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April 2018

A work in progress

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The British Council should accept teachers studying at degree level as equivalent to graduates for accreditation purposes, says Thom Kiddle

An El Gazette investigation in March revealed that nearly half of all UK language centres employ non-graduate teachers. But at Nile, we believe that the requirement in the UK accreditation scheme for teachers to have ‘a Level 6 qualification’ should be changed.

We see the value of requiring a Level 6 qualification (usually interpreted as a first degree) in that it implies a level of language proficiency and a certain academic capacity. However, teaching contexts in UK ELT schools range from young learners to ESP. There are also huge differences in content of the different degrees held by teachers, particularly native speakers.

So it seems strange that an undergraduate degree is the benchmark for accreditation of teacher qualifications.

We believe, instead, ‘teachers, should have, or be working towards, a Level 6 or higher qualification in an ELT-related field’. This phrase encapsulates the importance of an active engagement with professional development.

This change would accomplish two things. Firstly, it would give teachers and schools the incentive to commit to medium- and longer-term professional development programmes, ideally focused in the language education field. It would also do away with the idea that ‘if it’s not going to be completed before an inspection, it’s not worth doing’.

Secondly, it would encourage the professionalisation of the UK ELT industry, identifying career development opportunities and raising the quality of teaching and learning in our sector.

The British Council reports show that many non-graduate teachers have teaching experience abroad but often no Tefl certificate. I believe such teachers should do a Delta straight away and not begin with a Celta.

Celta was developed as a pre-service qualification and we fully support its use in this context. We even run Celta courses ourselves, and have an academic and teaching team with many members who started out with a Celta. But there are many areas within it which are not wholly relevant to a teacher with significant experience in ELT. Two of the key features of diploma programmes, such as the Delta, are that they are a) modular – allowing people to manage their own pathway in terms of time and where to begin, and b) flexible – allowing teachers to reflect on, use, and develop their experience from the teaching they have done.

Beginning with Module 1 of the Delta, for example, would meet the reworded criteria above, and allow teachers to assess whether they have the sufficient methodological underpinning, and theoretical understanding of learning and teaching principles, to move onto subsequent modules. Or they may find they need further peer-or institution-supported development to take this step.

As Rod Bolitho, chair of the NILE Advisory Board, noted in the past, a diploma-level qualification such as Delta ‘demands a great deal of high-level academic writing and critical thinking’.

I led courses in both diploma and masters for many years and non-graduate teachers almost always need a higher level of tutorial support than participants with a first degree, and/or a certificate-level initial qualification. Screening for entry is vital and that two-year minimum level of experience is an absolute must’ Bolitho says.

Are online courses the answer? We feel that the game-changer has been the development of online diplomas. Serious, professional online teacher education now allows for continuing professional development in the workplace, particularly for teachers who work at institutions which don’t themselves offer diploma or MA-level teacher qualifications.

What about classroom observation? The structure of Delta Module 2, and particularly the way we offer it, involves a local tutor conducting the classroom observation, feedback and mentoring, supported by an online tutor from NILE.

The local tutor, often from within the students’ own institution, plays a crucial role. This system enables fully Tefl-qualified (TEFLQ) teachers or directors of studies within the institution to gain experience and career development by being trained, standardised and supported in evaluating their colleagues.

There are multiple advantages for the profession in this approach. It demonstrates commitment from accredited schools to supporting the CPD of teachers and it’s a far better way to meet the criteria for teacher education than searching for ‘creative’ rationales.

We believe that including teachers working towards a qualification is a more meaningful way to assess teacher qualifications, which can also help institutions develop their professional development capacity.

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