Asylum seekers waiting for longer than six months for a decision or appeal on their claim will be entitled to free English classes from September, the government has announced.
The announcement followed a series of meetings between ministers, students, teachers, trade unions and charities tabled after the Learning and Skills Council announced last October that it was to change the funding priorities for English language courses. This meant cuts to free classes for asylum seekers and other migrants.
Under the proposals, due to be implemented in the autumn, only asylum seekers under the age of 19 or anyone given leave to remain in the UK and in receipt of benefits would be entitled to free classes. Those not eligible will be required to pay between 19% and 37.5% of the cost of courses.
The plans were met with widespread opposition from the education sector, prompting a lobby of parliament.
However, in a speech on the 7th of March, the higher education and lifelong learning minister, Bill Rammell, said that as well as reinstating eligibility for asylum seekers after six months, the government would also be "re-prioritising" funds at a local level to help the spouses of refugees or migrants in low-skilled jobs get access to English for speakers of other languages (Esol) classes.
He added that low-paid migrant workers will be able to use housing benefit receipts, free prescription certificates and pay slips to determine their eligibility for financial assistance for courses, rather than having to fill in complicated forms in English.
He also said that any asylum seekers placed on a waiting list for a course before their 19th birthday will still get free lessons even if a place isn’t available until after they turn 19.
While making no firm commitment to compel businesses to fund English classes for their migrant workers, the minister said he would "urge and cajole" them to pay their share.
"We will also be working closer with trade unions, the Confederation of British Industry and sector skills councils to review how we best encourage and support employers contribution to the cost of Esol provision for their workers," he said.
He added that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority was working with awarding bodies to develop shorter, work-related qualifications for those who want to learn English for work purposes. This qualification will be introduced from September.
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