Defend ESOL staff at Tower Hamlets College

It’s a testament to the way politically active citizens run this country (and by country, I mean state) that despite the foul weather much of the world would prefer to live here. Those of us who were born here should consider ourselves fortunate. It’s down to good luck.

This is Tower Hamlets – or at least, the aspect of Tower Hamlets which relates to this post. Many people from far-off places make that London borough their home.

It’s not all rosy. The British National Party and other white supremacist organisations I won’t link to but which you can easily find by searching the web use language as a wedge between their cherished “native Brits” and relative newcomers. And some newcomers prefer to maintain division, a sentiment voiced by some interviewees on the documentary Divided Britain (BBC Radio 4, Tue 2nd Sep, 20:00).  Language is and has always been a cultural bridge.

The UK Border Agency imposes a Life in the UK Test on would-be citizens. It’s a good test, although looking at what you need to know, it becomes clear that immigrants who pass the test will be more knowledgeable than most native British people. I would love to link to the materials but – and this is terrible – they are not freely available. You actually have to pay. But English language is a pre-requisite:

“You should take the test if you are applying for naturalisation as a British citizen or indefinite leave to remain (settlement) and your level of English is ESOL Entry 3 or above. If your level of English is lower than ESOL Entry 3 and you wish to apply for naturalisation or indefinite leave to remain, you will need to attend combined English language (ESOL) and citizenship classes instead. Most local further education or community colleges run these courses.”

Unsurprisingly a report by the (renamed) Department for Children, Schools and Families concluded:

“There can be no doubt that a lack of English language skills causes second language speakers to be one of the most excluded groups in society and the labour market.”

The rationale for ESOL includes matters of citizenship, economic success, social inclusion, integration, and national identity. And yet the principal of Tower Hamlets is cutting ESOL, triggering a strike by teaching staff there.


Cutting ESOL in Tower Hamlets is a wholly bad idea.


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