On 3 March Action for ESOL held a large, national meeting to launch The ESOL Manifesto.
The first part of the day was a celebration of the campaign which led to a u-turn on plans to make students on benefits pay fees of up to £1,200 for a course. The proposed cut would have meant that up to 75% of current learners, mainly women from black and minority ethnic groups would not have been able to attend classes anymore.
The u-turn was an important victory for the campaign, a coalition of students, teachers, trade unionists, researchers, migrants’ rights activists and many others.
It is important to note however that it was not a full victory. The u-turn does not apply to students on working tax credit, low income workers not on benefits, or so-called “failed” asylum seekers. Furthermore it is only a temporary reprieve till 2013/14.
The feeling of the meeting was that while we have won this battle, we certainly have not won the war, and it is entirely unacceptable that year after year ESOL students and teachers face an uncertain future.
One of the exciting things that has developed is that a group of practitioners (teachers and researchers) want to talk about what we think ESOL is and should be. A discussion seminar last July led to a draft document, which was brought back for discussion at another mass meeting. From these two meetings we collectively wrote a Manifesto for ESOL (see www.actionforesol.org).
The manifesto is the result of many hours of debate amongst a large group and is intended to raise crucial issues and debate among a much larger group of teachers and learners.
The campaign meeting after the launch was lively, and despite the fact that we are not under immediate attack there was a decision to keep the campaign going and plans made to use the manifesto to spark further discussion. It was agreed to start to look at building a bigger campaign for the whole of Adult Education.
Teachers don’t have much time or space to talk about pedagogy or lay out a different vision for the area in which you work.
The Action for ESOL campaign, while fighting to defend ESOL, gave us the chance to discuss education and raise a collective voice.