Report from ESOL Fest in South London (incl. videos and photos)
June 21, 2011 Leave a comment
No Ifs No Buts, No ESOL Cuts! London students say no to cuts to English classes (by Mandy Brown, ESOL teacher at Lambeth College)
Hundreds of students and teachers from local colleges around London defied the downpours on Sunday to take to the streets and protest against cuts to English classes.
In the south, students from South Thames College, Lambeth College, Baytree Centre, Horizon and LAWAS joined lecturers to march through the streets of Brixton and Oval. Protestors chanted “Save Our ESOL!” as they joined a noisy demonstration by women and children outside the Baytree Centre before heading to a rally in Kennington Park. Dodging the showers throughout the noon, protestors gathered round banners from colleges and local community organisations and spoke out about why English classes should not be cut.
One student told how she was now able to go the GP alone and could speak to her doctor without help, thanks to her ESOL course at the Baytree centre for women. A student fromSouth Americaspoke about the need for communities to unite and fight against this racist policy. Mark Bergfeld of NUS told the crowds “students, immigrants and working class people must unite – it is in everyone’s interest for people to learn English”.
Many thousands of immigrants, refugees and migrant workers will no longer be able to access free language classes from September when the government plans to cut eligibility for people on ‘inactive’ benefits such as Income Support. National and local equality impact assessments show that these changes will impact disproportionately on black and ethnic minority groups, and on women in particular – around 70% of women learners will no longer be able to afford to pay for an ESOL course.
Action for ESOL, the national campaign which was set up in January to fight the new funding policy, says the effect of these divisive measures on the communities of languages without English as a first language will be devastating. In impoverished areas of London boroughs such as Tottenham, Tower Hamlets and Lambeth, where large numbers of the residents do not have English as their first language, these cuts to their basic right to language learning are coming on top of cumulative attacks on benefits and legal aid as well as rising costs. This will mean that more vulnerable people will not be able to lift themselves out of poverty, to find work or better-paid work and will become isolated from the people and services around them.
FE Colleges are also being faced with course closures and redundancies as the cuts hit.College of North East London in Tottenham is losing 71% of its ESOL courses.CroydonCollegeis losing over 50% of its ESOL teachers, and Hackney, Lewisham and City Of Westminster colleges are also set to face massive losses to courses, students and teachers.
Action for ESOL will continue to fight alongside students and teachers to reverse the funding policy and keep English classes free for all those who need it. Campaigners say that everyone has the right to learn the language of the country where they live – not just to find work but as a basic human right.