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Learning English is important

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LEARN FROM THE PAST: Dr Royce Turner is calling on the government to take into account his previous research when allocating the £20 million language fund

LEARN FROM THE PAST: Dr Royce Turner is calling on the government to take into account his previous research when allocating the £20 million language fund

Huddersfield researcher outlines ‘must-follow’ advice for government language fund

The creation of a £20 million fund, to teach English language skills to Muslim women so that they can enter the world of work, was met by controversy in January when then Prime Minister David Cameron made the announcement.

However, this week a University of Huddersfield researcher has argued that the policy could in fact be a ‘positive development’ provided that lessons are learned from two major research projects he helped spearhead in the past.

Dr Royce Turner has published a new article in response to the language fund proposal, which was set up in the following the publication of statistics showing 190,000 Muslim women had little or no English and alleged that gender segregation could lead towards radicalisation and extremism.  

This was followed by Opposition claims that he risked ‘doing more harm than good’.

The aim of Dr Turner’s article is to alert politicians and policymakers to projects in which he was closely involved almost a decade ago when he headed a social research organisation named the Policy Evaluation Group, based in Sheffield.

One was a scheme carried out in 2007 on behalf of the Learning and Skills Council.  It took place in areas of West Yorkshire and was one of the largest ever in-depth surveys of Muslim women’s attitudes towards work and their views on life in Britain.

The other was a highly successful 2005/6 Jobcentre Plus initiative in Sheffield that targeted ethnic minority women – mostly Muslim – who faced numerous barriers that kept them out of paid work, including poor English plus objections from family, friend and the community.

Writing alongside researcher Dr Andrea Wigfield, of the University of Sheffield, the duo explained how the government must provide an intelligent strategy to make the £20million fund work.

“You can’t expect women who may have spent decades without any engagement to suddenly start volunteering to sign up,” they wrote.

“You have to go and find them; let them know what is going on, where.”

The duo also wrote, following previous research, that it is important to maintain attendance, again with a pro-active approach, and the language sessions need to be close to home, in ‘non-threatening’ places such as community group venues, ‘to ensure that participants, who often lack confidence, feel comfortable and, through this, to maximise attendance’.

“The Jobcentre Plus project also recognised the importance of a tailored, individualised approach to helping women,” they added.

“When people are at such a distance from employment, or in the case of the government’s new initiative, at such a distance from fluency in English and social engagement, they cannot be herded as one towards a learning destination.”

In their article the authors conclude that: “The opportunity then, is available to deliver a non-contentious and, potentially, hugely rewarding educational intervention to teach women English… providing it is done in the right way.  

“If it is not, the very least of the discontent that might ensue is a poor return on £20 million of taxpayers’ money.”

Government pledges £20 million in language classes for Muslim women

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David Cameron meets women at Shantona Centre

‘Learn English or risk deportation’

Seven months after David Cameron cut college funding by £45 million and slashed English language teaching, he has pledged an extra £22 million to help Muslim women learn English.

Announcing the plans earlier this week, the Prime Minister said Muslim women who fail to integrate and learn the national dialect could face deportation.

The new multi-million pound English language scheme plans to reach women in the most isolated pockets of communities who don’t have a solid grasp of English.

Classes will be held in schools, homes and community centres, with the costs of travel and childcare covered to encourage participation.

Cameron said ‘prejudice and bigotry’ needs to be tackled, and in order to do this, all public services need to play a part in building integration.

The Prime Minister said he would not hesitate in telling the ‘hard truths’ required to confront the minority of Muslim men who have ‘backward attitudes’.

In the Times he wrote: “All too often, because of what I would call ‘passive tolerance’, people subscribe to the flawed idea of separate development.

“It is time to change our approach. We will never truly build One Nation unless we are more assertive about our liberal values, more clear about the expectations we place on those who come to live here and build our country together, and are more creative and generous in the work we do to break down barriers.”

PM VISITS LEEDS: David Cameron with imam Qari Asim, at the Makkah mosque on Monday

PM VISITS LEEDS: David Cameron with imam Qari Asim, at the Makkah mosque on Monday

The Prime Minister said that not being able to speak English could leave people ‘more susceptible’ to the propaganda from groups like Daesh.

He said the £20 million language fund would end the ‘passive tolerance’ of separate communities which left many Muslim women facing discrimination and social isolation.

David Cameron warned that women who come to the UK to join husbands will face language tests after two-and-a-half years with those who failed risking deportation.

“You can’t guarantee you will be able to stay if you are not improving your language,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“It is tough. But in the end it is not enough just to say the Government is going to spend more money and it is our responsibility. People coming to our country, they have responsibilities too.”

He added: “I am not blaming the people who can’t speak English. Some of these people have come to our country from quite patriarchal societies where perhaps the menfolk haven’t wanted them to learn English, haven’t wanted them to integrate.

“Where there is segregation, it is holding people back, it is not in tune with British values and it needs to go. We need to be more assertive.”

David Cameron visited the Shantona Women’s Centre and the Makkah Masjid in Leeds on Monday to promote his plans and visit community groups.

Imam Qari Asim, from the Makkah Masjid, told Asian Express: “Some women cannot communicate in English yet to be an active member of the community, you should attempt to learn.

“People who can’t speak English may be more vulnerable to groups such as Daesh because they do not receive the information others do in English.”

Mr Asim also spoke about the recent government plans to increase surveillance on mosques and madrassas in the UK.

He added: “I had a frank, open and honest discussion with the Prime Minister. David Cameron is especially concerned about young people, as radicalisation takes place mostly online.

“It’s not about spying on our kids but being more vigilant. If we empower women, parents and imams then we will be able to have a more meaningful engagement with our children.”

He continued: “The Muslim community feel targeted which plays into the hands of Islamic extremists and far right groups.

“We need to apply the policies indiscriminately and have a strong and sustainable partnership between the Muslim community and the government.”

Qari Asim went on to say that government polls have shown that the majority of Muslims are loyal and integrated into the country.

“We are at risk of isolating young people with scare tactics. However, Muslims need to look into their community structures so that we can make sure we uphold British values. We want our mosques to be dynamic institutions which empower people.”


Gordon Brown Meets With Vietnamese Prime Minister

Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron: “This announcement is dog-whistle politics at its best, David Cameron cut the budget for English language classes in August last year by £45 million. Now the Prime Minister is dressing up a massive cut as a £20 million funding commitment.

“Linking women in the Muslim community who struggle with the English language to home- grown extremism only serves to isolate the very people Cameron says he is trying to help.

“Liberal Democrats support English language classes for anyone regardless of race, religion or gender and blocked these plans to cut funding for them in coalition.”


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Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation: “David Cameron and his Conservative Government are once again using British Muslims as a political football to score cheap points to appear tough.

“There are three million Muslims in this country and the Prime Minister chooses to focus on a very small minority of extremists when clearly the majority of British Muslims reject extremism.”


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Shahzad Ilyas from NorthOne Solicitors in Leeds: “It’s completely unnecessary to force English upon individuals. If they want to learn it, they’ll learn it.

“My mum’s been in the country for 40 years, she can’t speak English but she’s a member of British society.

“I have no idea how they’ll implement the law. It’s going to be pushed through without consideration as to how it will work.”