Language skills the key to breaking down barriers

Blog by Activate Learning Group Chief Executive Sally Dicketts.
Folllow Sally on twitter @sallydicketts 

Last week David Cameron set out the government’s Prevent strategy aimed at tackling radicalisation.

The speech highlighted the importance of boosting integration in deprived and isolated communities, including ensuring people learn English.

On the same day the Skills Funding Agency revealed that funding for ESOL plus mandation – a programme to improve the language and literacy skills of job seekers – would be withdrawn.

The cut is part of the £450m savings required by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The links between language and community cohesion are clear.

Countless ESOL students have credited the programme with helping them to feel connected to their communities – increasing their confidence in accessing services, speaking with neighbours, building new networks and friendships.

As anyone who has spent time in another country will know, you need to understand and speak its language to feel part of the place. Failure to do so can be incredibly alienating.

In the case of ESOL plus mandation, this funding is supporting those whose lack of English language skills is proving a barrier to gaining employment. These are adults want to work and could be making a valuable contribution to the UK economy, but need additional support to enter the jobs market.

The question is how are we to achieve the government’s vision of integrating those in deprived and isolated communities without the resources to do so?

For Activate Learning the removal of the ESOL fund represents a loss of around £185,000 which could support the training of around 150 adults.

This comes on top of the existing cuts to the Adult Skills Budget – now at just under 30 per cent – which is affecting colleges’ ability to provide training for anyone over the age of 19.

We talk a great deal about wanting to increase social mobility in our country and yet we are closing off the pathway to employment through further education colleges.

The reality is that in the year ahead fewer adults will have the opportunities to retrain for a change in career or return to learning to develop the skills needed to progress in employment.

Despite the aspirations of the government’s Prevent strategy, the announcement which immediately followed it can only serve to reinforce the isolation of non-English speakers.  Meanwhile the chronic under-funding of all adult training looks set to disenfranchise many more.

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