Defend Adult and Further Education

I am asking for your support for a place on our union’s National Executive Committee. I believe it is important that our NEC reflects the views and experience of local union activists and representatives who are on the front line of the defence of further education. Government cuts are having a devastating impact on poor and vulnerable community groups. As an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) lecturer at Lambeth College, where I’ve been teaching ESOL to adults and young people for the last 9 years, I see this first hand.

As a leading campaigner for Action for ESOL I work alongside students, practitioners, trade unionists and community organisations to raise awareness of ESOL and multiculturalism, both locally and nationally, speaking at local community meetings and at UCU Congress, meeting MPs, letter-writing campaigns and organising protests.

In August last year this resulted in a major government U-turn on plans to cut funding for those on benefits. The alternative would have meant up to 70% of students, mostly women from Black and minority ethnic groups, being unable to afford to learn English to improve their lives. As a result of the U-turn, thousands of ESOL students were able to continue their studies and gain the language skills they desperately need. I would like the opportunity, with your support, to help ensure at a national level that UCU remains central to the fight to defend ESOL and access to further and Adult education in general.

I joined NATFHE (one of UCU’s two predecessor unions) as soon as I started teaching and have been on Lambeth UCU committee since 2008. As Branch Secretary at Lambeth since 2010, I have helped to build a strong, democratic branch which has successfully resisted compulsory redundancies and worsening conditions, struck solidly to defend pensions, and overwhelmingly supported the IfL boycott.

This spring will hopefully see trade unions taking renewed action over pay and pensions. Over-worked college staff are under huge pressure as they are pushed to work even harder, for less. Funding cuts mean closed courses and lost jobs, while the government attacks pensions and pay and our real incomes are dropping. Teaching staff are being further undermined by increasingly punitive lesson observation policies and Ofsted inspections which do not support students or staff but are being used by the current coalition government to downgrade colleges and pave the way for further privatisation. If you elect me to the NEC I will campaign for an alternative to the restrictive regime of Ofsted and lesson observations.

I supported the election of a Democracy Commission from this year’s annual congress to look at our NEC and other democratic structures in the union.  I strongly believe that in any changes to our structures, the lay members’ voices, particularly those representing Equality, sectoral and hourly paid groups in the union, must remain central to our constitutional and democratic processes.

As a UCU Left supporter I believe UCU must remain a democratic, member-led union with a campaigning agenda to ensure it is capable of defending further education and jobs, pay and pensions.

If elected I will campaign for:

– Adult and Further Education to remain free and accessible, especially for those who need a second chance;

– reduced workloads and fair conditions for all staff, including hourly paid;

– an alternative to the punitive Ofsted regime;

– an end to marketisation, student fees and loans.


Report from the Action for ESOL Manifesto launch – Saturday 3rd March 2012

Action for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) launched its new manifesto for ESOL on Saturday at UCU Head Office in north London.

A good turnout included MP Heidi Alexander, representatives from the Refugee Council, Migrant Rights Network, NATECLA and other partner organisations, along with ESOL teachers, ESOL researchers and UCU members from FE colleges in and around London, York and the Midlands.

The purpose of the launch was to celebrate the success of the campaign and to look at the new manifesto and how it can be used in future ESOL campaigning. The afternoon started with a celebratory journey through the campaign highlights and the people and protests which brought about the huge success.

A wide-spread grassroots campaign led by students and practitioners, combined with the support and parliamentary lobbying of education organisations such as UCU, NATECLA, NIACE and many MPs around the country, all contributed to an almost total U-Turn on the coalition government’s plans to cut funding for ESOL learners.

Heidi Alexander MP told the launch how she was inspired after meeting students at a local Lewisham community centre and reading letters from students in Lewisham who explained why English was so important to them and why they needed to be able to continue their ESOL classes.

Tish Taylor showed a video made by Reflect ESOL of the fantastic Old Palace Yard demonstration outside parliament on March 24th last year, when ESOL students marched from the protest to hand in a petition to Downing Street with over 20,000 signatures, including Noam Chomsky, Ken Loach and Ken Livingstone.

All speakers celebrated the campaign’s success and the inspiration of all the students round the country who explained powerfully why ESOL matters.

In the 2nd part of the launch, Mel Cooke and Rob Peutrell talked through how the manifesto was written and what the manifesto is about.

Like the campaign itself the manifesto was initiated by practitioners on the ground in a collaborative process and the messages of the manifesto for ESOL centre around the issues faced by migrants, as well as ‘production-line’ teaching, marketisation and labour-market agendas, valuing teachers and their input into curricula, and commitment to consistent funding.

These issues for ESOL are fundamental to how practitioners see what ESOL is and where it should be going. These same issues affect the wider FE sector, and elements of the ESOL manifesto are recognisable in other FE manifestos such as the UCU paper – “Jobs and Education, Regaining the Trust of Young People”.

