Fluency in English is foundational to integration. It helps migrants find work and enables them to become part of community life. Migrants and refugees who are unable to speak English have restricted job prospects and are also more vulnerable to exploitation.
Yet data from the 2011 Census showed that 844,000 people living in England – some 1.6% of all residents – did not speak English well or at all.
Speaking up: The case for universal fluency in English examines current provision to help people learn English, the barriers to accessing ESOL teaching and British Future’s recommendations for an English language strategy which aims for universal fluency.
English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teaching is available, through formal classes from further education providers and informal provision such as conversation clubs, often provided by charities. Yet there are long waiting lists in many parts of England for formal classes and little provision for those who work during the day. Fee regulations prevent asylum-seekers and newly-arrived spouses/partners from enrolling on subsidised provision, with full fees too costly for many. There has also been a lack of innovation by providers, with little offered to migrants who work long hours and find it difficult to attend daytime classes offered by colleges.
We recommend that the Government:
- Has a clear ambition of achieving universal fluency in English by 2030, with a ten-year plan to get there.
- Front-loads the ten-year ESOL plan with an extra £150 million per year over the next four years. This should enable reform to fee regulations and help colleges to meet demand. It should also encourage innovation and improve provision for migrant workers whose employment makes it difficult to attend college-based classes during the day.
- Reforms fee regulations, scrapping the requirement for students to have been resident in the UK for three years to qualify for free or co-funded courses.
- Introduces an adult ESOL curriculum and reviews the content of teaching materials so that ESOL courses not only help language acquisition but also help migrants on their pathway to British citizenship, promoting shared values and an understanding of life in the UK.
- Sets out a clear expectation that employers should support workplace-based English, by making space available for classes and conversation clubs and encouraging their staff to attend.
- Builds on the work of MHCLG to promote social integration and support volunteer-led conversation clubs, encouraging more groups to be involved as volunteers.
- Sets up a new Learning English freeview channel, enabling greater exposure to English.