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The Covid fall-out on Centres of Excellence

Melanie Butler on who has survived, thrived and dived in the past two years

There have been a number of major changes to our Centre of Excellence rankings this year, most of which are the result of the chaos and confusion caused by Covid. Now, in a year where most schools in the UK have been able to open and operate, it is possible to begin to see the damage that the pandemic has done.

Since March 2020, 25 Centres of Excellence have disappeared from the British Council accreditation list. However, just nine have closed down and three have merged, the rest are still trading. Together these centres, which are listed in the box opposite, represent 17.5% of all Centres of Excellence listed before the pandemic. Overall, the UK accreditation scheme has now lost 104 centres, or 21% of its members.

In addition, 17 centres are listed on the British Council website as currently closed and re-opening in 2023, of which five are Centres of Excellence. A month ago the number was six, but one, International Community School, has since withdrawn from British Council Accreditation(see box opposite). As a result, we have temporarily removed the names of the other Centres of Excellence which are listed as currently closed from the main ranking. Apologies to Cambridge Academy of English (year round), Christian English Language Centre, Manor Courses and Nottingham College EFL department. We look forward to welcoming you back next year.

New entrants

Unsurprisingly, a relatively small number of inspections have been completed in the last three years. Normally we would expect to be near 100 a year, but since March 2020 they have totalled around 90, excluding spot checks. As a result there are very few new entrants in the rankings this year: congratulations to Stafford House Canterbury and London, and to the University of Birmingham.

A total of 16 centres underwent their first inspection between March 2020 and September 2022. A couple of others were inspected, but have since left the scheme. There are also a number with provisional accreditation still awaiting full inspection. Predictably, none of the newly accredited centres scored enough areas of strength on inspection to become a Centre of Excellence. In the 10 years since the British Council transitioned to this version of the scheme we are aware of only three newly accredited centres which have made the rankings first time round.

Compliance inspection

In order to speed things up, the British Council has introduced the option of Compliance Inspections, where inspectors mark all criteria met or not met. No criteria can be marked as strong, so no areas of strength can be awarded and while Needs for Improvement can be noted on the full report, the Summary Statement from the previous inspection remains in force.

However, the EL Gazette rankings note every area with a Need for Improvement for every centre. How can we ignore a Need for Improvement noted on a Compliance Report? One school, for example, had its statement withdrawn following a Compliance Inspection because of a serious problem with Safeguarding. The problems in that centre were subsequently rectified.

We decided that we will no longer rely entirely on the document of Summary Statements, but rather on the full or Compliance Report. Needs for Improvement noted in a Compliance Report are deducted from the total areas of strength on our records. NB. Only one Centre of Excellence has received any Needs for Improvement on a Compliance Report.

The one school to lose its place in the rankings on a Compliance Inspection has also seen a change of ownership. This is unsurprising: typically, a private language school will lose three or four areas of strength following its acquisition.

Since March 2020, 18 centres have undergone full re-inspections. Twelve have seen their score rise, typically by a point or two, and just six have seen their score fall. Half the centres with falling scores had recently changed owners, but none of those with rising ones had done so. Faced with this evidence, we are not including the scores of any centres which have changed owners in the last three years unless they received a spot inspection from the British Council.

Image courtesy of Picasa
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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