Hackney protest against cuts to English lessons for foreign speakers

A delegation of more than 200 teachers and students marched through Hackney on Sunday to protest against planned cuts to a programme that teaches English to foreign speakers living in the borough.

The demonstrators were furious about government proposals that could see funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses slashed.

Protesters – including staff and students from Hackney Community College, Falkirk Street, and Day-Mer, a Turkish and Kurdish community centre in Howard Road – gathered outside Hackney Town Hall, Mare Street, and marched to a rally in Bethnal Green Gardens.

Alice Robson, who teaches ESOL in Hackney and is a member of the Action for ESOL campaign, said: “It was a very successful day. It was really nice for the learners from different areas to all come together for the demonstration.”

During the rally, several ESOL students addressed the crowd to explain how important it was to them to learn English. Ms Robson’s student, Yan Yan Zheng, 26, who lives in Clapton, told the Gazette: “It’s important for so much of life in the UK - going to the GP, the hospital, shopping, everything.”

Under the proposals, students on “active” benefits, including the job seekers’ allowance, would still receive financial help to participate in the lessons. But students on “inactive” benefits, such as income support, would have to cover the full cost of their classes, which could cost more than �2000 per year.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, defended the plans, saying the government would be delivering “targeted help” to the students who most need it, such as unemployed people for whom a lack of English prevents them from entering the job market.