Action for ESOL information

Please see message re: demo against immigration changes on  Monday.

Also, below that there is a very good analysis by James Simpson and Mel Cooke of the new language requirement changes for Citizenship which will affect ESOL students and provision.

If you would like to be on the Action for ESOL announce list (lo-traffic, not a discussion forum) to get updates on the campaign, please email Mandy Brown

Action for ESOL calls on you to TAKE ACTION!

Why? The government has announced changes to family immigration rules which will stop UK residents on lower incomes from bringing their spouses to the UK. Spouses who are allowed into the UK will have to wait five years and be forced to sit an Entry 3 ESOL exam and take the Life in the UK test in order to get settlement. This is unfair and discriminatory. Action for ESOL is joining JCWI and the Migrants Rights Network in taking action against the changes.

What? Demonstration at the Home Office

When? Monday 9th July at 16:30

Where? Meet at The Home Office building on Marsham Street, London SW1 4DF,i9P5OHFShswlnZ6sWzDRpi4PduMIwz5fI3qlO6UpbCvFmzBGkzHqJzv8miggjc8HOzX15L2HAcavL49PQggZmWaNlZ8rCvkbwdjDqfcWK4teEqNRA7fcyT3XjiwgGq19ZfQEZA colleagues, friends, outrage and wedding gear (optional)

Dear All, here is a copy of a post made by James Simpson and I to the ESOL-research list yesterday about the changes to immigration legislation and in particularly requirements for citizenship. Please circulate. Thanks, Mel. 

Contributors to ESOL-Research have already noted that tucked away in the Government’s latest anti-immigration measures is a ratcheting-up of the language requirement for British citizenship and settlement in the UK. These changes will remove the option for low-level ESOL learners to follow the ‘ESOL and citizenship’ route in lieu of the Life in the UK (citizenship) test and will have profound effects on our poorest and most vulnerable migrant communities, not to mention ESOL teachers. We should be protesting loudly about these changes – even if many of us feel a sense of fatigue at having to make the same points yet again .

In 2004, when the proposals for a language and citizenship test were first mooted, the ESOL community fought long and hard for an alternative for lower level learners. Under the current arrangements those with a level of English gauged to be below Entry Level 3 on the National Qualifications Framework (benchmarked to B1 on the CEFR) are entitled to enrol on an ESOL course which includes a citizenship component. If they progress a level, they are judged to have achieved the language and citizenship requirements for settlement, without having to take the electronic test.

Now, the government will overturn this policy at one stroke. From October 2013 this route will no longer be available and applicants for settlement will have to both pass the citizenship test and provide evidence of passing an English test at intermediate level. The UKBA family migration announcement update 13 June 2012 states:

‘from October 2013, requiring all applicants for settlement to pass the Life in the UK Test and present an English language speaking and listening qualification at B1 level or above of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages unless they are exempt.’

See also Home Office Statement of Intent: Family migration (June 2012), in particular paragraphs 113-117:

The stated aim of the previous government was to encourage people to apply for British citizenship. The new requirements, however, will actually place settlement in the UK beyond the reach of many would-be applicants. To pass both the Life in the UK test and a speaking and listening exam at B1 on the CEFR is a tall order for those who arrived in the UK with limited English, and perhaps limited literacy in their own expert languages. The Life in the UK test is a multiple choice test that can only be taken in English (or Welsh or Scottish Gaelic), and is taken on a computer. The test is therefore quite transparently one of English literacy (questions are drawn from one source only, the Life in the UK book, which is only available in English) and computer skills.

Likewise, passing a speaking and listening exam at B1 on the CEFR will be beyond many. ESOL Entry Level 3 is benchmarked at B1, as is Cambridge ESOL’s PET. The ALTE (Association of Language Testers in Europe) ‘can do’ statements for speaking and listening at B1 state: ‘CAN express opinions on abstract/cultural matters in a limited way or offer advice within a known area, and understand instructions or public announcements.’ That probably looks pretty do-able to your average linguistically-naïve politician or civil servant. But how easy or difficult this is to attain depends of course on the individual, their context and their life history. ALTE suggest that B1 level can be reached with around 400 hours of guided instruction ( This may well be realistic for someone who is already literate in their own language and who was able to attain a reasonable level of education prior to migration. Things are very different for someone who, for example, missed out on schooling as a child for some reason, be it war, famine, or the upheaval of the migration process. Such profiles will be familiar to teachers of ESOL. The suggested attainability of a speaking and listening exam pass at level B1 fails to take into account something of a neglected variable in SLA research – alphabetic print literacy (see Tarone et al 2009 Literacy and Second Language Oracy. OUP). Research is beginning to demonstrate the benefits of both the experience of schooling and the knowledge of literacy gained as a child on an adult’s ability to develop their second language speaking and listening. In many ESOL learners, both of these are missing. Consequently for many people the bar is now simply too high, and the new language requirements will be unattainable.

However, despite this, the government insists that the new requirements are linked to ‘integration’. The announcement of the new regulations was accompanied by Theresa May’s statement to Parliament on family migration, as reported on The Guardian Politics Blog, 11 June 2012:

‘The UK needs a system for family migration underpinned by three simple principles. One: that those who come here should do so on the basis of a genuine relationship. Two: that migrants should be able to pay their way. And three: that they are able to integrate into British society. If you do not meet these requirements, you should not be allowed to come here.’ (

This government, like the previous one, wilfully conflates an ‘ability to integrate’ with proficiency in the English language. Such a stance denies the multilingual realities of contemporary life, and it is depressing and frustrating to see, yet again, multilingualism presented as a problem. The notion of ‘English = integration’ does not take account the linguistic and cultural resources held by migrants, resources which may well help, not hinder, their integration into many multicultural neighbourhoods. The new policy has little to do with integration, however. It is applied differently according to the country of origin and status of individual speakers, and does not apply to EU citizens, many of whom have a much lower level of English than B1 on the CEFR. This nails the lie to any claim that the policy is being put in place for the purposes of social cohesion.

Access to English is crucial for everyone living in this country – we are not denying that. But if the government were serious about integration, then rather than presenting people with impossible language demands, it would be bending over backwards to provide as a right free and accessible ESOL classes for everyone from the point at which they arrive in the UK. This is a government, however that says on the one hand that the ‘English Language is the corner-stone of integration’ (Home Office Statement of Intent document June 2012, para 113, p.27), yet on the other can cut funding for ESOL to the core, making it ever more difficult for new arrivals and more established residents alike to gain access to the English language. Let us make no mistake: these changes are discriminatory and racist and it is difficult to see them as anything more than a squalid and shameless vote-grasping strategy, which will be to the detriment of the poor and vulnerable. We urge everyone in the ESOL community to raise awareness of these changes with your MPs, local councillors, community organisations, colleagues and students and to protest against this reversal before it is too late.

James Simpson and Melanie Cooke


1 thought on “Action for ESOL information

  1. As an ESOL teacher I’m deeply saddened by these new proposals which, to my mind, are less about integration than curbing immigration from certain countries. As has been pointed out, English language proficiency is not a requirement for EU migrants. Equally worrying are the noises being made by the Home Secretary, among others, about changes to the “Life in the UK2 test to include more about the history and cultural/literary heritage of the UK – questions that many people born here would struggle to answer.

    Although the demo advertised here has happened, I’m sure there will be many more opportunities to voice concerns about these changes and am glad that the blog has raised this issue for UCU members. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s