#LoveESOL September 2020

25 Sep

Since 2017, we’ve been organising #LoveESOL events with the aim to engage with policy-makers. This is so ESOL students (and teachers, volunteers and supporters) can have a real say in how ESOL works in the capital. Over the years, hundreds of students have been involved in the campaign. We started as a big teach-out in the green space outside City Hall, which led to invitations to hold an event inside the building the following years and present our asks to the Mayor’s team, as well as meet with key members of staff. The event has historically coincided with the European Day of Languages (26th September), so it’s also a celebration of multilingulism and the lingustic diversity we have in London. Here are some highlights in case you missed them in previous years:

Over the years, ESOL students have delivered speeches outside City Hall…

signed petitions…

prepared huge #LoveESOL banners…

given speeches in front of deputy mayors…

written various messages directed at policy-makers including these….

and these.

The #LoveESOL events are also always an opportunity for us to connect as a London-wide ESOL community.

Today we had our fourth meeting with the Mayor’s team at the GLA, where we discussed and elaborated on asks we presented at our last visit to City Hall before COVID-19.

During our last meeting with the GLA, we asked for an ESOL website for London that would host a detailed database of all classes available so that ESOL students can easily find a suitable class. ESOL students also presented asks in the form of an MOT test:

Today we wanted to follow up and elaborate on these. We had over 160 participants, mostly ESOL students from EFA and partner organisations including Hackney Learning Trust, New City College, Tower Hamlets Idea Stores, WEA, Babel’s Blessing, Praxis, and CARAS. We also had members of IWGB (union) and Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, as well as London Citizens and King’s College London. From the GLA, we had the Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills, Jules Pipe, Senior Policy Officer for Employment and Skills, Karissa Singh, and ESOL Coordinator, Silvia Perin in attendance. They acknowledged the work EFA does in London and there was also special mention of our recently-launched ESOL Podcast in collaboration with Amy Jowett from Hackney Learning Trust (listen to our latest episode here)! The team responded to our asks and gave an overview of the GLA’s recent work on ESOL.

ESOL student Ania (Lambeth) gave an overview of the campaign, then students, Menal (Tower Hamlets) and Lian (Greenwich), presented their stories and connected asks. Menal spoke about the need for the ESOL website (mentioned above) and the struggles she faced in trying to find a class:

I’ve been in London for 10 years now. I studied a lot here but before that I faced difficulties to find courses to improve my English and integrate in my new society. Later on I asked here and there about courses, and it’s really difficult to find courses, especially if someone doesn’t speak English very well. It took me 3 years to find an English course. For 3 years I struggled to manage my daily life because I wasn’t able to speak or understand English. My life was terrible at that time and I was desperate.

– Menal from Baghdad, Iraq (EFA student, Tower Hamlets)

Lian spoke about her journey too and added to what Menal talked about:

“It was not easy for me to find my class either – there was an ESOL class at school where I teach Mandarin and for years, I didn’t know about it. You have heard the experiences of other people here and I am sure that you are going to help us to make it easier for people to find and join classes.”

– Lian from China (EFA student, Greenwich)

Lian then added that politicians don’t want to listen to ESOL students and that the public can have a negative opinion on ESOL students:

“People think a lot of things that aren’t true about us – for example some people think that we don’t want to learn English. While in fact most people work very hard to learn it. We need someone to stand for us, be our voice and support us. We want to be heard by the government and the politicians.”

– Lian from China (EFA student, Greenwich)
Menal (and Lian) presented their ESOL journeys and asks to GLA staff

We also presented a video of the barriers people have faced while trying to access ESOL. There are many barriers but the ones we presented were: cost, childcare responsibilities and eligibility criteria attached to immigration status. We strongly believe that no one should be excluded from ESOL on any basis and that politicians should work to address these barriers. Since we started this campaign, 40,000 more people are now able to access classes because a fee waiver was introduced for those earning below the London Living Wage. We’d like to see this commitment extended to other barriers people face. We do also acknowledge that this isn’t always within the power of the GLA to address is and were happy to hear that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has been very vocal about the need for central government to introduce more flexible eligibiliy criteria in relation to immigration status. But as Lian said, we want City Hall to be a bigger voice for ESOL.

Deputy Mayor Jules Pipe

In the meeting, the GLA team, including Deputy Mayor Jules Pipe, responded with the following to our asks:

👉 They recognise the barriers to accessing ESOL and will be drawing on learnings from ESOL pilots they ran to explore how these can be addressed. They are, however, a bit limited in what they can do in some areas because some decision-making rests with government.

👉 ‘The Mayor is committed in principle to a website’, Deputy Mayor Jules Pipe told us as he also expressed his own support for the creation of one: ‘I absolutely support the creation of such a website’, he said.

👉 The Mayor ‘could lend his name’ to a campaign video that we produce to make a strong case for inclusive ESOL provision in the capital.

We concluded the meeting with a mutual commitment to meet again in the run up to the mayoral elections.

It was great to have so many students and ESOL supporters (some old, some new) in one place, in spite of the difficult situation we’re all in. We’re looking forward to building on the outcome of this meeting and discussing it further in our classes!

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