A slightly unorthodox method of evaluating language school inspectors was one of many insights enjoyed by delegates at English UK's annual marketing conference.
"I ask people what they can remember about their last inspector - whether they were male or female. If they say they can't remember, I regard that as a good sign," Janelle Cooper, Accreditation UK's first Senior Monitoring Inspector, explained.
Ms Cooper, who has just taken up her new role after more than a decade as the scheme's chief inspector, said she was delighted with what she was finding as an inspector of the inspectors. "I am very pleased with the way its going, and feedback says the inspectors are sensitive and empathetic. I can't see us having to make any dramatic changes as a result of what I have seen."
Liz McLaren, manager of the British Council Accreditation Services, told the conference that customer satisfaction with the scheme was very high, with almost 95 per cent saying it was good value for money, and almost 98 per cent saying it had international recognition and an important promotional tool.
Mrs McLaren said most of those surveyed thought Accreditation UK inspections were more relevant to the institution than the Tier 4 educational oversight inspections, and she was continuing with "background conversations with ministers to try and get the situation changed."
A major theme at the two-day conference, held in Cambridge with almost 150 attendees, was continuing professional development and ways of evaluating teacher quality. Different aspects of centre management, inspection and digital technology were also covered extensively.
Huan Japes, Deputy Chief Executive (professional services) of English UK, said he was delighted with the conference. "There has been a great atmosphere here and some really thought-provoking presentations," he said. "It was also a great treat for us to have an evening reception in the amazing surroundings of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, amongst some fantastic works of art."
The reception was organised by conference sponsors Cambridge English, as part of its centenary celebrations. Lee Knapp, Development Manager (UK and Ireland) said: "The programme is very practical and the conference also gives people a chance to reflect on their personal practice and to get together with colleagues. It's very valuable.
"We've been supporting English UK since its launch conference and, in our centenary year, that the management conference has come to Cambridge is indicative of the closeness of that relationship."
Opening the conference, Eric Baber of Cambridge English Language Assessment and IATEFL president, stressed the importance of CPD for language centres. Research with universities using Cambridge English's blended learning packages had shown that those which had engaged with the teacher training showed markedly higher levels of student success.
"CPD, when properly developed, makes a big different to the learning experience," he said. "It is going to attract students who are looking at a very real return on their investment."
A survey he had done worldwide of almost 300 teachers CPD had found "they are all doing it, some vigorously and enthusiastically, but they want more and want you to pay for it." He suggested offering some form of CPD in teachers' contracts, whether a fixed number of hours, a subsidy, or in-house provision. Not all provision was formal or validated, he said, outlining ways in which social media such as Twitter can offer valuable discussions with other professionals.
Andy Hockley told delegates creating a culture of feedback helped to keep channels of communication open, which was vital in learning organisations. It had to be provided quickly and effective, so that it was heard by the receiver.
He said to create a culture of feedback it was important to train people in how to give and receive it, to ensure that managers asked for feedback too, to understand that it took time for change, and to create systems where people wanted feedback and had the opportunity to both give and receive it.
Huan Japes, deputy chief executive (professional services) of English UK outlined an action research project for teachers the organisation is planning to run this year with Cambridge English, and which is likely to be launched at the Teachers' Conference in November. "It will enhance professional development and the development of the institution and the industry, and ideas, and make theory real by bringing it into the classroom, " he said.
Other popular sessions included Duncan Foord's outline of different types of thinkers, a panel session about diversification, and Jim Scrivener outlining his observations that more could be demanded of learners in lessons, and that following the lesson plan and offering varied activities was not enough.
Helen Cherry of ELC in York was enjoying her second time at the conference. "It's so useful to be able to come here and share ideas with colleagues who aren't competitors. It's particularly valuable if you work in a centre which isn't part of a chain, or in an area where there aren't many other language centres," she said.
Sheila Levy of Cambridge Academy of English comes to the event every year. "I meet colleagues to discuss issues, find out what's going on in the world, and get ideas. I've really enjoyed some of the sessions and have been to anything on teacher development and CPD which is a big issue for us as we have a stable staff and want to improve the school, not just carry on doing the same thing again and again."
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