Independent Workers Union of Great Britain

A Lifeline For a Lifetime: Free ESOL Classes at IWGB


By Maya Refaat

The English classes offered by the IWGB to its members have shown how vital it is for immigrants to get this kind of support, as it helps them increase their confidence and gives them the tools needed to navigate day-to-day situations.

Since July 2016, the IWGB and the Sadiq Scholarship Fund, have been working together to provide IWGB members with fully funded ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes. Run by professional teachers and with no more than four students per class, the course has proved to be a big success, taking students from E1 level to E2 in less than a year.

At a time when ESOL provision is 50% less than it was eight years ago and people “are being forced to wait up to two years to access English language lessons”, as a Refugee Action report from March found, this has truly been an amazing resource that our members have taken full advantage of. One of our new students this term, Benjamin says that: “It gives me more security when I have a conversation. It is something I greatly appreciate and would like to continue.”

They have since been able to write letters regarding issues at work, explain their symptoms at the doctor’s or dentist’s and understand the shorthand found in job adverts. This has allowed them to become more self-sufficient and self-reliant.

The classes have also encouraged the students to aim high in terms of future education and employment. Maritza has now set her sights on attending university to work in healthcare, while Wilson is working towards employment in an administrative environment, where he can put to use qualifications and skills gained in his home country.

Seeing the students inspired, and motivated to continue has also been exciting and hugely rewarding for the teachers. As Alan, one of the teachers/administrators this term, says: “I’ve had a great time working with the students and it’s been a pleasure – nay, an honour – to work with the IWGB. It makes so much difference when you’re using your training to support a cause you agree with.”

Having been lucky enough myself to be involved as a teacher/administrator with this scheme since the beginning, it has been wonderful to develop something that is truly useful to people’s lives. Watching the students grow from being unsure of the pronunciation of the English alphabet, to being able to write emails, initiate conversations and deliver touching thank you speeches has been extraordinarily fulfilling.

As we move forward, IWGB is committed to the continuation and ongoing development of these classes. We hope in 2017 to raise funding not only to continue the current course at E2, but to also add an additional E1 course running in tandem, so that we can cater for a larger proportion of our members.

ESOL classes provide much more than a chance to learn English: they are a lifeline; a gateway to integrate into a new community, make new friends and combat loneliness, improve confidence and set sights on ambitions never before conceived to be possible.

Long may they continue!

Maya Refaat has been an ESOL/EFL teacher since 2014, joining IWGB in 2016. She speaks Polish and Arabic and is currently studying an Applied Linguistics and French B.A. at Birkbeck College, University of London.