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February 2018

Irish schools’ court action over lack of quality assurance scheme


The Irish government is again in legal trouble over its failure to introduce a quality assurance scheme for international education, first promised in 2012.

The Progressive Colleges Network (PCN), an association of six language schools, is taking authorities to court for ‘anti-competitive’ practices, according to the Journal website.

This follows the discovery of an email from the Irish embassy advising an international student to only study at schools listed as part of the Acels scheme because ‘Acels is a quality accreditation.’

Acels, a scheme jointly run by the Department of Education and the EFL industry, did indeed provide accreditation from 1969 to 2012, when it was taken over by the Irish government pending the introduction of a new quality assurance scheme.

During this time, the permanent staff of Acels were reduced to a single person and access to new applicants was severely restricted in the first three years.

The scheme was closed to new entrants in 2015.

Only one PCN member, SEDA College, was accredited by Acels before the scheme was closed.

David Russell, managing chair of PCN and director of NED Training Centre, pointed out that Acels has accredited no new schools since 2015 and precious few since 2012.

In a letter to the government published in the Journal, he writes, ‘The assertion that only schools who got into Acels prior to 2012 are the only regulated and “quality” schools in the country is simply not true.’

PCN members have successfully sued the government before. In 2014, NED Training Centre and Academic Bridge took the government to court for introducing a ban on non-Acels schools enrolling students from outside the EU.

They argued that Acels had no statutory standing and that the government was wrong in banning non-Acels from enrolling non-EU students. The judge agreed.

Last year, the government passed the first part of legislation to enable a new quality assurance scheme, which is scheduled to go live in 2019.

Teachers attack language schools over conditions

While the Irish government is being sued by angry English language schools (see left), the language schools themselves are coming under attack from teachers.

The Unite union, which has taken up the cudgels for the country’s EFL teachers, recently lobbied both the Spanish and Swiss embassies to warn their nationals of the deteriorating conditions for Irish staff. This followed a series of teacher demonstrations against being forced into self-employed status, illegal under Irish law, or stuck on zero-hour contracts.

School association MEI has warned its schools against using self-employed contracts and welcomed moves to outlaw zero-hours contracts.

Permanent contracts for language-school staff all but disappeared some years ago. But hourly rates in the country remained among the best in Europe until the dismantling of the Acels accreditation system in 2012.

The long-promised quality assurance system due to be implemented by the Irish government in 2019 is likely to improve terms and conditions. But there is no mention of teachers’ wages, employment status or even qualifications in the draft code of practice.

Pic courtesy: Jean Housen

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