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The EL Gazette lists all the UK's top schools and language centres and details their strengths to help you find precisely the right school for you.

The new British Council inspection system measures strength in depth. There are currently a maximum of fifteen criteria of roughly equal weight, against which the inspectors can mark schools as either standard or strong.

This compares to the old system under which there was a fluid number of points of different weight under which the inspectors could measure schools either as either standard or excellent.

All of the centres listed here were scored as strong in half or more of the areas in which they were eligible to be inspected. Although there are, at least in theory, a total of fifteen areas, in reality not a single school of those listed here was eligible in more than fourteen. The top three centres listed all scored fourteen out of a possible fourteen for which they were eligible. So well done Beet Bournemouth, Lake School of English in Oxford and St Edmund’s College, Ware, for achieving perfect scores.

One of the main advantages of the new system is that it is extremely transparent. To achieve a point of strength the centre must be ticked as strong in half or more of all the points under a single criterion. Since the beginning of 2013 the system has become even more transparent in that the full inspection report has been published on the web by the British Council, and providers are no longer permitted to withdraw their results. If you want to drill down into the results of an individual school and check every tick, you can find the information at http://www.britishcouncil.org/accreditation-more-about-your-accredited-centre.htm.

Transparency makes targets simpler to achieve. Not in the sense that it is easier to score a point of strength in, say, leisure opportunities, but a provider can more easily identify what needs to be changed to make this improvement. Under the old system it was not clear how many ticks you needed where in order to achieve an excellent in ‘aspects of management’. Under the new system it is easy to see which of the nine points under ‘staff management’ need work. (For example, if you do not recruit under the total number of applicable points is seven, and easier to see what you have to do get 50 per cent of them.) Transparent targets combined with more points available means that more schools can achieve more points by simply focusing on each target. And as long as the targets are measuring the right elements, more schools focusing on targets will mean that more schools improve.

The Centres of Excellence listed here could not have got where they are by gaming the targets, concentrating on some areas at the expense of others. It is theoretically possible for a cashrich provider to ‘buy’ a strength or two by investing heavily in premises or learning resources, but it is unlikely they could buy their way into seven strengths in areas such as care of students, course design or teaching.

The other thing about any transparent criterion-based assessment system, however, is that the average performance will improve over time, simply as candidates become more familiar with what the criteria are and what they have to do to achieve them.

This is already happening with the new British Council system. In 2012, the first year of operation, the top score – ten points of strength – was achieved by just 1.5 per cent of the centres inspected. However 6 per cent of the schools inspected the following year exceeded that score. This not another example of what the British call grade inflation, as it hasn’t got any easier to score the points. It has simply become easier to see what you have to do to score the point.

Over time, the new system will see more centres scoring more points, which will mean an overall improvement.

The introduction of the new system has already resulted in a more even distribution of scores (see graph), and that is likely to continue. A point in time will come, however, as it does in all criterion-based assessment, when to continue to encourage improvement across the board you either have to strengthen the criteria, or ask the inspectors to make a more nuanced judgement between for example a standard score, a point of strength and a point of excellence.

 

 

Aiming for Excellence

The Centres of Excellence listed below were all inspected under the old system between the very end of 2009 and the beginning of 2012. Under that system the inspectors were asked to judge whether specific elements of a centre’s provision met the standard or were excellent, rather than strong, as in the current system. As a result, fewer centres were awarded points, with 40 per cent scored as meeting the standard in all areas but having no points of excellence and no points of improvement. The main drawback of the old system was that a provider could be awarded a point for a subcriteria
such as teaching qualifications, for aspects of a whole criteria such as teaching and learning, or for the whole criteria. It was not uncommon for a centre to increase the number of areas in which it was judged as excellent but reduce its number of overall points. Nine points of excellence is the highest score ever recorded by the Gazette.

The centres here are ordered according to their national rankings in the total of over 550 schools as of the end of 2011, while the new Centres of Excellence are ranked out of half that number, as only half the centres have so far gone through the new process. Interestingly only ten of the centres on the list at the end of 2011 have so far undergone reinspections, with six retaining their Centre of Excellence positions. A further five have closed, withdrawn from the scheme or merged with another centre.