TEFL hacks: 5 ways to check if a TEFL course is really what it says it is.
Part 1: Accreditation and external assessment
If you are looking for an English teaching qualification, but don’t know where to turn, you’re not alone. The TEFL industry is awash with different levels and types of course and qualification, which are validated, accredited, recognised and accepted at different levels. How do you know which one is best for you, based on what you want to do with it? This article will look at 5 key questions any aspiring teacher should ask before taking the plunge and starting a course.
What is accreditation?
Accreditation is a form of benchmarking for any qualification, meaning that any course which results in a specific certificate must meet a set of quality standards. These standards represent the quality of the course itself, and include requirements for centres, course content, assessment processes and even the trainers who work on the course.
Accreditation is usually shown on a course provider’s website or other documentation by a badge representing the accreditation body. The question is: what standards does that accreditor require of its course providers? In reality, anyone can set up an organisation, create a logo and claim to be an accrediting body, but that doesn’t mean that the course it accredits is any good!
Why is external accreditation important?
External accreditation by an independent body is important because it provides an objective quality assurance that the certificate can only be held by those who meet the standards set out by that body. If, on the other hand, the same organisation both accredits and delivers the course (internal accreditation), there is a clear conflict of interest: it is in the interest of the organisation to provide (ie sell) as many certificates as possible by accrediting the course itself and creating its own standards, regardless of the quality of provision.
To find out who accredits a course, you can usually click on the accreditor’s logo on the website, or do a quick google search for that organisation. Find out a little about where that organisation is recognised, and how their accreditation process works. If you find yourself going round in a circle and being drawn back to the same organisation that delivers the course, the chances are that it is the same organisation, and therefore it should be taken with a pinch of salt.
What about external assessment?
The same thing goes for assessment of your work on the course. If trainees’ work is only assessed internally (by people who are being paid by the company), then the same conflict of interest is present: it is in the company’s interest to pass as many trainees as possible through the course, so it is in the interest of the trainers to pass trainees’ work. I’m not saying that this always happens on internally-assessed courses, but the fact that the chance exists should be enough to make you think twice.
Examples of externally accredited and assessed courses are the Trinity College London CertTESOL, the Cambridge CELTA and the Trinity Certificate for Practising Teachers (CertPT), all of whose final grading is performed not by course trainers, but by independent assessors working for the validating bodies (Trinity or Cambridge). In addition, these courses are regulated at a higher level by the UK’s governing body for qualifications, Ofqual, whose Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) holds the validating bodies accountable for the quality of their courses. These levels of independent checks and balances are why these courses have the reputation for quality that they have.
If you need to check whether a course is accredited and regulated, and at what level, search for the qualification title on the Ofqualsite itself.
There are 'levels' and levels
The RQF organises qualifications into levels, which are equivalent to different stages of undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate study. For example, the Trinity CertTESOL and Cambridge CELTA (among a few others) are accredited at Level 5 (equivalent to the second year of a bachelors degree), and include over 120 hours of guided learning. This makes them recognised by most countries for visa and work permit application (though you will need to check this for individual qualifications, and take other local laws into account).
For qualified or experienced teachers, the Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers is regulated at RQF level 6 (equivalent to the final year of a bachelors degree), meaning it is a professional progression qualification which takes into account prior learning and experience. As a development qualification, this focuses more on candidates’ specific circumstances and experience rather than on suitability for entry into the profession.
A note of warning: some course providers label their courses ‘level 5’, ‘level 6’ or ‘diploma in…’, but are not regulated by the RQF. This means that the level is an internally-created name - as these companies know that ‘level 5’ is an important factor in gaining employment internationally, they name their courses ‘level 5’. There may not even be a level 4 or 6, and in reality, these courses could equally be labelled ‘level 10’ or ‘level 643’ - it would still be the same course. If a course claims to be level 5, check it on the list of regulated qualifications to confirm it.
None of this is to say that courses which are not externally accredited or regulated on the RQF are bad - they might be the best course that the industry has ever seen, it’s just that there is no way of trusting that without an objective measure, overseen by an organisation that has no automatic benefit from passing candidates through, and therefore you could end up without the skills you need, or even a qualification which is recognised in different countries.
In the next article, we will look at training and qualifications in course trainers, and the value of a live teaching practice element in initial training courses.
Tom Garside is Director of Language Point Teacher Education. Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL in a totally online mode of study, and the RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with specific courses which focus on online language education or online methodology.