On Speaking Terms

The English language is vitally important to the capabilities and integration of migrants who wish to build a successful future in the UK. However, in the last Census around 850,000 migrants reported that they could not speak English well or at all. This is partly due to current policy – delivered chiefly through the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) framework – which suffers from fragmentation, a lack of clarity and a short-termist approach.

Based on interviews, focus groups, FOI requests and a review of international evidence, this report investigates the state of ESOL provision in England, and how it compares with other countries. It uncovers a number of issues with the system, including disincentives to find employment while studying, and the fact that funding from government has reduced by 40 per cent in the past five years, despite the large waiting lists around the country. It concludes that ESOL in England is not functioning as well as it could, especially considering the demand associated with demographic projections.

On Speaking Terms recommends a number of ways to improve the system. It identifies funding as a key stumbling block, and so suggests that student-style loans are provided and that employers and local authorities do more to support ESOL. A coherent national strategy would ensure that this vital policy area remains on the agenda, and so the report calls on all parties to include one in their forthcoming manifestos. These changes would help to unlock migrant capabilities, save costs to public services in the long term and promote a more integrated and socially cohesive society.