Kathrine Brannan examines the reality of ESOL teaching and UK citizenship tests
The achievements of Monty Python, Rudyard Kipling and Andrew Lloyd Weber are all part of the 2013 Home Office syllabus which asks potential citizens to learn about Britain’s history, culture and values, right from the Stone Age up to the 2010 general election. According to Don Flynn, director of the Migrants’ Rights Network: “The test takes us a long way from the goal of supporting the integration of immigrants. It is in danger of looking more like an entry examination for a public school which requires complete identification with elite views of British history and culture.”
Wikipedia notes that the test has been criticised for containing factual errors, expecting candidates to know information that would not be expected of native-born citizens as well as being just a ‘bad pub quiz’ and not fit for purpose.’
The new citizenship test was instituted in the aftermath of the 2011 cuts to ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) funding which had, in happier times, allowed classes in community and college settings throughout the country. All these changes were unabashedly part of the Coalition Government’s declared intention to dramatically reduce immigration and to create aversive conditions for those immigrants already in the UK.
Refugees and asylum seekers were among those cast aside by this policy and so were women, who make up two-thirds of the ESOL learning community in England. Figures recently released by the Skills and Funding Agency show a fall of almost 200,000 learners participating in all publicly-funded adult learning in England in the first quarter of the 2013/14 academic year compared to the same period last year. Within these statistics we can note that participation on ESOL courses has fallen from 82,900 to 48,300, a fall of 42%.
This writer, herself an ESOL teacher, has witnessed in close-up the effect of these harsh policies at a local level. A few years ago, the Cambridge Women’s Resources Centre was a hive of learning activity for hundreds of women from different countries (some of whom spoke several languages). The Centre, being for women only, was both a haven and a gateway for those women from some Muslim cultures which would have forbidden them to associate with men students or teachers. Others were recovering from traumatic experiences in their home countries. Now these courses have been reduced to a mere trickle and the teaching posts have disappeared.
In January 2014 the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education sent out a warning attached to the statistics; that ‘fewer learners will limit economic and social mobility.’ This is true but, also, let’s not forget that many of these students have escaped serious_repression in their homeland. They have come to this country to find their voice and in return we are locking them into silence.
It is about this cruelty, and as a teacher moved and inspired by my international students, I was thinking, when I wrote the following sonnet:
‘How Now Brown Cow!’ Foreigner! She’s able
through diphthongs and nasal intonation,
to absorb degrees of stress; divest all
foreignness, in tests of integration.
She’ll need to demonstrate, in R.P. please,
what Quangos are; where Scouse is spoken;
when Speakers speak; if Whips break knees:
The fee? Nine hundred. No exemption.
Attention! Question: Why ‘brown’? Why ‘cow’?
Why mention gender, race? Has she gazed
outside her gates? Like squeaky chalk this ‘How
now’ grates; our collective conscience scathes.
What if she’ll not kowtow again; leaps in the air;
breaks from her pen; lows, ‘If not now, then when?’