Elgazette Logo newtrans  The magazine for English language teaching and English medium education

EL quality analysis: Excellence By Association

Melanie Butler explains how benchmarking international associations to their UK members’ results can help find top-class language centres throughout the world

The UK leads the world in publishing official information, according to a World Wide Web Foundation report in 2015. This is certainly true of school inspections, of which the British Council reports are just one example. In fact, although most major student destinations inspect language teaching centres, only two – the UK and France – make the reports publicly available.

So how can you judge the quality of language centres in the rest of the world? One answer is by looking for members of two international language centre inspection schemes: the Independent Association of Language Centres (Ialc), which inspects study abroad independent language schools in 22 countries, and Eaquals, the European Association of Quality Language Schools, which mainly operates in Europe and inspects language centres of all types, whether involved in study abroad or catering to their local market. Because both these associations run their own inspection schemes and both insist that, where possible, members are also inspected by their national scheme, it is possible to use the results of their UK schools to benchmark their members’ performance against the British Council.

As you can see from the graphs on this page, the profile of the UK members of both Ialc and Eaquals is stronger than that of the average British-Council-inspected year-round private language school. The mode score for the British Council is one star, with some 30 per cent scoring one point of strength or below, while the mode score of both Ialc and Eaquals schools is five stars, which means just over 50 per cent of their member schools score eight points of strength or more on their British Council inspections.

10 Graph email

The higher scores of the international associations are not unexpected; they both set out to recruit the best schools, and they both choose from centres which have already been inspected. Of course, it is also true that schools can opt for this extra inspection, whereas in the UK they need to be inspected by a government-approved accreditation body, not necessarily the British Council, if they want to enrol students from outside the European Union. In other words, centres choose to undergo these additional inspections because they want to be identified as high-quality schools.

Although both organisations do well at the top, when it comes to the distribution of scores Ialc comes in well ahead, with an almost perfect distribution curve dropping sharply from five stars to four stars and more gently to three stars, two stars and then one. Not only are the majority of Ialc’s nearly thirty UK members in the top 20 per cent of language schools in the UK, but if you chose an Ialc school at random you are three times as likely to end up at a four- or five-star school than one of average quality or below.

Eaquals has a more jagged profile, with 50 per cent of schools at five star but around 20 per cent at three, the mean average score for UK schools, and slightly more one-star schools than two-star ones. This may seem surprising given that more Eaquals members are in chains – Ialc specialises in independent schools and boutique groups – but as we have shown on the previous page, many chains are not as consistent as they should be. It would seem that Eaquals schools fall into two distinct clumps: those that pass, which is still higher than the British Council average, and those that do very well. If only Eaquals published all their results, we would know. Individual Eaquals schools are allowed to publish their reports, though not many do. Currently, Ialc reports are not in the public domain.

If the British Council benchmarking of their member schools is anything to go by, choosing a school inspected by Ialc means you are statistically likely to go to an excellent school. Eaquals is lightly less consistent but still outperforms the British Council average and, indeed, the profile of most of the major international chains.