October 2009 issue

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Close eye on quality

Quality schemes for language teaching schools have proliferated in recent years, which is certainly good news for agents and students throughout the world. Gillian Evans takes a look at some of the recent developments.

The quality assurance of language schools is crucial to the long-term success of the language teaching industry. Dogged by cowboy operators in the past, recent years have seen the emergence of many rigorous accreditation schemes, put in place to safeguard the reputation of the industry. Today there are national accreditation schemes in countries from France and Italy to the USA, and some schemes are even linked to visa issuance such as in Australia, New Zealand and, more recently, the UK.

Accreditation UK, jointly managed by the British Council and English UK, is, according to Elizabeth McLaren at the British Council’s Accreditation Unit, widely regarded as the global benchmark, having been the first scheme of its kind in the world. “Evidence from centres which seek accreditation under the scheme, and from other schemes that are based on ours, indicate that it is effective in distinguishing good quality centres with a high standard of education and care for students,” she asserts.

But even well-established quality systems require constant monitoring to ensure they meet the market’s demands. Anne Newman, General Manager at Neas – Australia’s national accrediting body – explains that the minor modifications made to the system over the last 12 months were part of a continuous improvement strategy based on feedback.

Accreditation UK has also been busy making revisions to its scheme. It recently introduced changes to simplify the way it inspects accommodation offered by accommodation agencies. “Accommodation agencies working with a number of accredited providers can now apply to be inspected separately and registered by the British Council for their provision, if it meets accreditation requirements,” explains McLaren. So far, Hosts International and Britannia Student Services have both been registered by Accreditation UK.

Another scheme under revision is Feltom’s accreditation system in Malta. Despite being one of the younger schemes – it was introduced in 2005 and adopted by most members by 2007 – amendments are a constant necessity, says Feltom’s Executive Officer, Isabelle Pace Warrington. “In order for our Accreditation Scheme to remain relevant and effective, we believe that the scheme must be a living document which should be regularly reviewed and amended to keep up with market trends and demands.”

In the latest review of standards, approved in June this year, the focus was mainly on the obligations of accredited schools, she says. Schools are now obliged to carry out an annual internal inspection and submit their report to the Accreditation Council, and “accredited schools must now inform the council of any major changes within their organisation within two weeks”.

Accet in the USA is currently examining all its standards for accreditation over the next 12 months, according to Accet’s Associate Executive Director, Charlie Matterson. “Accet surveys the students and graduates from its member schools and asks that they evaluate Accet standards,” he adds. This is then included in a review procedure that will see any changes adopted in place by 2011.

International association, Ialc, has also been busy tweaking its scheme. According to Judith Hands, Ialc’s Vice President, this is “in order to... maintain and improve its effectiveness in not just ensuring quality, but helping schools to improve their standards as an ongoing process”. At CEA in the USA, Terry O’Donnell emphasises that accredited schools have to document their efforts in 52 different areas: “This is an intense process that results in real improvement of the programme or school,” she says.

While established schemes concentrate on ensuring their quality assurance measures remain rigorous and relevant, new quality schemes have been emerging in markets that previously had none. For example, France now has two accreditation schemes, the Label Qualité FLE, backed by the French government, and the Label FLE, administered by French language school association, Groupement FLE. Spokesperson Patrick de Bouter, says, “Quality is one of the three main objectives of Groupement FLE, along with promotion and cooperative resource management.” He observes that candidates must be evaluated using the guidelines outlined by Groupement FLE. In addition, if a centre can provide proof that it has attained another officially recognised quality label, for example, the norm ISO 9001, or is a member of a quality membership organisation such as Eaquals or Ialc, it can undergo a simplified quality procedure.

While accreditation schemes are certainly beneficial to agents and students, one problem lies in the fact that all schemes have slightly different criteria. Jim Ferguson, Chief Executive of Acels in Ireland, says of its scheme, “It is based on international best practice. We provide recommendations to providers for improvement, and follow up on these,” he says.

One area which is relatively hard to monitor is accommodation and student welfare, although some quality schemes do cover these aspects in their accreditation criteria. The Instituto Cervantes Quality Accreditation System, which accredits both Spanish schools in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, adopts the requirements for accommodation established in the European standard (‘norm’) on language study tour providers. Accet in the USA, meanwhile, monitors accommodation by asking the schools to describe how it develops, manages and monitors its accommodation provision.

In Malta, accommodation is monitored by the Maltese Tourist Board, which licenses all accommodation used by students, including hotels, school residences, apartments and host families. In addition, schools must inspect their host families at least once every two years. Malta is also unique in having a compulsory state quality assurance scheme for language providers, while Feltom provides an additional higher set of standards.