It’s interesting to see just how much these 2 manifestos have in common, with both calling for:

  • an end to ‘production line’ learning
  • provision that reaches into the community and meets the educational needs of students and communities
  • removal of over-emphasis on exams
  • removal of labour-market agenda
  • promotion of outreach provision
  • multiculturalism in education
  • free provision
  • free provision for asylum seekers
  • an end to marketisation of education
  • a commitment to consistent funding
  • providers across sector working together and not in competition
  • anti-casualisation of teaching staff
  • good access to paid training and development for teachers
  • input by teachers into policy and curriculum development
  • respecting and valuing role of teachers via pay and conditions

Action for ESOL is now looking to the future and will continue in the campaign’s grassroots tradition by involving students in the manifesto as it’s taken forward into the community following Saturday’s launch.

With the threat of impending FE loans plus changes to ESOL and Functional Skills qualifications in September, and the uncertainty of the new Universal Benefits in 2013, ESOL needs now to consider how it can use the success of the campaign and the new manifesto to unite with the issues that face all of Adult, Community and Further Education and survive not just as ESOL but as part of the increasingly vulnerable sector in which it lives.

ESOL and Adult Education saved until 2013

         February 5th, 2012

ESOL and Adult Education saved until 2013.

December 2011 saw a fantastic result for the Action for ESOL campaign, as the government announced that the huge U-Turn on their plans to make students on benefits pay for English (ESOL) classes would now stay until 2013. Many feared the concessions were ‘just for one year’ but this has now been extended for a further year until 2013/14.

The initial plans changed funding eligibility for all adult learners on so-called ‘inactive’ benefits. This meant that up to 75% of students learning English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), mainly women from black and minority ethnic groups, would no longer be eligible for English classes. Those on benefits such as income support would be asked to pay up to £1200 for a course, which they could not afford and would have had a devastating impact on ESOL students and all of our communities.

The August U-turn was an important victory for Action for ESOL as, although the concessions did not apply to those on working tax credit, low-income workers not on benefits and asylum seekers, most of the 250,000 adult places at risk could potentially be saved.

Action for ESOL was founded in January 2011 by students, teachers, union activists and community groups, to oppose the eligibility changes. Action for ESOL is supported by the University and College Union (UCU), the National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults (NATECLA), the Refugee Council and other organisations. This successful campaign has raised awareness of ESOL at a local and national level through students and practitioners in colleges and community groups speaking to MPs, parliamentary lobbying and holding ESOL protests.

Action for ESOL’s success is due to the hundreds of students, teachers, trade unionists and supporters who took part in the demonstrations and letter-writing, spoke to their MPs, lobbied in parliament and came on the marches and protests around the country. As well as the fantastic response to the chaotic last-minute U-turn by getting students back into college and in some cases getting ESOL courses and teachers re-instated.

The campaign still has work to do for those students to whom the concessions did not apply, and many colleges are still trying to undo the chaos caused by the last-minute funding changes.  Next steps need to address these issues and to consider how to fight the introduction of FE loans in 2013.

  • Campaigners should be approaching college management to ensure they act on the August U-turn on by filling places on ESOL courses, recruiting staff and planning for the extension.
  • Many colleges received extra funding following the riots over the summer, and this should be welcomed and management approached to re-instate those ESOL staff lost, replace ESOL closed courses and invite in all ESOL students who are on waiting lists.
  • This 2 year extension gives campaigners time to regroup and take on the challenges down the road including fees, loans and changes wrought by the ‘universal benefit’ system due around 2015, all of which will facilitate privatisation and undermine adult and further education. The campaign will seek to work with students and workers campaigning against cuts and privatisation to the whole of education.

But for now, this new announcement means that Adult Education is now protected for a further year and the majority of ESOL students can continue their studies until 2013.

Read more about ESOL and Further Education:

ESOL manifesto – out now, see to read the manifesto

UCU FE paper – Jobs and Education, Regaining the Trust of Young People at

ESOL Protest at Old Palace Yard 24.3.11

March 25th 2011


500 students and teachers from colleges all over London held a vibrant, noisy protest against cuts to ESOL funding outside Westminster at lunchtime, with massive teach-out, theatre workshops, outdoor games and singing lessons.

Refugees and students gathered round the megaphone to talk about why they need to learn English and how ESOL classes change their lives, before marching together to Downing Street to hand in the Save ESOL petition with 20,000 signatures, including Noam Chomsky, Ken Loach and Ken Livingstone.

The protest continued in the afternoon on the UCU demo from LSE and rally at Downing St. 1000 striking teachers and lecturers listened to speeches defending ESOL and multi-culturalism by Jeremy Corbyn MP, an ESOL teacher and 6 students from Hackney College and many others.

The photos and students’ words showed their determination and the day’s actions showed how ESOL students, teachers and refugee organisations across the country are not going to take this cut without a fight.

by Mandy Brown, London Action for ESOL

ESOL Fest June 19th 2011

June 21st 2011

No Ifs No Buts, No ESOL Cuts! London students say no to cuts to English classes.

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 afternoon, 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 from South America spoke 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. Croydon College is 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.

by Mandy Brown, London Action for ESOL

Brixton Youtube clip via Education Activist Network

Brixton photos:

Hackney photos: