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Government spending on ESOL and recent student number trends

19 June 2019

Today's speech from the Prime Minister on integration announces the creation of a £20 million language tuition fund which will be run by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). This fund expands and builds on an existing DCLG fund which was first set up in 2013 and which is estimated to have helped 33,000 people over two years. Government's largest investment in supporting English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) comes via the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Skills Funding Agency (SFA). In the last full year for which figures are available (2013-14), BIS spent £160 million on ESOL courses, much of which went via colleges (£140 millon via the adult skills budget according to a letter from BIS Secretary of State, Sajid Javid Sajid Javid to martin doel 31 July 2015 esol.pdf Sajid Javid to martin doel 31 July 2015 esol.pdf (PDF,448.39 KB) plus an estimated £20 million via the ESOL mandation programme). This paid for courses taken by 155,000 students a year. Large spending cuts in the last two years (affecting 2014-15 and 2015-16) mean that this spending is now closer to £120 million and the number of students down to 115,000. In July 2015, BIS ended the ESOL mandation scheme (focused on getting people into work) with just two weeks' notice. In the 2015 Spending Review, the Chancellor promised to fix spending on core adult participation in cash terms for the rest of the Parliament. There are competing priorities for this money (now called the Adult Education Budget) which is due to be partly devolved to combined authorities in stages, starting in 2016. This should stem the flow of recent spending cuts though detailed decisions have yet to be made. The longer term trend means that there is much less Government spending on ESOL than there was ten years ago. Spending via the skills budget peaked at £270 million in 2005-6 with student numbers tripling between 2001 and 2005. The Labour Government introduced a number of eligibility restrictions in 2006 which reduced spending slightly (to £250 million by 2008) but which still supported 180,000 students (details are in BIS's ESOL impact assessment from 2011). Government spending via the skills budget has halved in the last six years while student numbers have fallen from 180,000 in 2009 to an 115,000 now. Colleges continue to prioritise the needs of their local communities and local businesses but their ability to support this important activity relies on a more stable policy environment and the support of national and local government.