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EU special: Testing the market

p18 students

What is the market like for English language testing in Europe? PeopleCert’s Henry Tolley offers a bird’s eye view of the current trends

Some students even enjoy taking their English language exams

Let’s start by looking at the ‘local markets’, countries which take a lot of English exams but don’t often buy language travel packages.

Good news: Ofqual has recognised exams such as LanguageCert, and there is a big opportunity here for local training providers as well.

For example, Greece is one of our biggest markets – and not only for our new language awarding organisation LanguageCert. We also run an Ielts centres for (International education specialists) IDP there.

What we see is a growing requirement for good service and on-demand exam delivery.

Government projects are boosting demand by promoting recognition amongst companies. It’s is all about employability and getting people jobs.

Another really interesting market is Poland. The government has realised that the level of English in its schools is lagging behind much of Europe. They are benchmarking the school-leaving exam, the Matura, to the CEFR – and looking to harness international exams to improve results. This creates a huge opportunity for local language-school chains.

Meanwhile, Belgium has announced that all Clil teachers will have to pass an English test at C1. Any international exam recognised by Ofqual, the UK’s exam regulator, can be used for this purpose.

Local agents are even predicting that local teachers may decide to take exam courses abroad. English for Clil teachers is a theme that also comes up in the language-travel countries.

In Spain, Valencia has just announced that it is sending 1,000 teachers for four weeks this summer.

Meanwhile in Italy, the government’s foreign language inspector Gisella Lange has recently spoken about the need for Italian secondary teachers to have C1-level to teach Clil.

At the same time, the language level for primary school English teachers will be moved from B1 to B2. While most of the EFL industry is already aware of the Pon (see story below), the Italian state pension provider now has 1,000 academics receiving scholarships to carry out research projects, who also need to do external English exams.

This is new, but demonstrates once again how offering these exams can attract new business for schools in destination countries. The long-term project for the ministry is to have state schools twinned with private language schools and to continue along the same lines post-Brexit. As Germany explores external exams and gets ever more excited by CEFR language levels, more interest will come from students, agents and teachers about exams and how to improve employability.

For us, Spain is a huge growth country – teacher projects are coming back. Tenders for projects like the Communidad of Madrid are still asking for external exams, and now even the EOIs [state language schools] are looking at offering external qualifications.

In the English-speaking countries, courses for Europeans are getting shorter. On-demand exams, whether just for speaking and listening or for all four skills, are a way of adding value and winning market share. LanguageCert is an example of how this works.

This is all the more important when the market is witnessing a demographic decline. For example, Italy will see 500,000 fewer state-school English language learners over the next ten years.

To put that into context, at present around 100,000 Italian students come to the UK each year; 25,000 go to Malta, and a good many, probably 20,000, go to Ireland. More needs to be done to get students to travel abroad.

Employability will be key. What can you get on your CV that will get you a job after university – or even instead of going to university? But price is the barrier. That is where we think we can help – our exams are between 50 to 75 per cent cheaper but still recognised by Ofqual and by ministries across Europe. Plus our tests are available both in paper format and on computer. We want to give everyone the opportunity to take an exam. The UK has always had a healthy exam market, and as long as it stays in Erasmus even Brexit won’t cause too much damage to the market. Where state-funded groups go, the private sector will follow, but price competition will be fierce, especially while the pound recovers its strength.

Ireland has got the message. It has seen a growth in exam classes, giving them added value. They managed to maintain good student numbers last year even while the Euro was sharply up against the pound.

Malta is seeing how to expand on its growth of nearly 14 per cent from last year. Once again, exams are expanding there so they can take advantage of more funded projects across Europe, as well as Pon.

The real disruptor here could be Cyprus, a country we know through our local Ielts test centre. It has been accepted as an English-speaking country by Erasmus. It has a small but growing market. Could it be the new Malta?

The message across the EU is that demand for exams is rising and ‘added value’ is king. Historically the perceived value of an exam was some €200. With LanguageCert, you can offer a product with the same features and accreditations that in fact costs you only €25 (Speaking)/€50 (4 skills).


All change

Henry Tolley looks at how the Pon programme is evolving, and what opportunities it offers for language testing

It’s all change for this year’s Pon programmes: different agents, different teachers and different students are now involved.

The EU-funded English language programme is now open to high schools across the whole of Italy. The language level has been raised from A2/B1 on the CEFR to B2, reflecting the rise in the age of the students, who are 17 to 19-year-olds. And alongside the UK, Ireland and Malta, a new destination, Cyprus, has been added to the list.

Some things have not changed. Each Italian high school that successfully bids for the money can send one group of fifteen students to an English-speaking country for a three-week, sixty-hour course. An external exam, taken at home or abroad, must be included.

With the advent of older, higher-level students looking to meet university language requirements and improve their employability, there is a move towards four-skill exams rather than the two-skill exams of the past. Offering an on-demand exam is useful for host language schools to have up their sleeves and roll out as required. It is good for students, too. And it benefits agents and schools by speeding up payments, as fees are not released until the exam results are known.

Each Pon student attracts €3,100 of funding with an extra €200 for the exam. At LanguageCert, for example, they offer a four-skill B2 exam for €50 and a speaking exam for €25 euros. Both are recognised by the Italian industry and the UK regulator Ofqual.

Pon may have changed, but offering an external exam taken in schools overseas is still the best way to ensure prompt payment. Make sure you have an on-demand exam in your arsenal. Be prepared.