Free ESOL classes – is voluntarism the answer to our ESOL crisis?

esol

I picked up this card in a cafe while visiting my daughter in York. I looked them upon the York St John University website, where the classes are listed under the international students heading, along with courses on English for academic purposes. In addition, the classes are clearly aimed at local (non-student) people as well.

As the website says, ‘These classes are open to everyone (with the exception of beginners) over the age of 18’. They are taught by trainee teachers, and are free to participants; presumably the teachers are unpaid, but they gain experience and can use the classes to build their CV.

I don’t know who the participants are, but it looks to me as though the classes are open to to migrants, refugees and other potential local ESOL learners – presumably alongside some of the university’s overseas students. Is this a good idea?

It certainly helps fill a gap. According to the Labour Party’s spokesperson for skills, government funding for ESOL in England fell from £203 million in 2010 to £90 million in 2016. Of course I’d prefer to see the funding restored to its 2010 levels, and teaching undertaken by experienced professionals, but at the moment that seems a remote possibility, at least in the short to medium term term.

So while I am concerned that we seem to be reverting to voluntarism, I take my hat off to York St John. And in the longer term, we need to keep restating the case for publicly funded adult ESOL learning as a great way of achieving a cohesive society.

Integration courses in German adult education: who participates?

German adult education provides relatively generous (compared with other European nations) opportunities for migrants wanting to develop their language skills and integration prospects. A 2018 study, called Who Visits the Integration Courses?, reports on a survey of participants. While many are migrants of all kinds, the courses increasingly include those who have come to Germany as refugees.

The survey covered 606 participants, equally divided between those from the previously dominant participant groups (EU migrants, migrant workers, existing migrants’ families) and refugees. The sample were following 42 different courses spread across five different states.

  • The majority of refugee participants were male (80%) with an average age of 30. The non-refugee group were slightly older, and a majority (56%) were female
  • The refugees came from 19 different countries, with 71% from Syria, while the non-refugee migrants were largely from central and south-eastern Europe
  • A quarter of refugee participants and a sixth of the other migrants had spent less than ten years at school
  • A high proportion of the refugees were Arabic speakers, followed by those who spoke both Arabic and Kurdish
  • Three quarters of the refugee participants had some competence in English, and a quarter in French, as foreign languages; the non-refugee migrants showed a broadly similar foreign language profile, though with a slightly larger number clsiming some prior knowledge of German
  • Both groups of participants made considerable use of digital translation services, with Google Translate predominating

While the refugee group shows considerable diversity, and thus a range of different needs, the authors identify a clear sub-group of disadvantaged learners, who have relatively short schooling, limited occupational experience, and little foreign language competence. This group is mainly male (70%) and from the near/middle East, followed by participants from central/south-eastern Europe.

Taking the German citizenship test after Brexit: here’s how I fared

grun

Following Brexit, the parliamentary leader of the Green Party has asked the German government to adopt a “generous” approach to British immigrants. Usually, immigrants must wait eight years, or six for someone has made a special contribution to German life and three for those married to Germans, before aplying. Katrin Göring-Eckardt has asked the government to to allow applications from those who have lived here for less than six years.

Regardless of the waiting time, British immigrants would still need to take the citizenship test and prove their command of the language. So far as the language is concerned, you can take a standard test, or you can present other evidence, such as a degree from a German-speaking university.

The language test aims to see whether you can speak German well enough to handle everyday situations, including work. For those who know their language education, it involves demonstrating that you have reached European Language Proficency Level B1. I took a written test, missing out the oral and spoken sections as I did it from home, and found B1 reasonably easy.

Given their backgrounds and occupations, most Brits should easily pass the citizenship test. Since 2008, the test has been administered by the Federal Bureau for Migration and Refugees, and developed by educationalists at the Humboldt University of Berlin. It comprises a battery of 310 multiple-choice questions; each applicant has to take 33 questions and must pass at least 17.

The questions are concerned with establishing the candidate’s knowledge of Germany society, culture, and political arrangements. A small number of questions will concern the Land in which you live. There are four possible answers to each question, and you have to select the correct one.

As an example from the current catalogue, here is a question about the constitution:

Which right belongs to the constitutional rights in Germany?

  • owning a weapon
  • the right to fight with fists
  • freedom of opinion
  • taking the law into your own hands

And here is one from recent history:

f

Which was the coat of arms of the German Democratic Republic?

None of these is likely to trouble the average British immigrant. I took the test and passed with 31 out of 33. My incorrect answers were to do with constitutional matters (how long between elections in North-Rhein Westphalia?) and I guessed some (how many MPs in the federal parliament?). I should add that I took the tests out of interest, and won’t be applying myself.

So for Brits this is likely to be a straightforward process. You have to pay €255 per person for processing your application; and if you go to an adult education centre or similar for your language test, they will charge you a small sum, usually €25. And then you wait. At the moment there is a bit of a queue, but at least citizenship applications are dealt with a lot more quickly than asylum applications, which can drag on for over a year.

Why the Greens have made an issue out of British immigrants is something of a mystery. There isn’t a clear issue of principle, as Britains in Germany are hardly seeking asylum from persecution; for the most part they are highly educated middle class professionals who are here to work.

