Melanie Butler writes.
The EL Gazette has been publishing its rankings for the last seven years. Many things have changed in this time: the British Council has changed the way it records the results of its inspections, full reports are published on all schools and the average score of centres has increased dramatically. This means the number of EL Gazette Centres of Excellence has increased – all of the current award winners are listed on pages v–viii. Since the beginning of this year the rankings of all 500+ accredited centres can be found on our sister website www.el-go.com.
One thing has not changed however – the ELGazette Centres of Excellence award remains the only ranking system of British language centres based on the results of British Council inspections.
The main reason we use the British Council inspection reports is that this system, which comes under the Accreditation UK scheme, covers the complete range of language centres – from private language schools to state-sector colleges and universities, from summer school specialists to boarding schools. There are six other government-recognised inspection schemes for language schools in the UK and another eight systems of educational inspection which cover schools and colleges offering English language courses. They all publish their inspection reports, and all use different reporting systems. Only the British Council inspection system, however, covers all the sectors, and while not all English language course providers choose this accreditation, it remains the largest accreditation system for language courses in the world.
Currently Britain is the only country in the English-speaking world to publish all its inspection reports for language courses. Since 2013 the British Council has published the entire report, but the EL Gazette system remains based on the summary statement from these reports because it is the only information which is available for all language centres which have passed their most recent inspection. Accredited centres which have failed their last inspection have their summary statement withdrawn and must be re-inspected. A full list of all summary statements is published in pdf format on the British Council website www.britishcouncil.org/education/accreditation/information-students-agents/accreditation-inspections.
The summary statements publish the results in fifteen areas, one of which, care of under-18s, only covers schools which teach this age group. The statement notes every area in which a centre has been awarded a strength. It also notes every area in which the centre has not met the expected level and is given a need for improvement. It does not note a simple pass with no needs for improvements. Eighty per cent of accredited schools achieve at least one strength, while only 20 per cent currently receive a need for improvement.
To calculate a centre’s score we deduct any needs for improvement from its total number of strengths. To rank it we calculate what percentage of available strengths it receives of the total for which it was eligible, fourteen or fifteen. We rank them according to these scores. So far only one centre, Wimbledon School of English, has received a perfect score, and only a handful have received twelve points or more. However an increasing number of centres have made it into our Centres of Excellence listing – over 8 per cent of all language schools, for example, now score seven points.
Over 35 per cent of centres now score seven points or more, while over 50 per cent score four or lower. Where there is a shortage is among those that come just below the Centres of Excellence, making five or six points. This is the most common score for centres which are on an upward trajectory and also offers many of the best-value schools based on price. We call these our rising stars, and for the first time this month we are listing them in our annual ranking.
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