On 21st August 2009, Quilliam issued the folowing Strategic Briefing:


Colleges across the UK are suffering drastic cuts to English language courses as the Government redirects funding away from beginners − from those least able to afford to pay for it privately and those most in need of getting onto the social ladder. Not only does this undermine national cohesion and create divisions for extremists to exploit, a lack of English courses places enormous demands for translation on public services. It has been identified by the Government, as well as Regional Centres of Excellence, that local authorities must become more cost-efficient and cost-effective in their delivery of translation services, the savings from which can then be channelled into English courses. Local authorities are best placed to develop an effective coordinating role for the provision of ESOL at local level, a role which cannot be played by disparate groups within the private or voluntary sector.


In a discussion on Radio 4 Woman’s Hour on 19th August 2009, former Community Cohesion Minister Sadiq Khan MP told Quilliam’s Senior Research Fellow Anya Hart Dyke that responsibility for cuts to English language courses lies with the colleges, not with the Government (1). But according to a college in Tower Hamlets particularly affected by recent cuts, this is not the case.

Quilliam published a report in July 2009 containing the largest poll to date of more than 600 unemployed South Asian Muslim women, looking at why they are not in work (2). Immigrant, Muslim, Female: Triple Paralysis? revealed that contrary to popular stereotypes, most (57%) of the UK’s unemployed Muslim female immigrants want to work. 64% of respondents specified a lack of the requisite practical support from the Government as impeding their path to employment. Second only to domestic and childcare responsibilities, a lack of proficiency in the English language was identified by respondents as the biggest barrier to employment.

English is essential for these women to not only gain entry into the workforce, but also for their own and particularly their children’s integration into British society. Children are at a real advantage if parents can communicate with their teachers, help them with their homework, and build their confidence and improve their prospects through imparting soft skills learned from engaging with mainstream society. These women are from one of the most economically disadvantaged social groups in the UK and, specific to the Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim communities, is the high rate of transnational marriage migration between the UK and the Indian subcontinent,(3) in addition to high immigration rates in general. In short, these women’s learning and support needs will persist down the generations. Empowering these women to become ambassadors for British Islam is a crucial part of challenging the narratives peddled by the far-right, both within and outside of the Muslim communities (4). Muslim communities also have a pivotal role to play in supporting women into positions of religious, community and political leadership as currently, by default, it is articulate, confident English speakers (mostly male) who may become gate-keepers to communities.


Cuts to English courses: Case Study – Tower Hamlets

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses are funded by the newly-formed Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS) (formerly the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS)) via the Learning and Skills Council (LSC). The Government has trebled its investment in ESOL since 2000/01 but over the past three years the funding has remained the same. Most recently, the DIUS released a paper in May 2009 detailing its new approach to reach priority learners for ESOL provision, expecting this to result in ‘an increased number of people from the locally identified priority groups’, but that ‘this will need to happen within the existing budgets for ESOL’ (5). As a result, according to the University and College Union, the Campaigning Alliance for Lifelong Learning (CALL) and the National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults, (6) this new approach has led to drastic cuts to ESOL provision, particularly at beginners’ level.


Fact Box

Tower Hamlets is one of the poorest boroughs in the UK and also has one of the highest concentrations of immigrants. Government cuts for beginners’ English language classes have seen colleges in East London discontinue classes and make teaching staff redundant, whilst waiting lists and a backlog of learners grow ever larger. Tower Hamlets College will see 50% of ESOL courses cut from September, as well as the use of community outreach centres for ESOL classes. The College has experienced systematic cuts to ESOL funding for years, and already no longer has courses for absolute beginners. This round of cuts will affect entry-level [beginners] learners as the Government prioritizes funding for higher ESOL levels. Currently there are 800 learners on their waiting list — mostly for entry levels — and this will rise to 2,000 in September with the proposed cuts (7).

Speaking on Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, Sadiq Khan MP, Minister for Transport but former Minister for Community Cohesion, responded by saying that “we have made a decision in Whitehall that we don’t know what’s best in communities like Tower Hamlets. We have devolved the decision as to where the money [for ESOL] goes, to local colleges like Tower Hamlets College” (8). But a teacher at Tower Hamlets College told Quilliam that “it is the Government that is shifting its focus to the employment end of ESOL [higher levels which gear learners towards work], rather than the social inclusion end [beginners’ levels], which they are leaving to the voluntary and community sector to pick up”. Of concern is that it is the learners who need beginners’ courses that are likely to be the least able to pay for them, so they can’t go privately to learn.

But there is also an argument for local authorities to be responsible for coordinating ESOL provision, quite aside from funding issues, as it ensures that the demand for ESOL can be monitored and the supply organized accordingly. Moreover, learners must be put on ‘progression routes’ and ‘individual action plans’ that involve coordinating with all service providers in the locality to ensure that the student progresses onto the most appropriate courses. But beginners’ level courses cannot be successfully delivered by private providers, charities and religious organisations without “established mainstream educational institutions with decades of specialist expertise, relationships all over the borough, and the ability to identify barriers to learning – from dyslexia to domestic abuse”, as argued by an ESOL teacher at Tower Hamlets College (9).

Learners don’t necessarily progress onto the highest ESOL levels and not all learners will go on to work, but by removing these beginners’ courses you take away that possibility. The ‘social inclusion’ factor in acquiring English is also underestimated and was indeed acknowledged by Sadiq Khan MP: “the best way to climb the social ladder is to learn English, and speak to your neighbours, it’s to get a job, and it’s to feel empowered” (10) yet the voluntary sector is expected to shoulder this responsibility. In addition, where English is not spoken or read by members of the community, there is an increase in pressure on public services to provide translation services.

