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Great teachers make great schools

If you score highly on ‘Teaching and Learning’, you’re likely to be in our rankings, finds Melanie Butler

“Teacher quality predicts instructional quality and student achievement.” That is the conclusion of a study involving 205,515 students from 47 countries.

This is no surprise. The same result has been found in the vast majority of studies in mainstream education and there is no reason to believe it is any different in EFL.

But does the quality of the teachers and the teaching predict the overall quality of the school? To find out, we analysed the results of our Centres of Excellence across all five areas inspected by the British Council under the heading teaching and learning, and compared them to the average results for accredited language centres. The results are amazing.

Academic Staff Profile

This covers the qualifications of teachers and academic managers, which turns out to be a good proxy for overall school quality: 80 per cent of all private language schools and summer operators who receive an area of strength for this appear in our Centre of Excellence ranking. That includes all thirteen centres ranked in the top 2 per cent in our rankings.

Across all accredited centres, just over 17 per cent are awarded a strength in this area, but the results vary dramatically across the different sectors. Though over half of all university language sectors score an area of strength, that number falls to only one in ten private language schools.

When reading through the reports, the biggest thing to look out for here is the number of teachers without degrees. According to the study quoted above, the single biggest predictor of teacher quality is level of general education; teacher preparation programmes have a much lower effect.

Yet levels of non-graduate teachers are rising in UK EFL, with 46 per cent of accredited centres and 30 per cent of Centres of Excellence having one non-graduate teacher or more, based on our research from 2018.

Academic Management

Studies indicate that academic leadership is crucial in the EFL world, and has a particularly strong effect in the UK.

Indeed, this turns out to be another key indicator of a great all-round language centre, with nearly 90 per cent of Centres of Excellence achieving a strength in this area, compared to twenty percent in all other accredited centres.

Two schools in the top 2 per cent, Bell Cambridge and English in Chester, tick every criterion in this area.

“The biggest thing to look out for here is the number of teachers 
without degrees.”

Learner management

This deals largely with the progress the student makes, including level testing, forms of assessment used and progress monitoring.

This area really sorts out the wheat from the chaff. Although more than 100 of the centres in our rankings have a strength in this area, that falls to 15 per cent when we look at unranked schools.

Course design

More than 80 per cent of Centres of Excellence have an area of strength in course design. The chain schools score well here, with all five Eurocentres schools hitting the mark, while at British Study Centres, EF International and Kaplan, every school but one made the grade.

Right at the top of our rankings, Lake School of English and Discovery Summer both get a strength in every one of the five criteria under this heading.


This area covers what inspectors see during classroom observation, perhaps the critical test of teaching quality.

Once again, the centres in our rankings fare well. They are more than twice as likely to receive an area of strength in teaching than other accredited providers.

This is also an area of the report which is worth reading carefully, because it is made up of eight individual criteria, and the inspectors also comment on the range in the quality of teaching given. This gives a clue to the ‘collective efficacy of teachers’. Nile Norwich is the only centre we have found which is marked as strong in every single criterion in the area of teaching. It’s also one of only two schools in our analysis where ‘the majority of teaching observed’ was reported to be ‘excellent’, the other being Discovery Summer.

Overall, the evidence supports our hypothesis: the better you are at teaching and learning, the more likely you are to be a Centre of Excellence.

Image courtesy of UNSPLASH
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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