School inspections needn’t be scary, Ann Matsunaga tells Melanie Butler
Ann Matsunaga has had nearly every job in ELT, not to mention her time in mainstream education. She has been a teacher, teacher trainer and even opened her own language school in Japan when her Japanese husband was deployed back home by his company.
‘It was only a small school,’ she says, ‘but I built up a good reputation.’
She is now an inspector for the British Accreditation Council (BAC) and helped set up their new scheme for overseas, the International English Language Provider scheme. It is known, in true EFL fashion, as Ielp.
She remembers her own first experience of inspection as a teacher: ‘I was teaching in education in England so there was the inspection by Ofsted… I remember feeling very nervous.’
Now she advises her teacher trainees how to cope.
‘I tell them to regard it like an MOT test, if you drive an old car, you expect to have it checked regularly. Don’t regard it as a threat… see it as a way of improving your teaching, of getting good advice.’
Above all, the inspectors are checking what you’re doing and seeing that it meets their criteria.
Ann is adamant that the secret of a successful inspection is for teachers, and academic management to make sure they know the criteria they are being inspected against.
After all, this is what the inspectors will be marking them on when they look at the lesson plans, talk to the students, and sit watching them in the classroom.
For Ann the hallmark of a good school is the support and training they give their teachers.
‘Particularly with new teachers overseas, some of whom, almost inevitably, will not necessarily have the right training and lack experience. I think it works well when they work with a colleague. Watching an experienced teacher in the classroom can be quite inspiring for new teachers, they can take some of the ideas they have seen away with them, they can share the knowledge.
Ann emphasises the importance of regular classroom observation, both by management and by peers and of the value of CPD (Continuing Professional Development).
‘Teachers need to progress. In the era of IT good online training courses are not hard to find and need not be very expensive,’ she says.
‘Besides, if providers want to improve their quality, they have to invest in their teachers, provide support, develop them.’
For language school managers the message is this: do what you say on the tin. That means seeing what they offer in their marketing material, and seeing how well they fulfil these promises.
‘I want providers to talk to me about what they do. But they also need to show me how. They need to demonstrate how they do it.’
And that goes beyond the paperwork they are asked to submit before the inspection, or even what the inspectors can see going on in the classroom.
‘We look for how they support students, how they respond to applications, how they communicate with the parents of companies if they are paying for the course.’
And they want to see student progress.
‘Third party exams are a good way of demonstrating that but it is not the only thing that counts. We need to see how the school evaluates its programmes of study. We need to see a system to monitor progress set up and documented.’
For students and their parents, the ability to read the inspection report online holds the key to quality assurance: ‘Transparency is the sign of quality’ says Ann.
‘The report clearly sets out the strengths of the provider but it also gives Action Points in areas the school needs to address,’ she adds.
But she is quick to point out that while the BAC puts marks against individual criteria, unlike many other inspection schemes, it does not file an overall judgement on the school’s performance.
‘We see our role as to go in as experienced and independent advisors. We are not confrontational, we want to say what is good in a school and point out where improvements need to be made.’
Drawing on her own experience running a school, she says. ‘If you are a small, independent provider you can feel very isolated trying to run a quality school when, in every market, there are copycat start-ups claiming to offer exactly what you do, but at a lower price.’
Accreditation not only helps providers gain market knowledge, and keep up with the latest teaching techniques, but can provide them with a network of support.
As a former school owner, Ann Matsunaga knows exactly how important such support can be.
Ann Matsunaga is an inspector for the BAC International English Language Provider Accreditation Scheme. She has also been a teacher, Celta trainer and language school owner.