This BIS Equality Impact Assessment examines the potential effects on adult learners participating in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses as a result of changes to policy concerning eligibility criteria for fee remission as set out within wider funding and structural reforms in Skills for Sustainable Growth and (November 2011).
To read the full Impact Assessment see here.
Action for ESOL response: ESOL Equalities Impact Assessment – main issues ignored by BIS
John Hayes MP, Minster for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, has finally released the Equalities Impact Assessment of the cuts to ESOL funding which are due to come into effect next month. With parliament shutting down for the summer and the nation gripped by Murdoch-gate, from Hayes’ perspective the release could not have been better timed. For Action for ESOL, however, the report is long overdue and very disappointing.
The report reveals that in just five months the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) received over 1,200 pieces of correspondence about the cuts – a record amount which does not include the letters sent in bulk by hundreds of ESOL students and teachers across the country. Despite this, their concerns remain unaddressed and the report fails to assess the real impact the cuts will have on ESOL students and their communities.
Crucially, the report does not consider local evidence that indicates that thousands of ESOL students will be unable to pay for their ESOL classes next year.
BIS admits that it did not engage in an open public consultation, saying that ‘where gaps exist assumptions have been made’. Most of the assumptions in this report, however, are unwarranted speculations. For example, the statistics for this year suggest that around 56,400 current female ESOL students will not be eligible for fee remission under the new rules. The report also acknowledges that the qualitative evidence shows that women – particularly from Asian backgrounds – will suffer disproportionately. Yet BIS claims that the statistics cannot be used to predict how many students will be unable to pay next year. The question remains unanswered: where are these students – mainly women on benefits, the very low-paid and asylum seekers – going to find up to £1,000 to pay for their course fees?
Another claim made by BIS on no evidence is that all the ‘white’ students in ESOL classes are presumed to be from the EU. Conflating ethnicity with nationality is objectionable: many ESOL students who label themselves as ‘white’ are from countries in the Middle East or Latin American or other parts of the world. Action for ESOL rejects the crude attempts of BIS to blame migrants from Eastern Europe for other students not getting a place in an ESOL class – the blame for this lies squarely with the cuts to provision. The report states that by withdrawing funding from ESOL in the workplace, which they claim predominantly benefits white EU migrant workers, they will be freeing public funds for non-white, ethnic minorities who are not working. Action for ESOL have argued that employers should – but rarely do – contribute to workplace language training, but the government is unwilling to introduce the statutory levy required to make this happen.
BIS also says that extra support for ESOL will be provided through informal and community learning. This provision is usually short-term and can be inappropriate. No details of the nature of this ‘support’ are available and Action for ESOL do not believe that this will compensate for the cuts. Indeed, we expect that BIS will seek to lay responsibility for the cuts onto individual colleges, who it says should set their own priorities, despite facing significant reductions in funding.
As BIS admits, most of their Equality Impact Assessment is ‘speculative’ and not based on an open public inquiry. Action for ESOL believe the report to be fudged, to ignore the evidence available locally and to be full of unfounded assumptions. What is not “speculation” though is that in September the government will introduce new funding rules that will force thousands of students on benefits to pay for their ESOL classes. They will not be able to. The effect on our communities, and on our fragile economy, will be profound.
A spokesperson for Action for ESOL said:
John Hayes has not listened to the arguments. Many ESOL students will not be able to pay the increased fees. Asylum seekers have been ignored. Teachers are losing their jobs. He is destroying ten years of ESOL development. This will have huge consequences for our students and their communities.
Contact: Rob Peutrell firstname.lastname@example.org (07846 765 761) or Jennie Turner email@example.com (07973 430 951) for further response.