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Set for success – why some sectors are scoring top marks

Melanie Butler analyses British Council accreditation scores to find out what kind of institution is most likely to be a Centre of Excellence


There are many different types of providers who apply for accreditation by the British Council – private language schools, universities, boarding schools and even, in one case, an organisation which runs holiday activity camps mainly for British children. But which sectors score best?

All three centres in the top-ranking groups are private language schools, but not just any old private language schools. They are well-established year-round schools with a strong commitment to education, a solid core of permanent staff and are all members of the same organisation – The English Network (Ten). Two Ten members, Wimbledon School of English and Beet, received perfect scores under the new system. Another two, ELC Bristol and English in Chester, scored an unbeaten nine points under the old system. Over half of all Ten members are in the top 2 per cent of schools, and eight of them are Centres of Excellence.

At least in England, it is these traditional independent language schools that do the best in our rankings – and though not all at the top are members of Ten, they share the same profile: well-established, a strong educational ethos and more highly qualified teachers than average, many of whom are permanent staff. They also tend to concentrate on teaching adults. Lake School of English in Oxford, another school with a perfect score under the new system, London School of English and LSI Portsmouth share this feature.

The other type of provider that does well is the British boarding school: independent, autonomous and with a strong educational ethos. It is no surprise then that the third provider to score fourteen out of a possible fourteen, St Edmund’s College in Ware, is a traditional British boarding school, in fact the oldest Catholic boarding school in the country. There are only around thirty boarding schools accredited by the British Council, and nine of them are Centres of Excellence. On average, boarding school summer schools are in the top 30 per cent of schools in the country, while private-language-school-run residential centres are on average in the bottom 40 per cent.

There are emerging, though, a handful of year-round young learner specialists which show the same characteristics as the classic top-ranking private language schools. Melton College and Scarborough International, in Yorkshire, and Sidmouth International School, Globe English Centre and Isca, all in Devon, join Bell Young Learners as Centres of Excellence. Again these are all well-established with a strong educational ethos and top-notch child welfare standards. At the other end of the spectrum, the business English specialists are making a mark, with Accent, Kingsway and the London School of English joined by Linguarama London and York Associates, the latter coming straight in as a Centre of Excellence in its first British Council inspection.

The private sector, though, does not have it all its own way, particularly in Scotland. The eight Scots in our ranking are led by the University of Edinburgh – joint top university – and there are three further education colleges and one of Scotland’s few independent boarding schools, Fettes, against just two private language schools: ESC Scotland and IH Aberdeen. In part, this is because the number of private language schools is disproportionately low; most are relatively new and most of the traditional big names have been acquired by the large chains. It may also reflect Scotland’s historic tradition of state education, which stretches back over 600 years.

Overall, the university sector does well across the country – 25 per cent of all accredited university providers make it into the Centres of Excellence, and their average position – in the top 30 per cent – is only a little behind the boarding schools. Further education colleges also have a strong showing in the Centres of Excellence list and do better, on average, than many of the larger school chains.

Among the chains, smaller is better, with Bell (all three schools in the Centres of Excellence), St Giles (four out of five schools), Embassy (four out of six) and IH (three out of five) all excelling. There are also strong showings by individual schools from the bigger chains: including EF in Bristol and London, Kaplan Manchester, Stafford House, Brighton, and EC London all making it in for the first time. Overall, though, the larger chains still suffer from inconsistent results, with their junior summer operations particularly likely to let them down.