How Recent Changes to
UK Immigration Legislation
Affect ESOL Provision
in the Further Education Sector
7 January 2011
In recent years the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) sector has been dramatically affected by top-level UK immigration legislation. Immigration changes emanating from the Home Office, as well as corresponding funding changes for ESOL through Skills for Life, have significantly impacted public-sector Further Education (FE) teaching of ESOL.
This essay will outline the recent history of national legislative changes affecting English-language teaching and identify the current operating policy and include a description of my education sector and learners. Following this description will be a detailed analysis of how the policy has been implemented in the public FE sector and especially within my own organisation. The analysis will begin by examining funding issues that affect the implementation, followed by a point-by-point discussion of positive benefits as well as negative impacts of each aspect. Both pre-existing and pending funding changes which impact ESOL provision will also be briefly mentioned.
Hamilton and Hillier (forthcoming, p 1) could not have been more accurate when they stated "It is clear from the historical record that ESOL... has received uneven and often unhelpful attention from government."
In the early 2000's the UK began significantly tightening immigration controls in an effort to reduce the number of immigrants to this country, and many amendments were added to the main law controlling immigration to the UK: the Immigration Act 1971. Prior to this time, the law specified only that any immigrant desiring British citizenship should have 'a sufficient knowledge' of English (British Nationality Act 1948). In the last decade, however, an astounding 267 Statutory Instruments and 5 Acts dealing with immigration have been approved.
These changes began with the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and eventually led to the complete restructuring of the UK immigration system. A new Five-Tier Points-Based System (HC 439) was introduced and phased in during 2008 and 2009. This system tightened language regulations considerably, requiring different levels of English for different types of immigrants. HC 439 is the pertinent policy which this report will analyse, and one which significantly affects the FE ESOL sector, as it further restricts specifications regarding proof of English language progress and proficiency:
A person is deemed to have sufficient knowledge of English and of life in the UK if he has attended a course using teaching materials derived from ‘Citizenship Materials for ESOL Learners’ and has thereby obtained a relevant accredited qualification in ESOL (or if he has passed the test known as the 'Life in the UK Test'). ...[that] evidenced progress from one [ESOL] level to the next is required and that qualifications can only be obtained through attendance at a college that is subject to inspection by [approved agencies are listed].
This means that immigrants seeking to settle in the UK must now submit formal proof of their initial level of English in addition to proof of their final level, thus confirming an improvement of one whole ESOL level. In addition, instruction must now be provided by an approved, inspected college - a change that could leave many private English language colleges without enough students to survive. (Tahir, 2010)
Sector and Learners
However, I teach in the public ('approved') sector of Further Education: specifically in Adult and Community Education. ESOL provision in our sector is divided into several types of courses; the two areas I currently teach in are 'Skills for Life' and 'Family Learning'. Skills for Life ESOL, at the lower levels, has experienced significant cuts,...