Excessive translati
on expenditure

In December 2007, the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) issued a document entitled Guidance for Local Authorities on Translation of Publications detailing the ways in which local authorities should reduce expenditure on translating documents. Most of what is detailed in the report is common sense, with suggestions such as sharing translated items with other local authorities and stakeholders, considering whether documents need to be translated at all or whether they can be summarized and so on (11).

However, More4 News reported on 15th June 2009 that 58% of local authorities across England had increased their funding on translation services in 2008. More4 News alleges that ‘over £50m was spent on translations by English councils, and that some of the material translated is not read by a single person’ (12). And this is just what the councils spend – quite aside from the NHS, the police and the courts. Local authorities need to review how they allocate funding for translating but also to be more cost-efficient in the money they do spend, as recommended by the Regional Centres of Excellence’s Procurement Programme in November 2007 (13).

The CLG’s Guidance document also recommends using money saved on translation to feed into ESOL: ‘Local authorities could attempt to line up the withdrawal of translated materials with the provision of English language classes and have regard to the capacity and programme of local providers, bearing in mind that this may well need to be augmented’ (14). Local authorities should also consider bilingual documents and advertising English classes, so as to attempt to alleviate dependency on translations.

Whilst not all ESOL learners will necessarily reach the stage where they can read, write and speak in English to such a degree that they have no need for translation in public services, particularly in high-pressure situations such as dealing with the emergency services or with a GP, translation is no substitute for learning. An ESOL teacher at Tower Hamlets College explained that “it’s a two-way relationship between student and teacher and also amongst students. We learn from each other. Translation services cannot replace the interaction in class between different members of the community who know almost nothing about each other”.


Central Government

• Review whether local authorities redirecting funds into ESOL reduces demand for translation services provided by public services such as health, law enforcement and the judicial process.
• If English language tuition becomes compulsory for spouses, they must have recourse to public funds.
• Ensure that employers cover the costs of English courses where staff need them, in order to meet the requirement that all staff understand health and safety procedures and their employment rights.

Local Authorities

• Set up a coordinating mechanism to map English-learning needs in the communities that includes levels of literacy in target audiences’ first languages, and coordinate partnerships with colleges, Jobcentre Plus, the LSC and the voluntary sector to ensure priority groups are reached.
• Implement cost-saving measures contained in the Guidance for Local Authorities on Translation of Publications (CLG: 2007), particularly through the use of broadcast media in other languages.
• Consult the nearest Regional Centre of Excellence’s ‘Procurement Programme’ to ensure cost-efficiency in necessary translation services.
• Reallocate funds for translation to ESOL so as to alleviate the burden on public services and to meet the objective of CLG to reduce dependency on translation.
• Coordinate with local employers who can contribute to ESOL costs through offering space for classes on-site, and can subsidize fees for existing staff as part of continuous professional development and training budgets.

1. Quilliam is the world’s first counter-extremism think tank.
2. For further information, please call Quilliam’s media line on 0207 182 7286 or 07590 229 917 or email [email protected].

1. Woman’s Hour, ‘Why don’t South Asian Muslim women work outside the home?’ BBC Radio 4, 19 August 2009, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdPzw6lowZ4>, [accessed 19 August 2009].
2. Of the 634 respondents, 265 were Bangladeshi women and 369 Pakistani women. Only 14% were born in the UK. 63% migrated through marriage and 74% had been living in the UK for more than ten years. A. Hart Dyke and L. James, Immigrant, Muslim, Female? Triple Paralysis? (London: Quilliam, July 2009).
3. Looking at Labour Force Surveys between 1998 and 2005, 50% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women married men from overseas, and approximately 40% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi men married women from overseas. A. Dale, ‘Migration, marriage and employment amongst Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi residents in the UK’, CCSR Working Paper 2008-02 (Manchester: University of Manchester, 2008), pp. 9-11.
4. For more on the need for all Muslims including women to speak out against far-right groups such as the British National Party who are demonizing Islam and Muslims, see L. James, In Defence of British Muslims: A response to BNP racist propaganda, (London: Quilliam, August 2009).
5. DIUS, ‘A New Approach to English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)’, p. 9.
6. University and College Union, <http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=3949>, [accessed 18 August 2009]; CALL Campaigning Alliance for Lifelong Learning, <http://www.callcampaign.org.uk/?p=733#more-733>, [accessed 18 August 2009]; National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults, <http://www.natecla.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=416>, [accessed 28 August 2009].
7. Interview with the ESOL Programme Coordinator, Tower Hamlets College, East London, 17th June 2009. A number of large scale protests have taken place at Tower Hamlets College in response to these cuts and a strike is set to go ahead on 27 August 2009.
8. Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4.
9. J. Shepherd, ‘Essential English. Cuts to beginners’ language courses will hit the most vulnerable people hard, say campaigners’, The Guardian, 14 July 2009.
10. Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4.
11. Communities and Local Government, Guidance for Local Authorities on Translation of Publications, December 2007, <http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/communities/pdf/580274.pdf>, [accessed 18 August 2009], p. 14.
12. More4 News, ‘Lost on Translation?’ Channel 4 News, 15 June 2009, <http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/uk/lost+on+translation/3213762>, [accessed 18 August 2009].
13. Centre of Excellence North East; Improvement and Development Agency; Local Government Association, Local government sustainable procurement strategy, November 2007. <http://www.rcoe.gov.uk/rce/aio/46593>, [accessed 20 August 2009].
14. CLG, Guidance for Local Authorities on Translation of Publications.