Newcastle and Stockton flying the flag for ESOL provision on the Day of Action

Surrounding the stall – students and staff sign up

“V” is for Victory!

Vanessa Maughan (UCU Branch Secretary, Newcastle College) supports the campaign

Swamped! Our stall for writing postcards was always busy!

Getting the message across – students write a postcard of protest to the government on ESOL

WEDNESDAY 19th SEPTEMBER 2007 – Day of Action for ESOL

UCU were involved in making sure that people in the North-East remember the importance of ESOL classes and protested about the government changes to funding. Staff and students at Newcastle College across all departments came together to write postcards and sign messages of protest.

There was often not enough room at the stall for people to write their messages. In just two hours the strength of feeling meant that we collected over 350 postcards to send to the government. It was clear that the message was against the changes to the funding of ESOL classes and to allow those who want to learn English language classes to do so. Cost is becoming an issue, as enrolments have shown.

We then took the campaign right to the heart of government – meeting Bill Rammell, Minister of State (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education), Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (since 13 Jul 2007). He was in Newcastle and agreed to meet us to hear our views and concerns. Jon Bryan, Lecturer at Newcastle College and UCU National Executive member and Sabine Munro from Newcastle College ESOL department, met with Bill Rammell and we read him some of the postcards. He listened to the strength of feeling that had been generated that day. It was a useful meeting where we were able to articulate our concerns about changes to ESOL funding and the impact it was having on the provision at Newcastle College. Mr Rammell stated that he wanted employers to pay more, and there was a clear difference in our beliefs as to whether employers would be willing to pay for migrant workers to learn English. We stated that employers don’t have a good track record in this area of training and up-skilling, and that cost was already impacting on the provision and take up of ESOL classes.

In the evening, a “Don’t Lose ESOL” meeting took place in Stockton, Teesside. Jon Bryan and Dave O’Toole (Branch Chair, Newcastle College UCU) both spoke at the meeting about the need for free ESOL classes and for the campaign to continue. Other speakers included Helen Weir from Teesside Don’t Lose ESOL, Pete Widlinski from the North of England Refugee Service and speakers from the Polish community. It was a lively meeting, with those who have benefited from ESOL classes telling their own stories of what it has meant for them and how being able to speak English means that you can communicate, learn, argue for rights, and integrate.

Both events showed the strength of feeling and the campaign will continue!