Joint letter to Boris Johnson from EFA and Natecla

Dear Mr Johnson,

We represent NATECLA, the National Association of Teachers of English of English & Community Languages to Adults, which campaigns for better access to English language classes for Adult immigrants across the post 16 and voluntary sector and EFA London [^] who provide free ESOL classes for migrants living in London.  We are writing in response to comments you made to the Evening Standard on 6 January (Everybody in London Should be Able to Speak English).

In the article, you are quoted as saying, ‘Everybody in London should be able to speak English’. 

We absolutely agree with you on this and believe that access to provision in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) for migrants is critical. However, since 2011, ESOL has been hit by a huge shortfall in funding. The 19% cut in the Adult Skills Budget in February 2014 has resulted in a dramatic 42% drop in the number of migrant adults able to access an English language course in the UK – from 82,900 students in 2012/13 to 48,300 students this academic year. 

A recent survey conducted by NATECLA of 212 colleges and adult education centres in the UK has revealed that over 80% of providers have significant waiting lists of up to 1,000 students on ESOL courses. As a result, migrants who want to learn English are regularly being turned away. 

A response from the migrant community

Please do not just listen to the teachers though. Here are some quotes from learners in a discussion about the Evening Standard article in a language class run by English for Action (EFA London) in Battersea.

  • You said: “Everybody in London, everybody who comes to work in our economy, should be able to speak English.” Teresinha said: “I agree because really a person who lives in a place needs to know the local language if he/she wants to communicate”
  • You said: It is “complete nonsense” that official documents in Britain should be translated into many languages. Saleha and Genet said: “We don’t want translator because we want to learn English”. Sonia and Afaf said: Translation and interpreting is most important for the immigrants who come new to the country. That won’t stop people to learn English.”
  • You said: “English is not a difficult language, with many short words and simple grammar”.Timnit and Saleha said: “English is not easy for adults because this is not first language and English words sometimes have different sounds and different spelling”. Saleha and Genet said: “English is not an easy language because we are old. I need more time to learn English. I try in class and at home but not easy maybe if I study more ESOL class I might be able to speak English.”

And the last word belongs to Teresinha: “Boris, we want you to listen to our words as a way to help you to find your dream to have everyone speaking in English in London”

You can read the full blog here

The Think Tank Demos produced a report on ESOL, On Speaking Terms, in August 2014. This put forward a strong case for a joined-up ESOL strategy for the UK to recognise the positive impact of language skills on the UK economy. A strategy could help to:

  • Secure an increase in funded ESOL provision and ensure all migrants can progress to Level 1 
  • Safeguard the quality of ESOL by recruiting more fully qualified ESOL teachers
  • Match employer investment in ESOL training

We would also like to draw your attention to the ESOL Manifesto [^] . This is a statement of values and beliefs compiled by Action for ESOL [^] in 2012 – a large group of ESOL practitioners, national bodies, trade unions, student bodies, community representatives and other organisations and individuals who believe that the opportunity to learn the common language of the community you live in is a basic human right.

We very much hope that, having recognised the issue, you will support the development of an ESOL strategy and sustainable funding for the capital and the Conservative party will consider prioritising this issue by adding it to your General Election manifesto. 

We would welcome further discussion on the issue and look forward to your reply.
Yours sincerely

  • James Cupper, Co-Chair, National Association of Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults (NATECLA) 
  • Dermot Bryers, CEO EFA London (English for Action)