HISTORICALLY, THE EL Gazette Rankings have been based on strengths awarded in the British Council Inspectors summary statements. These report strengths and needs for improvement in fourteen or fifteen different areas depending whether a centre enrols under 18s. In the full reports on these schools, rather than in the summary statements, sub-strengths are noted for over 100 different criteria. If we calculated the scores on each criteria, would that make any difference to the rankings?
We decided to try and find out. We could not examine reports on all accredited centres, as some 30 have not been published yet. Nor could we look at all five standards used in the reports: Care of Under- 18s was completely revamped in 2014 to include safeguarding measures, and nearly a third of centres have not been re-inspected under the newer, stricter rules. We settled instead on two standards to investigate: Management and Teaching & Learning.
Management is divided into four areas: staff management; student administration; quality assurance and publicity. To be awarded a full strength by inspectors in any of those areas a centre must have met expectations in every single sub-area and to have been judged as ‘strong’ in 50 per cent of them. Publicity is the area in which the largest number of centres are judged as needing improvement, and strengths in it are rarely given. Common problem areas include not making key information, such as price, clearly available and exaggerating the qualifications and experience of the teachers. The analysis showed, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the best schools in the country tend to have the best management. The Gazette made a list of all the centres in the UK that received a full strength in all four areas under the management standard and then calculated the total number of sub-strengths given in the total of 22 individual criteria each centre had. Schools ranking in the top five per cent in the country dominated the list with one exception, Mayflower College, itself in the top twenty percent. The final scores were within a nine per cent range, so close that to separate the schools, we put them in the order on their overall EL Gazette ranking.
But what about teaching and learning? This proved much more complex to calculate because the number of criteria in the five areas covered by this section have varied over time from twenty five to thirty. Even then, all of those criteria are not applicable to all types of centres. Summer schools for example, often don’t run exam classes, and universities don’t offer continuous enrolment. We made the calculations based on the percentage of sub-strengths awarded of the total criteria applicable. One school was way ahead of the pack. Accent International in Devon scores a strength in 24 of the 25 sub-criteria for which it was eligible. An astonishing result which puts it in the lead in all five individual areas covered by the teaching and learning standard: academic profile, academic management, learner management and course design. Intrigued, we asked the school to explain its teaching philosophy (see the next page). Most of the entries came from the top of the EL Gazette rankings, all but the University of Salford score in the top ten per cent based on summary statements. Most centres were bunched up in a narrow range of sub-strengths between 69 and 77 per cent of the total. A significant number of other centres also scored 69 but because they were eligible under more they did not make the cut.