Build back better: big issues dominate ELT Conference
28 April 2021

Build back better: big issues dominate ELT Conference

Tackling climate change, BAME under-representation and a preference for native speakers in ELT were major issues at our "big, bold and brave" conference for teachers and managers.

Opening the two-day event, chief executive Jodie Gray said:

"'Build back better' is fast becoming a tired and well-worn phrase, but it is what we're seeking. We have the opportunity to improve the UK ELT sector as we rebuild.


Over the next two days, we're providing a platform for big, bold, brave sessions addressing not only the most important issues facing UK and global ELT, but also the vital issues concerning the world – innovation, anti-racism, diversity, inclusion, sustainability."

>> Access the 2021 ELT Conference session recordings

Business development director Tim Barker, who led on the event, said: "We started with this by simply thinking this would be our usual ELT conference, just online but we soon realised the incredible opportunity we had to make this a really special and important conference. We ended up with a global, accessible conference that addressed big, important, urgent issues within our industry. We're incredibly proud of this outcome. Silvana Richardson of The Bell Fundation, put it so well; this was a chance to 'take a bit of a breather' and "consider how we could create a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable industry as we rebuild after Covid-19. I've been in the industry for 15 years, and these two days inspired me and made me think."

Slavenka Vukovic-Bryan, managing director at Languages United, said: "So much to think about, so much inspiration. You have embraced all the challenges in the world we live in, and put them right there for us all to think about, encouraging us to keep changing and improving this great industry we all love working in."

The conference was also English UK's largest-ever, with 527 registered delegates over the two days as well as ELT professionals from all over the world who joined live-streamed plenary sessions. Prices were kept low: teachers attended free and managers on a pay-what-you-can afford basis.

Highlights included Jameela Mohamed presenting her research into BAME representation in the industry, which showed some areas where minority ethnic teachers shared different motivations than majority ethnic staff, and which led her to affirmative action practices when recruiting.

Silvana Richardson followed up her ground-breaking conference plenary of five years ago, when she discussed the plight of 'TENSOLs' – teachers of English who are native speakers of other languages. It was a term she invented in preference to non-native speakers of English.

After her plenary, she said, thousands of people had shared their stories of discrimination: that three-quarters of job adverts in the private TEFL sector were for native speakers only. "It's a problem we own together: if there is discrimination against TENSOLs it is because the job adverts privilege the idea of native speakers, and quality and professional expertise is downplayed in favour of your passport or nationality. I think we are much more aware that it is a problem which is shared and the way out is to work together," she said, praising the work of individuals who have led the way.

Charlotte Williams suggested ways for teachers to ensure lessons and schools are diverse and inclusive, including using phrases such as 'Susie and Jane are getting married' as examples in grammar lessons and if it's hard to challenge prejudice in class, consider discussions outside and ensure management is supportive.

The conference ended with two sessions on the climate emergency, with Chris Etchells explaining how his own school had made changes and suggesting ways for teachers to encourage their centres to act, before the British Council presentation on its climate action in language education project.

Research had shown, said Colm Downes, that teachers wanted to integrate climate change topics into their lessons but were unsure how to do this and wanted training. He had eight suggestions to integrate climate content into ELT lessons, including personalising the course books, teaching outdoors, doing green projects with students and joining or starting a community of practice.

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