“Our house is always open”

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Mark Rendell

IH London CEO Mark Rendell tells Melanie Butler why the future of ELT is innovation

As CEO of International House London and in-coming chair of English UK, you are a big name in the industry. But what is your first memory of teaching?

I literally stumbled into English language teaching (ELT) as a way of extending my stay in Poland in 1993 after my savings, from a temporary desk job at the Midlands Electricity Board, had run out.

After a short induction in the direct method, I was assigned a copy of the heavily prescriptive teachers’ book and bundled into the classroom to lead a one-to-one lesson with an actual Polish prince, Prince Czartoryski. I had scripted all my questions but, unfortunately, I ran out of material half-way through. It was excruciatingly awkward.

One of my best – and worst – experiences was when I delivered my maiden workshop at IATEFL Poland. I chose a topic that excited me: connected speech.

To my horror, the pronunciation guru, Adrian Underhill, was sat right there in the front row beaming back with encouragement. He seemed to enjoy the many activities even though I had plagiarised most of them from his eminent publications.

Serendipitously, Adrian is now a trustee at IH London – I can only hope that he has no recollection of that fateful day.

IH London is one of UK ELT’s founding organisations, with a global strength in teacher training. What do you see as the greatest advantage of running a ‘National Treasure’, and what is the biggest challenge?

The forerunner to the CELTA qualification was brought into existence by the founder of IH, John Haycraft. (It was taken over by the University of Cambridge.) John was a great visionary who saw the need to professionalise what was then something of a cottage industry.

IH continues to be synonymous with the highest standards in the industry and a CELTA, DELTA or other IH teacher qualification carries great kudos.

But our biggest challenge is to continue to keep teacher training fit-for-purpose. We recently incorporated flipped learning into our programmes, allowing more content to be covered outside of class. This frees up trainers to support their trainees in their teaching practice.

 We are playing our part by sharing our expertise

IH London only recently moved into teaching Young Learners. Now it’s one of only three organisations in the top UK rankings for both adults and young learners. What’s your secret?

I am delighted. It is a real achievement to be able to demonstrate a high level of consistency and quality with very different age groups.

The young-learner sector is the fastest growing in the UK and there is so much scope for innovation. Parents seek new advantages for their children and while language remains the core ingredient we also focus on 21st century skills: confidence building, critical thinking, creativity…

One of my favourite experiences in the last twelve months was a demonstration session run with Lego Education. They’re a partner in our new IH Space Challenge programme (offering robotics and coding for juniors). I bellowed an almighty cheer when my team landed the lunar rover onto the shuttle pickup point!

We also have a real commitment to safeguarding and child protection. The UK is a global leader in this area, due to the rigorousness of the Accreditation UK regulatory regime run by the British Council. Finally, we care about the planet and carbon offset all of our young-learner travel, in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

You are about to take over the chair of English UK. What do you think is the most important change UK EFL needs to make and how can IH London help?

As the national association, we will continue to represent the industry at this time of change and uncertainty. We will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with educators from other sectors to make sure that students and teachers can continue to come to the UK and enjoy the world-class education, heritage and liberal lifestyle here.

A good command of English is a pre-requisite for global participation, so learners are more goal-driven and have higher expectations than ever before. UK programmes need to continue to innovate and adapt by offering clearer learning outcomes, communicative skills development and a safe, fulfilling and cosmopolitan learning experience.

At IH London we are playing our part by sharing our expertise. We hosted the ‘Future of Training Conference’ last November, which was a wonderful forum for trainers to come together to explore the latest ideas. We are an International House and our house is always open.

Mark Rendell is the CEO of International House London and Vice-Chair of 
English UK. He has been involved in ELT for 26 years, during which time he 
has travelled the world. Mark’s claim to fame is that he was a supporting 
actor in the unacclaimed film, The Bromley Boys.
Image courtesy of Library