Compulsory accreditation is an often debated topic. Even though setting up the infrastructure required – and, importantly, enforcing this regulation – requires extensive effort, the result is a quality benchmark for all legally constituted institutions in any country and a selling point internationally (as in Malta, for example).

In the UK, there have recently been calls for a truly comprehensive scheme. Since March, only language schools that are accredited by various quality agencies can be listed on the Register of Sponsors for the points-based visa entry system.

However, a recent report by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has criticised the government for failing to stop bogus colleges operating; a situation that can continue if schools only recruit non-visa nationals (see page 6). The report suggested that a “significant proportion” of 2,200 colleges that had not transferred to the new sponsors list were illegitimate and called for the compulsory regulation by the state of all private further education colleges and English language schools in the UK.

International schemes

Industry sources in individual countries have been working hard to create quality assurance schemes for language schools, but what about setting up international standards?

Isabelle Pace Warrington, Executive Officer of Feltom, comments, “Basic minimum standards would be beneficial to students. They must however allow for regional diversity. Perhaps a tiered system of accreditation could be considered – in the same way as hotels carry a star rating.”

Meanwhile, Jim Ferguson from Acels in Ireland would welcome a global scheme as well as a “European scheme like Eaquals for providers of all languages”.

The danger of an international scheme, however, according to Elizabeth McLaren, Manager Accreditation UK, Accreditation Unit, British Council, is that it can set standards too low. “It may be helpful in countries where there is no national standard but is of little use where there is already a well-established national scheme because any global/regional scheme would inevitably have to set only low-level requirements which some of the existing schemes already significantly exceed.” Jan Capper, Ialc Executive Director, agrees. “Creating a universal standard that takes into account differing legislation and practice around the world is a huge undertaking,” she asserts. “The alternative is to create a very general standard, which won’t stop people setting up other accreditations. Any scheme that becomes the benchmark for all becomes the minimum standard, from which certain groups will always want to differentiate themselves.”

One organisation that does successfully set standards for language providers in Europe is Eaquals. Richard Rossner, Eaquals Chief Executive, believes schools should join both Eaquals and their national associations. “It makes much more sense for agents and students in the language travel market to know that the same rigorous criteria and independent checking system are used wherever their school is,” he claims.

Contact any advertiser in this issue now

The following language schools, associations and accommodation providers advertised in the latest edition of Language Travel Magazine. If you would like more information on any of these advertisers, tick the relevant boxes, fill out your details and send.





Britannia Student
Generator Hostels  
Hostel World  
NYC Language
Smart City Hostels  
YMCA of Greater
      New York  

English Australia  
Geos North America
IALC International  
International House
      World Organisation
MEI Ireland  
Perth Education
Quality English  

Alphe Conferences  
British Boarding
      Schools Workshops
IALC International  
IEFT- International
      Education Fairs of


LTM Digital

Malta Tourism
Perth Education

Twin Group 
      (Ireland, England,

English Australia  
Perth Education

Bow Valley College
Geos North America

Bell International  
      (Malta, UK)
British Boarding
      Schools Workshops
English in UK North
IALC International  
International House
      World Organisation  
INTO University
Kaplan Aspect  
      (Australia, Canada,
      Ireland, Malta, New
      Zealand, South
      Africa, UK, USA)
Princes College
      School of English  
Quality English  
St Giles Colleges  
      (Canada, UK, USA)
Study Group 
      (Australia, Canada,
      England, France,
      Germany, Ireland,
      Italy, New Zealand,
      South Africa, Spain,
Queen Ethelburga's
The English School
      (Northumbria) Ltd.  
Twin Group  
      (Ireland, England,
University of the
      Arts London -
      Language Centre  
University of Essex -

IH Nice  
Universite de
      Paris Sorbonne  
SILC - Séjours
      (England, France,

International House
      Berlin - Prolog  

Alpha College of
MEI Ireland  
Swan Training

Kai Japanese
      Language School  

      Language School  
EC English
      Language Centre 
      (England, Malta,
     South Africa, USA)
Malta Tourism

Derzhavin Institute

EAC Language
      Centres and Activity
      (England, Ireland,
      Scotland, Wales)
Escuela de Espanol
      la Brisa S.L.  
Malaga Si  

EF Language
      Colleges Ltd  
      (Australia, Canada,
      China, Costa Rica,
      Ecuador, France,
      Germany, Italy,
      Malta, New Zealand,
      Singapore, South
      Africa, Spain, USA)

IEFT- International
      Education Fairs
      of Turkey  

Califorinia State
Colorado School
      of English  
ELS Language
Geos North
Inlingua Language
NYC Language
University of
Zoni Language

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