Moreover, the Greens’ request will have no practical impact on government policy, not least because the processing of citizenship applications is devolved to the sixteen Länder. And even if all British immigants became Green voters overnight (improbable), there are too few to make much difference in elections.

Frankly, there are many more pressing and deserving groups of migrants in Germany right now than the Brits. My personal view is that the Green intervention was a bit of self-indulgence; but in fairness the Greens have consistently pressed for faster and more effective processing of asylum applications as well as citizenship applications. I’ll save writing about why I think asylum processes in Germany are in such a mess in another blog.

Immigrants and welfare in early 20th century Britain: the German labour colony

libury hall b+wBritain is often supposed to be a ‘soft touch’ for immigrants looking for an easy life. Only yesterday, the Mayor of Calais lectured MPs on creating an ‘El Dorado’ for the world’s poor, citing in evidence the £36-a-week emergency payments given to asylum seekers with no other income. Yes – £36, or one third of the basic state pension – is apparently the hallmark of El Dorado.

Worries about migrants and welfare go back a long way. I want in this blog to discuss the response of the German immigrant community in Britain to these fears, which partly arose from British distaste for the German tramping system (where young craftsmen picked up new skills by travelling from one place of work to another) and partly from middle-class German pride over the community’s respectability.

Quite how many Germans were living in early 20th century Britain is uncertain. The 1911 census recorded 62,500 German-born, and to this we need to add children and other British-born members of the community. Germans worked in a host of trades – musicians, waiters, hairdressers, brewers, bakers and miners – as well as having a small but significant presence in banking and other mercantile roles.

Once in Britain, the Germans brought, or re-constructed, the institutions that provided social support at home: churches, musical associations, sports clubs and charities, so that the community formed what one researcher has called an ‘ethnic colony’ within Britain. As the Evangelical Church had already established a web of labour colonies in late nineteenth century Germany, it is little wonder that they then transplanted the practice to Britain.

In 1899, Baron Sir Henry Schröder, a merchant banker and member of the Evangeliche Gemeinde in London, purchased a farm and 300 acres of land at Libury Hall, near Ware in Hertfordshire. Schröder was a well-known philanthropist, and was well connected in Britain (he endowed a named chair in German at Cambridge that continues to the present day). He was joined in this by his nephew and inheritor Baron Bruno Schröder, as well as the secretary of the German YMCA in London, Wilhelm Müller.

Libury Hall opened in 1900 as German Industrial and Farm Colony. According to a report drafted for the Co-operative movement in 1906, it took in unemployed German men and gave them work, with the aim of maintaining their readiness for employment, preferably back in Germany. The average stay was just under eight weeks.

Most of men worked outdoors, but the colony also offered indoor crafts such as basket weaving and shoemaking, and most of the men lived in a large dormitory, holding up to 80 men. As the illustrations show, like the Ministry of Labour camps during the 1930s, the colony had its own postcards!

 

Postcard showing the poulty farm

Postcard showing the poulty farm

Even though this was a fairly modest operation compared with the Salvation Army colony at Hadleigh or the London Unemployed Fund colony at Hollesley Bay, the German colony dealt with impressive numbers. It received 1,223 men in its first two years; of these, 83 were reported to have been unwilling to work and had left; 44 had been expelled for ‘bad behaviour’. Over 400 had earned enough money while at the colony to return to Germany, and another 370 had found a new job in Britain.

For most of its life, the colony went largely unnoticed by the British, until the outbreak of War. By this stage, most able-bodied Germans had returned home – or were interned. Libury Hall continued, but increasingly as a home for those who were too elderly or frail to support themselves, or whose families were being maintained by German charities. One report during the War described the colony as containing 188 men, 178 German and 10 Austrian.

The Home Office opened up a file on the colony in autumn 1914. The chief constable told the Home Secretary that he had allocated an armed police guard comprising an inspector, a sergeant and ten constables, who were using a spare cottage in the colony as their office. The Home Office thought this excessive, given the ‘probable state of health and physical infirmities of the inmates’, and blocked the chief constable’s plans to intern the 29 inmates who were of military age, but it went along with proposals to appoint a retired army colonel as camp commandant.

This was not enough to satisfy the true patriots. In September 1915, the Home Office learned that the Anti-German Union had been bribing the police guards and stirring up local feeling against the colony. There had been a small attack on Libury Hall in June, and the AGU organised further demonstrations in the autumn.

Some idea of the passions aroused by this small group of elderly Germans, who were technically treated as detainees under the supervision of the authorities, can be seen in an article published in the Barry Dock News on 1 October 1915, describing the colony as a ‘plague-spot’ and calling on the public to support the AGU demonstrations. It went on:

‘Our gentle kinsman from across the North Sea or German ocean, bringing his kultur with him, is once again faithful to his tradition – of biting the hand that fed and nourished him in his adversity . . . . the students of the gentle art of tillage are practically as free as heretofore to play the spy and traitor, and are making the most of their opportunity’.

The supposed threat was still regarded as serious enough in spring 1916 for a committee of MPs to investigate. They duly reported that although they had found no evidence to support rumours of a gun emplacement, underground caves, and other military preparations, or espionage by the inmates, they remained suspicious, and expressed ‘regret that such an institution existed’. They continued to pester the government, to little effect. Libury Hall still does exist, serving as a retirement home for the elderly.