Bradford councillors have thrown their weight behind a campaign to ensure basic English courses for adults remain free of charge.

The Government plans to end entitlement to free English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses later this year.

The results mean only people who have been given permanent leave to remain in Britain and are unemployed or receiving benefits will have their fees waived. Everyone else will be expected to pay towards the cost, including asylum seekers, refugees, and students who work.

More than 100 MPs, including Ann Cryer (Lab, Keighley) and Marsha Singh (Lab, Bradford West), have signed a motion calling for the Government to "reinstate appropriate funding for ESOL learning particularly for those least able to afford to pay for their own training".

Now councillors have backed a Liberal Democrat motion to a meeting of Bradford Council which calls upon chief executive Tony Reeves to write to the Learning and Skills Council - the group which wants to make the cuts - and the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Bill Rammell, in support of the Bradford and District Learning Partnership.

Councillor John Briggs (Lib Dem, Baildon) said the matter was of particular importance to Bradford because of its settled communities.

"Waged students and over-19s will have to pay 30 per cent of the costs in 2007, rising to 50 per cent by 2010," he said.

"The Government's justification is that it's about priorities and saving money. Well we know only too well in Bradford that you don't save money by reducing expenditure on education, you merely delay and defer and in so doing make the problem worse."

Councillor David Ford (Green, Heaton) said: "In light of the Prime Minister's comments about learning English, it seems utterly ridiculous to cut funding for English lessons. The longer people are without the English language the more fragmented out communities will become."

Labour Councillor David Green (Wibsey) questioned where the funding would come from at a time when demand for ESOL courses was high.

It follows comments from the Government's top education adviser who claims Muslim mothers who do not speak English at home are stunting their children's literacy levels.

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust said the failure was "a key reason" why some schools were at the bottom of newly-published league tables.

He feels the problem is a "major issue" and calls for a national campaign to encourage mothers from ethnic minorities to attend English classes.

He said: "If the child does not speak English at home, if it is not the language of conversation with their mother or father, that clearly has an influence. It is a major cause of lower results in English."

Sir Cyril singles out the work of Mrs Cryer who has been raising the issue since the riots in 2001.

Mrs Cryer said: "I have ambitions for my Bangladeshi and Pakistani community to achieve at least the level of the Indian community which is very much ahead as many are born here. I want the best for every child and it is important to speak English in the home so children can have a good start in school. It is not about knocking anyone but we do not want to see people on the lower end of various skills.

"If English is taught in the classroom and not spoken at home, it must impact on the child's learning. I am not too worried about league tables, my concern is ethnic families in my constituency achieve their best potential."

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