The Casey Report is right to fight for the cause of English for Speakers of Other Languages courses –improving social integration is an essential public service, says Jenny Roden.

After much anticipation, speculation and delay Dame Louise Casey’s review into integrating isolated communities was finally published this week.

Optimistically entitled ‘A review into opportunity and integration’, the 199-page report contains much information to be studied and digested. It has raised some controversy, but, as Radio 5 Live’s Adrian Chiles observed when interviewing my colleague James Cupper about the report, “there are very few things that all sides of the debate can agree on, but one of them is the necessity to speak English”.

By producing evidence of the negative impact of poor English both on people’s lives, and on our wider society – and contrasting this with evidence of the benefits that greater proficiency in the language can bring – Dame Louise makes a strong case that good English is absolutely necessary for integration.

English language classes funding is not a luxury

She also notes that government funding for ESOL classes has been reduced and that too much emphasis is placed on language for employability, while there is little or no funding for those at pre-entry level.

And so we read in the recommendations that language skills should be promoted and English language provision should be improved. This is music to the ears of the ESOL community, who have been saying it for so long.

In the words of one practitioner: “I think there was a collective thud of redundant ESOL teachers’ heads on desks, when they read the line about more ESOL provision.”

It is time that ESOL got into the spotlight. Those who need to learn English in this country deserve better than they’re getting at the moment.

Adequate and sustained funding of ESOL is not a luxury; it’s an essential public service. It’s estimated that funding for ESOL has fallen by half since 2009. There is no funding at all for ESOL in the workplace, where countless migrants are trapped in low-skill jobs. With a lack of classes, cost implications for the low-paid, who must pay for classes, and additional costs of learning – such as childcare and transport – mean those with the greatest need suffer the most.

We need an urgent national review of ESOL provision, especially in the current context, with the imminent devolution of funding for adult and further education, which could lead to more fragmentation of an already piecemeal service.

In 2014, the Demos report ‘On Speaking Terms’ recognised the need for a national strategy for England – as Scotland and Wales already have. There have been calls for a strategy from a range of ESOL stakeholders, such as the Learning and Work Institute, HOLEX and Refugee Action.

NATECLA has added its voice to these, but went a step further with its report ‘Towards an ESOL strategy for England’, which contains proposals for what might go into any new strategy.

Launched at Westminster in October, the progress of the document is being closely watched by many in the field. It has already attracted a good deal of media attention and, we believe it is the best hope to bring some stability and consistency to the sector in these uncertain times.

We are therefore grateful to the Casey Report for highlightin the ESOL cause. We are heartened by what Dame Louise wrote in her introduction: “My overriding hope is that we can work together in a spirit of unity, compassion and kindness to repair the sometimes fraying fabric of our nation.”

NATECLA believes that, by working together, especially cross-sector and at a local level, we can stitch together the patchwork of really good ESOL practice which already exists, and pave the way for a brighter future for teachers and learners.

Co-authored by James Cupper, NATECLA co-chair


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