Anyone looking for a top-quality language course should seriously consider one belonging to an association, argues Melanie Butler.
The big chains may be doing well, but schools belonging to the International Association of Language Centres (Ialc) perform twice as well on average as normal English language centres. The mean score is 8.8 areas of strength against 4.4. for the UK accredited sector overall.
Ialc also outperforms both the universities and the boarding schools accredited by the British Council, who receive an average of 7.9 and 8.1 strengths respectively. The scores, which form the basis of the EL Gazette UK rankings (see August/September issue), are calculated from the summary statements issued by British Council Inspectors. But how come Ialc scores so well? A glance at the pie chart on this page will give you some ideas. The most common score for an Ialc school is eight areas of strength, compared to a mode score of zero across the UK as a whole. Only 12 per cent of member schools score below average, compared to 40 per cent nationwide. And Ialc is helped by the fact that it’s membership includes all the members of The English Network (TEN) which have an average score of 12.5, at least for adult courses.
Of course, nobody is perfect, as you see from the graph based on the pie chart. We don’t have a neat bell curve, which you would expect with a normal distribution of scores, but something that looks like a range of mountains with a series of peaks and troughs.
On the right of the graph is a neat row of schools scoring between ten and fifteen, putting them in the top ten per cent nationally. Then a sharp peak at eight followed by a more gentle drop to one. A little more consistency would help. If the results of UK member schools are anything to go by however, it looks as if passing an Ialc inspection is even tougher than undergoing trial by the British Council.
This all suggests that statistically the best bet for choosing a great language course is to choose an Ialc member.