[EDLING:1559] EducationGuardian.co.uk: Un petit problème

Thu May 11 01:15:27 UTC 2006

Francis Hult spotted this on the EducationGuardian.co.uk site and thought you should see it.

Note from Francis Hult:

Small colleges are worried about being frozen out in the government's plans to toughen regulation 


To see this story with its related links on the EducationGuardian.co.uk site, go to http://education.guardian.co.uk

Un petit problème 
Small colleges are worried about being frozen out in the government's plans to toughen regulation
Mian Ridge 
Tuesday May 09 2006
The Guardian

"Learn English!" shout the billboards that bob around at every intersection of Oxford Street in London. The bored-looking young men and women hand out fliers advertising language schools with names redolent of ancient universities, although the maps on the fliers often lead to cramped rooms above shops. Since 1912, when the prestigious London School of English opened on Oxford Street, increasing numbers of language schools have jostled for business in central London - and elsewhere. Today, between 800 and 1,400 language schools in Britain are estimated to contribute over £1.3bn to the economy.

Until fairly recently, the sector has been almost entirely unregulated but that is changing fast. The government is concerned that some colleges are giving overseas students visas without ensuring that they turn up to lessons. A small minority of advertised "schools", it is believed, may not even offer lessons at all but simply operate as "visa factories". Last year, in an effort to tackle this, the Home Office and the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) launched the Register of Education Providers. Since January 2005, only students applying to schools listed on this register have been awarded visas, and schools are obliged to tell the Home Office if students do not arrive.

Now the government plans to further regulate language schools by drawing up a new sponsor register that will require schools to have been accredited by a recognised organisation. To be included on the existing register, schools need only show that they have a business address and offer some kind of education service.

Accredited schools, however, will have to demonstrate that they have high teaching standards and qualified teachers. They will also be subject to regular inspections and spot checks.

While some language schools will oppose compulsory accreditation, either because they are unlikely to make the grade or because they object to paying for accreditation, none is likely to want to kick up a fuss about it. But the question of which accrediting bodies - or body- the government will approve is causing ructions among language school associations and their members.

Many schools on the existing register are already accredited by three organisations recognised by the DfES: the British Council, which, with an organisation called Accreditation UK, accredits about 400 English language providers and is likely to emerge victorious if the government decides to limit the number of accrediting bodies to one; the British Accreditation Council; and the Association of British Language Schools (ABLS).

But when, in late March, the Home Office issued a consultation document on its plans for a sponsor register, it omitted to include ABLS in its list of accrediting organisations. Formed in the 1990s for smaller schools that could not afford British Council accreditation fees but wanted some sort of kitemark of quality, ABLS is seen as the small school's version of the British Council. "I knew that ABLS had a good reputation for accrediting small institutions, "says Barry Bennett, director of the Waterloo School of English near Oxford Street, which was accredited by ABLS last year. "I didn't think we were big enough at that stage for the British Council, so ABLS seemed right." 

Janet McGuirk, chairwoman of ABLS, says she was shocked to find that ABLS had not been included on the consultation questionnaire. "Members and prospective members have been asking why we have been omitted from it, and doubts have been raised, unfairly, as to our integrity," she says. She worries that if the government does not recognise ABLS as an accrediting organisation, it will be forced to close- and that some of its member colleges may close too.

McGuirk supports the idea of compulsory accreditation. Before she opened her own school, New Century Study, in Essex, she used to house foreign students as paying guests. She would often drive home from the airport with more students than she had expected because representatives of the schools to which they had paid fees had failed to collect them. But she none the less thinks there is room for more than one accrediting body.

"Some organisations consider the British Council too large, and are concerned they wouldn't have a voice within it," she says. "It would be a big mistake to only have one accreditation body. I value the fact that I am part of a small organisation that can better cater for my needs." 

Louise Magnus, the principal of Linguacentre in Mill Hill, London, agrees. She helped establish ABLS, before opening her own school in 1992. "At that time, the British Council was fiendishly expensive but I wanted to say: we may be small but we are also reputable. "Although the British Council has now lowered its fees and made itself more accessible to smaller schools, she would still choose ABLS.

But other members of ABLS say they consider British Council accreditation an important future goal. Today, British language schools are not only competing with each other. Other English-speaking countries- among them Australia and New Zealand- are competing for, and winning, a slice of the business. In this global market, the British Council undoubtedly stands out as a powerful brand.

The British Council, too, is working to counter its reputation as a large, expensive organisation that is unsuitable for small establishments. Adopting the strap line "Flexible, Accessible, Inclusive", it has cut its feesand made efforts to reduce the amount of paperwork colleges have to wade through to gain accreditation.

Ayman Dweydari is director of the London Empire Academy in Shepherds Bush, London. His school, which opened in 2001, was accredited in 2005 by ABLS, and was inspected twice in the first four months after it was accredited. He says the ABLS does a good job but he now wants a seal of approval from the British Council too. "It is very important to us to have British Council accreditation. It is a much stronger brand - it is well known by foreigners all over the world."

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

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