Call for help in improving refugees’ language skills

MP says more should be done to help refugees learn English.

The Member of Parliament for Birmingham Edgbaston, Preet Kaur Gill, has called on the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, to improve the provision of English language skills for those seeking refuge in the UK and for others in need of English lessons.

The letter, sent to the Secretary of State earlier this week, requests an increase in ESOL funding, with particular focus on refugees. The letter also urges that measures are put in place to ensure all refugees can access a minimum of eight hours a week of formal, accredited English language teaching for their first two years in the UK.

Research carried out by Refugee Action in their report Turning words into Action highlights that funding for providers of English for Speakers of Other Languages across England has shrunk dramatically over the past decade, from £212.3 million in 2008 to £105 million in 2018 – a real terms cut of almost 60%.

The report also found that almost two-thirds of refugees said they did not think they had received enough ESOL teaching hours, and that this had had an impact on their readiness to work in the UK given their current level of English.

In the letter, Ms Gill says: “The clear, persistent theme was that there are dedicated, professional providers working to try and meet the needs of learners, but that the current level of funding is clearly not enough for them to offer adequate and accessible provision.

“People I have met too often lack the confidence to work, or are unable to integrate in other ways, because their level of spoken English is not yet sufficient.”

The letter continues: “The economic case for investment is clear; a £42 million annual cost would be required to ensure two years’ ESOL for each refugee – a cost which is effectively fully reimbursed to the taxpayer following an individual’s first eight months of employment at the national average wage. Likewise, there is strong public support; 86% of the UK public support plans to invest in services to support refugees’ language skills.”