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Current provision and funding

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) is the term used for English language courses taken by people whose first language is not English and who need English to communicate in daily life.

This briefing covers ESOL for learners aged 19 and over (referred to as adult ESOL) and relates to England only; different ESOL systems are in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

ESOL courses

A new suite of ESOL Skills for Life qualifications were accredited by Ofqual in 2014 and have been available to learners since 2014-15. The qualifications comprise three modes: reading, writing, and speaking and listening. It is possible for learners to take awards in a single mode, as well as a ‘full-mode’ certificate that combines all three. Courses may be taken at five levels: Entry Levels 1, 2 and 3 are basic level courses and Level 1 and 2 courses are equivalent to GCSEs.

ESOL funding

Government-funded adult ESOL is funded by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) through the Adult Education Budget (AEB) in the same way as other further education courses. Previously, the ESFA also funded ESOL learning through its community learning budget but from 2016-17 funding for community learning has been included within the wider Adult Education Budget and is no longer ring-fenced.

The ESFA will fully fund ESOL learning delivered in the classroom up to and including Level 2 for eligible learners aged 19 and over who are unemployed and in receipt of certain benefits. All other eligible classroom-based adult ESOL learning is co-funded by the ESFA, meaning that the ESFA pays half of the course costs and the provider may pass on the remainder to the learner. There is no funding provided for ESOL provided in the workplace.

As funding for adult ESOL courses is demand-led, there are no future budgets set for their level of funding. Data on past funding levels (not including community learning) has been provided in response to parliamentary questions and shows that, funding from the AEB fell by 56% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2016-17.

ESOL participation

The number of people starting funded ESOL courses has followed a very similar trend to funding since the start of this decade. Participation fell from 179,000 in 2009-10 to 114,000 in 2016-17.

In a survey of ESOL providers carried out by the National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults (NATECLA) in 2014, 80% of responders said their institution had “…significant waiting lists of up to 1,000 students…”; 66% said that lack of funding was the main cause of this.

Community-based English language programmes

In addition to ESOL provision funded through the ESFA, between 2012-13 and 2016-17 was allocated by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to six projects delivering community-based English language provision. This included £3.74 million in 2016-17, which was said at the time to be the “first step” in rolling out a £20 million community fund to teach English to isolated women which was announced by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, in January 2016.

Changes to ESOL funding since 2007

Up until August 2007, ESOL courses were eligible for automatic fee remission and, during this time, demand for and expenditure on ESOL increased substantially. Since this time, a number of changes have been made to ESOL funding, including:

  • Automatic fee remission was withdrawn from 2007-08 and fees were introduced for ESOL courses. Only people in receipt of certain means tested benefits (and their unwaged dependents) and asylum seekers who had been waiting over six months for their asylum claim to be processed qualified for full funding. Other eligible learners were co-funded.
  • From 2011-12 full-funding for ESOL courses was further restricted to individuals in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance (and in the Work Related Activity Group) and funding for ESOL in the workplace was withdrawn. Other eligible learners continued to be co-funded.
  • Following changes to the requirements placed on Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, £30 million of ESOL Plus Mandation funding was allocated in 2014-15. The funding was allocated to providers in areas that had been identified as likely to experience increased demand for ESOL as a result of the changes.
  • Following the 2015 Summer Budget, ESOL Plus Mandation funding was withdrawn from 2015-16. The indicative allocation for 2015-16 had been £45 million.

Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper

In March 2018, the Government published an Integrated Communities Strategy green paper for consultation. The strategy highlighted the importance of English language proficiency for effective integration, before setting out concerns with the current system of English language learning. It then set out a set of proposals, which included:

  • Developing a new strategy for English Language in England.
  • A new community-based English language programme.
  • Working with local authorities to improve the provision of English language learning in integration areas (see box six of the main briefing).
  • Launching a new infrastructure fund open to places outside the integration areas to improve their offer for English language learners.
  • An England-wide scheme to facilitate a network of community-based conversation clubs.

The consultation closes on 5 June 2018.

Casey Review and other reports

The final section of the briefing provides brief information on a number of reports relating to ESOL, including the report of Louise Casey’s review of opportunity and integration, which was published in December 2016.

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