Language classes are a start point for those who have experienced the awful isolation that one feels when unable to even speak the language. However, it is also really important to get out of the house, for example to do the daily shop, and practise speaking the language, because practice makes perfect. That is where community groups have an incredibly important role in complementing the language classes, because once someone has got it, they have to use it or lose it. That has certainly been my experience.
Other resettled refugees who arrive in the United Kingdom under long-established gateway protection programmes—about 750 people a year—do not, however, necessarily receive the additional support that is being provided for those affected by the Syrian conflict. Crucially, nor do the majority of refugees in Britain who arrive not through resettlement schemes but as asylum seekers. A majority of refugees therefore cannot access the funding.
Unintentionally, that can mean that one Syrian refugee who is in the UK through the resettlement programme can access high-quality English language teaching, while another Syrian refugee from the same street in Damascus or Aleppo cannot. The need of one of them to learn English is no greater than the other’s, but they may have an extremely different experience and then a different set of economic opportunities in our country.
The policy for adult learners is the responsibility of the Department for Education. Most ESOL is financed through the adult skills budget, administered by the Skills Funding Agency. However, the funding for ESOL that is available through those avenues is no longer ring-fenced. The seven new mayoral combined authorities, plus the Greater London Authority, will assume responsibility for ESOL in their area from September next year.
“The West Midlands is one of the most diverse regions in the world, and as such we face many challenges in trying to integrate different groups and communities into our society…Speaking English is the most important part of integration and no-one in the West Midlands should be left without the opportunity to learn English.”
We need to hear all Mayors in combined authorities show that they really understand that.