Friday 12 June saw hundreds of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students, staff and supporters march in East London in protest at major cuts to ESOL announced at Tower Hamlets College.
The (overwhelmingly female) student protesters led chants on megaphones, carried placards with their own powerful slogans, and spoke eloquently and emphatically to the national press about what ESOL means to them.
Key messages were the need for English to allow them to support their children’s learning, so they can be a part of their communities and so they can work.
These women have developed not only language skills, but increased confidence, self-esteem and above all a critical engagement with the world around them. And it is this which underlies this fight. The fight is for jobs, for student places, but also for the principle of education itself.
The march followed a week of action since the cuts were announced on 5 June, including an unofficial walkout on 8 June, a lobby of the principal on 9 June, protests at the college’s awards ceremony and joint UCU and Unison union meetings on 12 June proposing a vote of no confidence in newly-appointed Principal Michael Farley.
The document Michael Farley circulated to college staff on Friday 5 June laid out proposed cuts of £2 million, which will see 50% of all ESOL courses offered by Tower Hamlets College cut from September. The document, ironically titled ‘Securing the Future’ detailed the loss of over 1,500 ESOL places alongside 60 job losses. There is now a one month ‘consultation period’ on the document. Those who are going to be dismissed will be told on 10 July, just before the end of the college term. Teaching staff, support staff and learning centre staff will all be affected.
The ESOL classes most affected by the cuts will be at entry levels, those in the college’s community outreach centres, those not expressly for work. They therefore affect the most vulnerable and historically excluded students.
The attack is gendered as well as racist. The vast majority of those attending courses are women. Some are recently arrived in the country, others have been here many years but never had the opportunity to attend a course before.
On Wednesday 1 July, 5-7pm, at Lifra Hall, Halley St, E14, there will be a public meeting, called by UCU and students at Tower Hamlets College and by the National Union of Teachers at St Paul’s Way Community School (also in the borough), where there are similar cuts proposed — ESOL by 50%, Bengali by 50% and Special Educational Needs support by 50%.
For more information on the struggle, go to http://defendjobsandeducation.posterous.com