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EU special: Valencia’s English course plan leaves UK and Irish language schools cold

teacher valencia Partido poupular de valencisWEB

Plans to boost Spanish teachers’ English with trips abroad could prove ineffective and impractical, writes Melanie Butler

One thousand teachers from Valencia are to be given a month-long all expenses paid English language course in the UK or Ireland this summer, the Spanish region’s education department has said.

Teachers will travel abroad for one full month, either July or August, and will be expected to attend classes for 25 hours a week. Valencia, which is introducing trilingual schooling, already pays for teachers to attend English classes at their state language school.

Councillor Vicent Marzà told the local press the project was part of the ‘gradual implementation of the new law of mulitingualism’ in the autonomous region.

It sounds like good news for British and Irish language schools. However, language schools in both countries seem reluctant to take part, especially those who were involved in last year’s pilot programme.

‘They have a huge list of demands particularly over accommodation. All 25 teachers in each group must be housed together and all of them must have single rooms with an en suite bathroom,’ one Irish school owner told the Gazette.

‘They absolutely refuse to stay with host families. They want hotels and they might take student residences. There is no way we can find that kind of accommodation in the peak summer season and certainly not at the prices they want to pay,’ she added.

The problem should not come as a surprise to the Valencians. After all, most summer schools are located in tourist centres, not unlike Valencia. The cost of a single en suite room in a student residence in the Spanish city is €420 a week, rather more than the €272 they cost in Brighton. But at the end of April, the EL Gazette could not find a single student room to let for the month of July in either of the two cities.

In addition, research shows that the benefits of these kinds of trips are largely related to communicating with native speakers and fellow students from different countries.

Housing all the Spanish teachers together reduces the time they are exposed to native speakers or interact in English.

To make matters worse, each group is accompanied by a group leader to help them by acting as a translator.

As one British school told us: ‘ We are expected to cover all the group leaders’ costs. An English-speaking adult might be necessary for groups of children but these students are adults.’

Nor do the classroom requirements help matters. The specified class size, 15, is not a problem except for state colleges, the one group of providers who might well have their own student residence available.

The 25 hour a week schedule, however, is much longer than the normal summer school schedule. That means the Valencian teachers cannot easily be slotted into regular classes and will end up, at least ten hours a week in classes composed entirely of their peers.

It is not even clear, pedagogically, whether more hours equals more learning. More time in class also means even less time available for practising what they have learnt. Some groups have special demands.

‘One agent demanded ten hours a week of Clil teacher training as part of the programme,’ one Irish school told us, ‘ but Clil trainers are thin on the ground and cost two or three times as much as classroom teachers.’

Of course, the Valencian government may have budgeted for these kind of extra costs but they seem to have put the whole programme in the hands of local language travel agents.

On average, agents across Europe are asking for 25- 30 per cent commission on the list price fees for such programmes, regardless of the budget for fees. The budget per student in the Italian Pon programme is just over €1,000 a week, so the schools may receive as little as €120 in course fees.

Language schools may swallow a small loss on low season courses. The average language school in the UK and Ireland makes almost all its profit from short summer courses, another reason they aren’t interested in Valencian teachers.

‘There is simply no way to make money from these kind of programmes,’ another school owner told us. ‘ So there is no way we are going to run them in high season.’

The solution, he points out, is simple:

‘Give the teachers a budget and get them to book their own courses and home stay families. They’d learn more and the authorities would save a fortune.’

Pic courtesy: Valencia is introducing trilingual schooling / Courtesy: Partido Popular Comunitat Valenciana