16 February 2011
***Case studies available from a wide range of Colleges***
Proposed changes to the funding of English courses for speakers of other languages (ESOL) could hit Government plans for citizenship, volunteering and the jobs market, an Association of Colleges survey has found.
From September the Government will only pay the full course costs for those receiving ‘active’*¹ benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) or employment support allowance (ESA).
Those on ‘inactive’ benefits, including income support, working families’ tax credit and housing support, will have to pay the fee element of the course (half of the total course cost).
The survey shows the changes will mean some 99,000 students – three quarters of whom are women – receiving ‘inactive’ benefits face paying these fees. Colleges say that many students will be unable to afford these fees, which will range from £400 to £1200 (depending on the duration of the course).
Joy Mercer, AoC’s Director of Education Policy, said: “Our members have told us that this would have a considerable negative impact on the ability of new citizens, or those applying for citizenship, to progress to employment or become involved in the ‘big society’ through volunteering.
“These courses have proved to be a lifeline for many people, including those on low incomes and their spouses, asylum seekers and refugees. There are currently 187,000 adults enrolled on ESOL courses to improve their English in order to find better jobs and increase their income, help their children with schoolwork and become fully integrated into the community.”
Key findings of the AoC survey, which was conducted at the end of January, include:
• ESOL students represented 11% of all adult students in Colleges in 2009/10 – 187,000 people
• Only 14% of ESOL students receive ‘active’ benefits
• 53% of students receive ‘inactive’ benefits – 99,000 people
• 74% of students receiving ‘inactive’ benefits are women
• 55% of students have literacy and numeracy basic skills needs
• 7% of students are seeking asylum
“It is hard to reconcile the likely impact of this policy with the Government’s stated support for social mobility and a fair society and we believe they may be unaware of the unintended consequences, particularly the disproportionate effect on women, of these proposals,” said Ms Mercer.
“We don’t believe Government would want to disadvantage British citizens or people contributing to the labour market, in particular given the Prime Minister’s recent speeches*² in which he has stressed how new citizens must ‘make sure they speak the language of their new home’.”
The AoC survey found that 75% of Colleges said they would have to reduce the amount of ESOL provision available if there were no concessions for people on ‘inactive’ benefits, because they anticipate considerably less demand. Many expressed concern at students’ ability to pay the full fees.
Ms Mercer said: “We want the Government to take another look at this policy and would urge them to delay implementation until a more detailed analysis of the likely impact, including students’ ability to pay, is undertaken and other changes to the benefits system have been fully modelled and understood.”
If you would like further information, case studies, or to arrange an interview with Joy Mercer, AoC Director of Education Policy, please contact Ben Verinder.
*¹ ‘Active’ benefits are defined as those requiring participants to fulfil Department of Work and Pensions conditions.
*² From Hansard (2/2/11):
Q8.  Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): This week, I met a gathering of ESOL-English for speakers of other languages-students at the Keighley campus of Leeds City college. Sadly, too many children in Keighley start school unable to speak English. Does the Prime Minister agree that there is a responsibility and obligation on parents to make sure that their children speak English?
The Prime Minister: I completely agree, and the fact is that in too many cases that is not happening. The previous Government did make some progress on making sure people learned English when they came to our country; I think we need to go further. If we look at the number of people who are brought over as husbands and wives, particularly from the Indian sub-continent, we see that we should be putting in place, and we will be putting in place, tougher rules to make sure that they do learn English, so that when they come, if they come, they can be more integrated into our country.
AoC Survey Notes
• 75 Further Education and Sixth Form Colleges responded to the survey between 17 and 28 January
• This represents 21% of Colleges in England
• 30% of responses came from Colleges in London
• ESOL students represented 22% of all adult students in Colleges in 2009/10
• 68,000 adults study ESOL courses in London (latest figures available – 2009)
• 14% of students receive’ active’ benefits
• 56% of students receive ‘inactive’ benefits – 38,000 adults
• 80% of students receiving ‘inactive’ benefits are female
• 41% of students have literacy and numeracy basic skills needs
• Every year Colleges educate and train around 3.4 million people
• 80% of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students study at a College
• Ethnic minority students make up 19% of students in Colleges, compared with 12% of the general population