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Too Big to Bother: The Pros and Cons of Accredited Language Schools

The reason for my prolonged absence from the blog lately is important, big and overwhelming. The school I’m working at is undergoing two accreditation inspections, back to back. We’re currently preparing for the inspections, printing out piles of documents, dotting every “i” and crossing every “t.” The important question, though, is: why bother?

Accreditation for language schools is not always a black-and-white decision. Here in the UK, it’s really difficult for a school to take off commercially without an accreditation – you aren’t allowed to recruit students from certain countries, aren’t trusted enough, and basically, everything is much harder for you. Outside the UK, however, the accreditation is not that important – it’s a benefit to the school, for sure, but many language schools thrive without the accreditation.

To make matters even more interesting, the accreditation options are not exactly consistent: in the UK there are several options for an English school, but the choice is limited if you teach languages other than English – and as far as I know, it’s really hard to find a universally recognised accreditation body for language schools. So – to rephrase the question above – what are the pros and the cons of an accredited school, from a learners’ point of view?

 

A question of trust

If you’re buying toothpaste – and you really care about it – you’ll choose the one that dentists recommend over the one that doesn’t have any recommendations. If you’re crazy about wine, you’ll listen to winemakers whenever you have a chance, and follow their advice.

So it makes sense for someone who knows a thing or two about languages to tell you which language schools are reliable.

Here’s just a few things an accreditation approval can tell you about the school:

 

  • It meets a set of criteria for management and marketing, making sure you’re enrolling into a fairly well-run organization.
  • It meets criteria for teacher recruitment, which means you’re less likely to end up with unqualified teaching staff.
  • It usually meets criteria for quality of teaching and resources – you can expect some solid stuff from the school in this respect.
  • It will try to keep the accreditation, and may be in trouble if standards decline (it’s possible to complain to the accreditation bodies if you’re unhappy with the school!).

 

The square peg dilemma 

The above list is perfect for schools which want to fit into the market perfectly. In other words: if you own a language school which wants to get lots of average customers, you’re going to want to get accredited. And if you’re an average language school customer, you’re going to benefit from an accredited school. I know: I used to learn, teach and manage in these. They work: slowly, surely and majestically, they do their job – and the accreditation suits them well.

So what’s the opposite of a respectable, solid, accredited school?

If your response is “a shady, third-rate, semi-legal enterprise” – you’re partly right. This is the un-accredited school. However, they’re rarely around long enough to spot them – and if you do, they’re completely nondescript and unremarkable anyway.

No, the opposite of an accredited school is an “anti-accredited school.” These do exist, and their stories are remarkable. Here’s just a handful of examples:

  • A company offering bespoke Polish courses to executives – combined with a tour of Poland.
  • A one-man one-to-one enterprise teaching English at students’ homes.
  • A “language sherpa” – somebody whose job is to step back, let you explore the language and only intervene when you’re in serious trouble.
  • A charity offering free language courses to kids from broken families.

These are the “square pegs” – schools which do something completely different from the “mass-oriented” language schools. Their activity is too aberrant, too unpredictable and too atypical to fit any set of criteria.

Strangely enough, these may be the schools who benefit the most. They’re the most flexible companies – most eager to recruit, retain and please customers. When they’re successful enough, they grow – and mature. In time, they may become the standard “accredited” company!

 

Accreditation: what’s in it for you?

By now, you should be able to figure out if your school needs to be accredited. You should by all means expect it from regular, solid enterprises – that’s how you know that they’re doing what they can (and should) to stay in the game. It’s a generic recommendation which tells you that some standards are met.

If, however, your requirements are non-standard – if your language needs are unique, your timetable is too irregular, or your budget is nowhere near the average (too high or too low!) – then the accreditation is just one of many perks, and you should look for things that really matter to you.

I hope you found this useful – whether you’re a language learner or you work with languages yourself. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a ton of accreditation materials that still needs to be filed!


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