Margot Wilson: My memories of teaching English to speakers of other languages

We're delighted that one of Lewisham's most active Liberal Democrats, Margot Wilson, spoke in the conference debate on teaching English to speakers of other languages. You can watch her contribution or read a transcript below:

‘I’d just like to share memories of my time teaching English to speakers of other languages. It’s worth saying that many of the students do actually speak several languages already, unlike many of English people.

‘I did this for 20 years in North London, and, I have to say, I do endorse absolutely everything which has been said already in this debate.

‘Among my memories, the most vivid are the long queues and the waiting lists. Every year, in the summer, we would enrol the classes for the next year in the colleges, and we never had any doubt that there was huge demand for English classes, which we couldn’t meet even then – and I retired in 2010, a year earlier than I was going to, and before the 60% cut in ESOL provision.

‘We know public services were trimmed back, but that is a huge cut and it can only be ideological, frankly, that it’s been cut so much.

‘And we know that racism has increased since the referendum, and there is this hostility to immigrants and refugees, which is very concerning.

‘So, that was before 2010. One year we had queues round the block in Tottenham Green. A young mother had been waiting so long that she fainted, banged her head, and an ambulance had to be called to take her to hospital.

‘One of my colleagues told me that, when he was teaching in Westminster, the teachers there had to arrive at two o’clock in the morning to start managing the queues.

‘Secondly, the thing I remember is the diversity of the students – all different continents; they were all ages; they had all levels of ability; they had all levels of education. So, we do need a very wide range of provision.

‘They have different family responsibilities. We desperately need classes with crèches. This is why so many women – apart from the fact that they can’t get out of the kitchen – they never get to classes because they have young children. And it’s very noisy trying to teach with young children around.

‘Thirdly, I’d just like to pay tribute to the National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults (NATECLA), which is one of the organisations, among many, that is calling for a national strategy for England. Their training was far and away the best.

‘Please support this motion.’

The motion was passed and has become party policy – you can read the full text of the motion here.

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