for a 50% (£160m) reduction in the funds available for teaching Esol courses between 2008 and 2015.”
Mr Doel said that recent spending cuts have impacted on the number of people learning English in FE, with “approximately 2,000 fewer women attending Esol courses in the last year”.
He added: “Many high-level professionals come to this country but their language skills mean they are held back from offering their vital skills to the economy.”
It comes after around 600 staff and students from a range of colleges gathered at the Houses of Parliament in October to protest against a recent cut to Esol funding, in an event led by campaign group Action for Esol and the University and College Union London branch.
The demonstrators were protesting against the government’s decision in July to cut funding for a £45m programme of English courses for foreign language speakers, run with Jobcentre Plus, but no members of government were present to respond.
A Department for Business Innovation and Skills spokesperson declined to comment at the time on why no representative had been present or whether the rally would influence Esol policy.