Guest blog by 'Enda Mess'
It's good to have the opportunity to raise awareness of the severe cuts that are affecting Adult Education and, very recently, ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) courses in particular. These cuts often go unnoticed as those who take up these services are often those whose voices are least likely to be heard. However, the classes are highly valued and often vital to those who use them.
At Brent Start (formerly Brent Adult and Community Education Service - BACES) the recent central government cuts mean that 40% of ESOL provision will be cut - with job losses to match! The cut has been very sudden - the government announced the withdrawal of all funding for classes for those on Job Seekers Allowance with immediate effect at the end of July - just when everyone was finishing for the year and all timetables and staffing was planned.
Despite the fact that services in other areas seem to be managing to hold off from making immediate redundancies, here in Brent the decision has been made act very swiftly in implementing the cuts and staff are returning to work to find they may not have a job by mid October.
What were known as the JCP (Job Centre Plus) classes were problematic for most adult educators and trade unionists in that they were 'mandated' - the new euphemism for compulsory. Students were referred from the Job Centre and there could be sanctions for non attendance. However, their withdrawal removes an opportunity for free classes and 40% of any provision is a huge loss.
This of course comes at a time when the plight of refugees and migrants is very topical. The cut was announced the day after Cameron said: 'At the moment we have parts of the country where opportunities remain limited ... where language remains a real barrier, where too many women from minority communities remain trapped outside the workforce, and where educational attainment is low'. Such decisions show the hypocrisy of the current government’s stated aim to help individuals develop skills in order to gain jobs and communicate with others and ‘lift the horizons of some of our most isolated and deprived communities’. (David Cameron’s extremism speech 20/07/2015)
Since then however, many thousands of people have connected with the humanitarian aspect of the refugee situation and have clearly shown that they do not support the government's hostile stand towards people who are driven to leave what they know behind and take enormous risks to start a new life for their families.
For me, the huge but often unrecognised value of adult and community learning (everything from computer classes to pottery to sign language to childcare courses – as well as ESOL) lies not just in the structured learning of the courses provided. It provides spaces and opportunities for a wealth of informal learning to take place. There is a real diversity of backgrounds amongst those who attend - people's lives overlap here in a way they seldom do elsewhere and these interactions can create really positive opportunities for the exchange and building of knowledge, skills and experience amongst students, that can be empowering way beyond the scope of the actual course.
We have a very long history in Brent of providing ESOL classes and it will be a terrible loss to dismantle nearly half of what has been a strong, committed and thriving department providing a quality service to the community for many years. ESOL classes provide a way in for people to access crucial services, participate in education and find work. They help parents support their children at school. They enable people who, when they arrive here bring valuable skills and experience of all kinds, to practise those skills and share that experience for the benefit of us all.
The University and College Union (UCU) which represents staff teaching in Adult Education as well as FE and HE, is campaigning against these cuts both locally and nationally and the ‘Action for ESOL’ campaign is also very active
A demonstration has been organised to protest against the cuts in ESOL classes on
Wednesday 16th September at 5.30, outside the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (this is where the cuts come from!)
Here is a link to the Facebook page for this event LINK
Please share, support, come along!
UCU and 'Action for ESOL' will also be attending the ‘Refugees are Welcome Here’ event on Saturday 12th September.