Story: Douglas Johnson
Local students and campaigners are celebrating the chance to keep on learning English.
Classes in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) were threatened when the Government changed the rules so most people on benefits could no longer afford the classes. The only people still to qualify were those on jobseeker’s allowance and actively looking for work. Most of the people excluded were women, many of whom need English to help in looking after children.
Previous steps in the campaign included a big meeting at the Fir Vale Centre with David Blunkett MP, where learners expressed their views. English was their key! They described how learning English had helped them manage in shops, with doctors and with neighbours and how this saved the Government money. Some learners took legal advice and the Law Centre challenged the Government on the lack of equality. Around the country, other groups were also taking action.
Success arrived in August when the Government announced a U-turn and allowed free or low cost courses for most of the learners. One student said,
“I am so happy that I can study ESOL this year. My husband receives income support because he is disabled. We could not afford the fees and so I was not going to learn this year. I am glad this has changed as I need to improve my English so I can deal with things myself and so I can help my children at school.”
Anesa Shaibi, who runs ESOL courses at the Yemeni Community Association said:
“We are happy we don’t need to send learners away but ESOL places are being filled straight away and we already have over 100 on the waiting list.”
ESOL tutor, Sandra Heilberg, said:
“Firstly I just want to thank everyone who took part in the “key” campaign and the letter writing. It was great that everyone, even those with less English, could be involved and explain how important the classes are to them individually. We chose the symbol of the key because it represents opening doors. I hope it will be a reminder that people working together are powerful and can bring change. The fee campaign will have an impact on learners all over Sheffield but once again the people of Burngreave led the way.”