Second parliamentary debate about UK ELT and Covid-19
MPs have raised the plight of English language teaching during a special debate in the House of Commons for a second time in a year.
Bournemouth MP Conor Burns requested the adjournment debate after we organised a cross-party roundtable meeting of ELT constituency MPs earlier in April. We arranged the meeting to get MPs' ideas about how to get rates relief for the sector and they heard evidence from the English UK team and members Val Hennessy and James Herbertson, and the adjournment debate was the first initiative to come from it.
Conor began by reminding the House that his first speech as an MP a decade ago had been on ELT. Since then he had been the trade minister responsible for the sector, and "saw the vital importance of English in promoting Britain's interests overseas commercially, politically and socially."
Addressing business minister Paul Scully, responding for the government, he said that restart grants were not available to the sector and that business rates were the largest single fixed costs faced by businesses, with the potential to make the difference between their surviving and going under. "I think we will look back with regret if we see this sector go under for the want of a relatively modest element of support," he said, adding that it would be an "investment" to give financial support because ELT was so vital to the UK.
Quoting English UK figures about the value of ELT to the UK and the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the sector, he said "The hopes of a longed-for summer recovery have been hit badly by the outbreak of and renewed rise in cases in some of the main countries that we attract students from. Only 17 local authorities across the whole UK are providing business rate relief to these schools.
"The ask of the sector is straightforward. I am not asking for a commitment from the Minister today, but could he undertake to go away and look at this and meet me and representatives of the sector to talk about what further support could be put in place to help the sector? Could we extend the business rate relief to language schools in the same way as we have for other leisure and hospitality businesses for the current financial year and into the next financial year? We have already seen 13% - more than 50 educational centres - close during the pandemic, which is a serious and regrettable situation and, sadly, one that I predict will get worse if we do not do something in the coming months."
Additionally, he asked for the List of Travellers scheme to be extended after October, so that third party national school groups would not need visas to come to the UK, and also look at investigating limited rights to work for ELT students. This, he said, might also help the hospitality sector which was struggling to recruit staff after leaving the EU. Competitor nations were doing a lot to make life easier for potential students, such as accessible visa applications, in-country visa extensions and part-time work rights.
Also speaking for ELT was Totnes MP Anthony Mangnall, who said that securing the future of schools could benefit both the UK's soft power and the interests of local communities.
Paul Scully, replying for the government, pointed out that ELT schools were not mandated to close in the regulations because it was believed they could access online markets. This meant they had not been eligible for mandatory scheme support, and they were also not eligible for restart grants.
He said they had however been eligible for the additional restrictions grand and other measures including grants and furlough. He concluded: "I am happy to take him up on his offer to meet to converse and see what more we can do to support businesses—not just English language schools but other businesses, too—in his constituency with not only reopening but recovery and beyond. I am grateful to him for bringing this matter to the House and being such a strong champion for the sector and for the businesses in his constituency."
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