Wednesday 14-10-2015 - 13:09
This is a speech given by Shakira Martin at the ‘Action for ESOL' Parliamentary Lobby on Wednesday October 14 2015.
When I was elected Vice-President for the National Union of Students I promised to speak up against the continued blame-game of marginalised and under-privileged groups. And that’s why, when more cuts to English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) were announced on-the-quiet in the summer, I decided to make it a key part of NUS’ further education campaign.
850,000 people in this country lack basic English language skills.
David Cameron and Sajid Javid have both said how we need to better integrate migrant communities through improving English language skills, and yet the Conservatives have cut ESOL budgets TWICE in the last five years.
These ideological austerity cuts are taking money away from services needed by the most vulnerable in our society.
Our politicians and the national papers scapegoat migrants, blame them for stretching the state and blame them for not being able to speak English.
It’s lazy politics and it’s cheap journalism.
Our English language classes are not empty.
Thousands and thousands of people desperate to learn are queuing up for ESOL courses all across the country.
English teachers are overworked, and squeezing as many students into their classes as they can. Over 80 per cent of colleges have waiting lists of up to one thousand students for ESOL, and there are one hundred and thirty thousand people currently taking them.
And what a surprise! Two-thirds of ESOL learners are women. The Government admitted in 2011 that their cuts would mainly affect women, yet here we are in 2015 with this government still not doing anything to secure the most voiceless and vulnerable in our society.
There isn’t a lack of interest in learning English but there IS a lack of political interest in funding it.
There is a very real political interest in blaming migrants and minority communities for the government’s own failings. This scapegoating has to stop!
With UCU we’ve been gathering stories of the impact this is having on the ground. With teachers doing their upmost to give ESOL learners the best chance of fulfilling their potential.
So what have we discovered? Zero-hours, temporary contracts, poor pay as a result of continued cutbacks.
If this government was serious about English language teaching, it would be serious about English language teachers!
And we have to put these cuts in the context of further attacks on international students in both further and higher education.
We’ve seen further restrictions on tier-four visas which sends out a strong message to the rest of the world that international students are unwelcome in our colleges and in our universities.
Students in colleges are told that they can’t work or gain work-experience. They can’t bring their children with them. They can’t change course.
I was elected by FE students’ unions across the country who believe in Free Education, Further Education, For Everyone.
And no education is more important than literacy.
No education is more vital than in language.
And it is not just vital for those who are being taught, but for every single person in this country, whether English is their first language or not.
My British values are based on respect and tolerance. Of diversity and difference.
We ALL need ESOL.
We ALL need this government to take some responsibility for ESOL and to respond to the massive demand out there.
At NUS we will be continuing to put pressure on MPs and government departments.
But we also want the importance of ESOL to be known outside Westminster.
95 per cent of British people believe that speaking English is a fundamental part of being British. Yet, barely anyone outside FE knows these cuts are happening, and that is a national scandal.
That’s why I will be organising with students’ unions across the country to campaign to protect ESOL because I want to give the government no other option but to realise that cuts to ESOL are clearly and obviously a cut too far.
Read more about the case for investing in ESOL here