There's a great buzz here in Bristol at the English UK annual Management Conference, with 114 senior staff from language schools here to meet their peers and get up to date on such diverse issues as safeguarding, Accreditation UK inspections and global trends affecting English learning.
Particularly keen to network is English UK's chief executive designate, Eddie Byers, who's keen to meet as many members as possible before taking over the association formally in May.
Opening the conference, he said: "The Board has given me rare luxury of time before I actually get properly in my role to learn about the industry and its challenges, and opportunities to think these through. It's an interesting approach which I hope will help all of us make progress. I'm meeting staff, meeting members, and, critically, meeting schools. In fact I am going out to one this afternoon." Mr Byers said he wanted to meet the delegates and their peers across the industry, talking about opportunities and challenges for the future and how English UK could help."I'd really welcome your thoughts and any suggestions you have as I go through that journey."
After thanking sponsors Cambridge English Language Assessment, he said: "It's not often that we get time from the day job to listen, reflect, learn and make most of ideas from our peers. I hope you will make most of that, and I will as well."
There was a lot to make the most of from opening speaker David Graddol, whose visuals included making demographic bar charts dance and shimmy as he described how different countries will need to become more productive, not because of competition but because a smaller working population will have to support a larger proportion of children and older people.
In almost an hour on his feet, Graddol started by explaining his graphs showing a dramatic rise in worldwide formal learning of English to a peak of 2010 before a fall again. The explanation, he said, was the expansion of English tuition to younger children in primary schools while older children and adults were still learning. "It's a temporary phenomenon.. you could call it cradle to grave learning. The groups involved are very disparate," he said.
What was happening in developed countries was the demographic dividend, where it is vital to upskill the workforce fast as the number of people working falls in comparison to those they support. China had had its moment of dividend, India's was some way off.
So where China's Pearl River delta area had been a place where electronics were assembled on lines by unskilled workers, now the country was moving into higher value working where they were designing computers and buying big brands.
Graddol went on to show how employment had changed over the years from agricultural to industrialisation and then services. Now, he said, there were new higher end services which needed highly skilled graduates, PhDs and os on working in higher end health care, financial services and more. This quaternary sector needed higher levels of English -- C1, C2 -- than the existing service sector, which might involve McDonalds workers.
He went on to describe the pattern in some economies where learning English has become important. Brazil, he said, in preparing for the World Cup and the Olympics, was following the Beijing model where everyone had been told to learn English but in the end a different method had been found to help visitors communicate with taxi drivers.
"Sometimes we overestimate the amount of English needed for low level service jobs," he said. It was part of Rio's legacy that English would be taught more widely.
As part of this, Graddol said the CEFR had become a global project, subverting traditional testing and pushing the use of English towards a more functional one.
There was a project in Brazil around the World Cup to improve levels of English in service encounters and "the A1/2 levels were almost written for this kind of thing....you can do about 90 per cent of service encounters as a routine."
This meant that A2 had moved from being a beginner level to a destination in some parts of the world, which would have implications for the way English was taught and tested. In Brazil there was a proliferation of low level language schools, which had now been bought out by Pearson.
As well as this, in some professional contexts English was needed in the workplace at much higher levels, with C1 a minimum for doctors or engineers, and being able to deal with uncertainty and certainty in negotiations, understanding emotional states and so on. He cited the example of nurses working internationally, who needed a completely different level of communication to understand language associated with local clinical practice, to use language and non-verbal communication to develop appropriate relationships with patients, family and colleagues, and to use English in a multi-language environment.
He ended by mentioning a couple of other trends, including that some university students aren't at the level of English they need to be educated in that medium -- a concern as more institutions are making themselves more attractive by teaching in English -- and that in some countries English attainment levels are bunching around A1 and C1. "There's quite a high level of inequity, country after country," he said.
Chrissi Florides, Director of Studies at the Globe school in Exeter, in the first of the elective sessions, was on a woman on a mission: getting language schools to take CPD seriously. After eliciting problems from the floor, she whizzed through solutions: differentiate in what you do for staff (getting diploma teachers to do distance learning, mentor younger colleagues, get teachers to reflect on their own performance in appraisals).
She also does a game activity each week in summer staff meetings, giving temporary staff a quick new idea they can use in the classroom. What else? She pays staff to attend teacher training ("not a huge amount, £20, but I found that makes a big difference,") asks them what training they want, and does informal observations every Thursday morning to "see what's going on."
This was to find out how students and teachers were doing, and get them used to being observed so that a formal observation was not a big issue. This was also useful for pointing up general issues around school.
Asked how she found the time, she said"If you're a teacher, you never stop learning yourself, pushing staff and helping them to reach their potential. Ultimately no matter how good the activities or warm and friendly the host families, students come to us because of lessons.
"My personal mantra is be proactive, don't wait for problems to occur." Florides said it had taken 15 years to get her bosses to give her everything on the list she made when she became an ADOS, but the last British Council had found her school had excellent teachers and academic management.
She said it was possible to do lots of CPD in school at low or now cost, which might include sharing interesting articles, or teachers presenting ideas.
Her big idea though was a regional DOS group, which would get together to put on speakers for all the member schools in an area. "Getting people down to us to lead sessions is must cheaper than sending people to London. We attract good speakers and we keep it cheap to attend," she said, explaining that the cost of evening events has remained at £2 or £3 per teacher since she began the Devon DOS group in 1999.
Schools could take it in turn to host events (and lay on tea, coffee and biscuits). It was important to pay teachers who spoke at Saturday events, and important to be clear with speakers about what was required.
After lunch -- which included bite-size steak and ale pies -- Martyn Clarke of the Language In group was talking about evaluation and why it's useful in helping with staff development. "People sometimes say they're worried that if they develop staff, suppose they then all leave? I say suppose you don't develop them, and they all stay...."
He said there were several reasons to do it: evaluation ("staff need to do this: that's why we're paying them money,") training needs analysis, development and well being. Good appraisal was about all of these things.
It was important to measure staff against criteria -- so, were job descriptions useful and up to date, relevent and comprehensible. In other words, the difference between "You must produce a scheme of work," and "You must provide a scheme of work in order to provide satisfactory work for a cover teacher."
The criteria should be impersonal, comprehensive, and uncontaminated -- in other words, be clear the evaluation is about the person in front of you or about something which will help them.
"This clarity doesn't happen on day of appraisal, it has to happen constantly," he said.
Outlining different types of information which could be used, he included what he called his Victories file into which positive information about staff is collected. "The collation of everyday stuff is important."
In the appraisal itself it was important to provide evidence, gain some kind of consensus. If behaviour is being criticised, it was important to ask the appraisee to identify the cause and agree an action.
"You get a consensus that this happens, that this is the impact, that probably not a good thing, identify why happens, say let's help you cope with the cause, then this impact won't happen and that's good," said Clarke, adding: "Then find evidence of where they are good," which might include finding ways of using positive skills in additional ways in the organisation. "If something's going right, let's use it."
Another well-attended session found Sheila Levy talking about how to listen well in order to make people feel valued. "Don't let your prejudices get in the way," she said, advising that it was a good idea to make time for people if they needed it. "Don't be afraid to ask them to come back another day when you can make more time for them."
Ending the day was going to be Nigel Heritage on safeguarding, before drinks and dinner: we'll tell you more about how those go later.
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