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EFL Teaching Standards – Self-regulated or Imposed?

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Malta harbourJean Sciberras, Academic Manager at the Federation of English Teaching Organisations – Malta (FELTOM), has been pondering the linked questions of teacher standards, peak summer demand and the benefits or otherwise of official regulation.

Like many centres for English language teaching across the globe, Malta has a massive influx of students in the summer months, many are youngsters wanting to combine learning in a relaxed atmosphere with some fun. In our case, the numbers can be quite challenging.  More than 70,000 students come to the island and almost half of these are juniors.

Of course, at peak times we need lots of extra teachers to meet this demand.

Our schools advertise vacancies in the usual way and we get applicants from far and wide, but many of our summer EFL teachers are local university students or state school teachers on their summer breaks.  As the Academic Manager at the Federation of English Teaching Organisations – Malta (FELTOM), responsible for quality assurance amongst other things, I am keen to make sure that standards are maintained, so I’ve been doing some investigation work.

I wanted to find out how the schools make sure that the part-time summer teachers were good enough, and how they supported them.  The most frequent responses to my questionnaire survey and phone calls were:

  • Minimum qualification level – TEFL plus English ‘A’ level, or CELTA
  • In-house induction and training sessions
  • Observation, feedback and mentoring arrangements

I also quizzed them about their recruitment and induction processes during the rest of the year and again, most of the schools followed a similar path, which I’ve summarised here:

All this got me thinking about whether we’re doing enough, or are we being too restrictive?  I know in some countries the authorities insist on a degree in linguistics before issuing a visa, while in other places even teenage students taking their ‘A’ levels or equivalent can be in charge of classes.  What’s been your experience?

Professional status

Whenever I go to a conference there always seems to be a question, normally at the plenary session, about the professional standing of EFL teachers and how this can be improved.  The ‘expert’ responses vary from making DELTA (not CELTA) or a degree the minimum qualification, establishing some sort of pay scale related to experience, and increased recognition of specialist skills like EAP, ESP, exam-specific preparation and so on.  The debate rumbles on.

I’m not saying that we have solved this issue in Malta – far from it – but we have established some mechanisms which I’d really like your comments on.

For a start, we have a national EFL Monitoring Board in our Ministry of Education which stipulates and periodically updates the qualifications and other requirements which are mandatory if you want an EFL teaching permit.  I suppose the very existence of a permit system will be novel for some people!

I only know of one other country where, like Malta, TEFL teachers must adhere to a set of minimum standards before they are awarded a teaching permit.  And we’re in the process of tightening this up even more by raising the minimum age for teachers and insisting that they have a TELT – a Test for English Language Teachers.  I wonder if you have anything similar, or maybe this approach wouldn’t work where you are?

And then there’s my own organisation, Feltom, which is a sort of trade body representing schools with over 80% of the student arrivals.  As well as maintaining standards, we seek to improve them by providing professional development opportunities, rather like some Directors of Studies Associations I’ve seen in different countries.  We have regular training sessions and sometimes bring in international experts and authors for workshops – recently people like Adrian Underhill, Tim Bowen and Scott Thornbury.  We do our fair share of lobbying and promotional work too.  Do you have an equivalent in your country or region?

The language schools themselves, whether part of international groups or independent, play a huge part in raising the quality of full-time, year-round teaching.  Effective initial training and new staff induction, regular peer observation and feedback, and access to bite-size CPD seem to be the most worthwhile elements according to our members.  And having a forum for teachers and others to share ideas and experiences helps a great deal.  On Malta, it’s a very competitive environment for language schools but, fortunately, the benefits of cooperation are also acknowledged.

So, how are standards maintained in your schools?  Do you have anything like our official Monitoring Board or like Feltom?  And do you have any tips or mechanisms you’d like to share – I’ll gladly steal them and pass them on!

I can send you a summary of the comments from schools if you want more detail, or drop me a line if there’s anything specific you’re interested in.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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2 thoughts on “EFL Teaching Standards – Self-regulated or Imposed?

  1. Perhaps it is not appropriate for an Oxford blog, but Cambridge’s TKT (Teaching Knowledge Test) is something I am really interested in and might be a good start. (http://www.cambridgeesol.org/exams/tkt/index.html). However, I have not seen much research on this. In Japan, there is a very rigorous exam all teachers must go through, but in my opinion it does not find the best teachers. Also, recently with ‘accountability’ being called upon by many institutions, a lot of teachers have administered course evaluations of teacher that should have responses from their students which might help assess teaching skills.
    Nevertheless, most important would be teacher training and curriculum development after you have decided on a teacher. We must also keep in mind how sometimes the curriculum undermines teaching ability, the research showing the importance of teacher autonomy, and how some institutions do not match their curriculum to their students or use each teacher’s full potential.

  2. Thank you for tackling a very interesting topic. I am involved in teacher training in one of the largest schools in Malta so I have had good reason to think about this topic. I think that the recruitment and induction processes as you have described them really do work for the Maltese market. I feel that the only way to really ensure quality during the summer is to train part-time summer teachers while they are working with a school, rather than to expect them to come ready trained above the minimum. I believe that if schools restricted themselves to only employing teachers with a DELTA or a degree, they would not be able to find the required number of teachers to get through the peak season. The problem is, of course, the fact that schools can’t always offer teachers year round employment. For the majority of summer teachers, the 3 summer months of employment would not justify the investment in time, effort and money needed to obtain higher qualifications. The result of this is the need for more schools to think of in-house teacher training and CPD as a necessity rather than a luxury. In my school, we have introduced personalised CPD action plans for all teachers, including our summer teachers, so they can benefit from training during the winter when student numbers are low. These plans include peer observation, in-house training sessions and observation/feedback sessions. In this way we plan to strike a balance between the need to continue training our summer teachers and the pressure the school and teachers are under during the summer months.

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