DEFEND ENGLISH CLASSES! – says UCU and students

ESOL lecturers and students presented a 15,000-signature petition to Downing Street yesterday
ESOL lecturers and students presented a 15,000-signature petition to Downing Street yesterday

TEACHERS and students from across London went to Downing Street yesterday, to present a mass petition against the attack on the right to learn English.

The petition called on Prime Minister Blair and the government ‘to withdraw plans to limit access to free courses in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).’

Among those who presented the petition was Malalai Formouli, a doctor from Afghanistan.

She needs further English language training before she can practice medicine in the UK.

She told News Line: ‘It is really difficult. If courses are free then everybody can study with ESOL.

‘But no employer or university will recruit refugees without the language.

‘When I came to this country, ESOL was free.’

Paul Mackney, joint general secretary of the UCU college lecturers union, said: ‘We’re handing in 15,000 signatures today from ESOL tutors, college students and community groups in London.

‘We’ve already had a lobby of parliament which was attended by over 1,000 people and the government have made some alterations.

‘For example, they were going to stop ESOL classes for all asylum seekers, however long they had been in the country.

‘Now they will be entitled to free ESOL classes after six months. We think they should be entitled to ESOL classes from the day they arrive here.’

Mackney added: ‘As well, they also seem to be finding some money for established communities.

‘But it remains the fact that 80 per cent of migrant workers earn less than £6 an hour and they won’t be able to afford classes.

‘If you go to a college and say “I want to read and write’’, if your first language is English you get free classes. If not – unless you meet various strict criteria – you’ll have to pay.’

Asked about a mass registration campaign for English classes, Mackney responded: ‘People should go to college to register for courses and if there aren’t courses, they should protest.’

The Save ESOL campaign will be one of the main issues at the UCU conference in Bournemouth next week.

Mackney said: ‘In Adult Learning Week it is shameful that thousands of adults are currently being driven from learning instead of assisted into it.

‘ESOL classes bring great benefits to the economy, to social cohesion and to the lives of thousands of people.’

The UCU said most of those who will be deterred by fees for ESOL ‘are amongst vulnerable social groups’.