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Posted: Fri May 25, 2012 10:58 AM

Tue Jun 07, 2011
Lack of qualifications and a recognised trade body trap practitioners in low-status and pay cycle.
Roisin Vaughan
Guardian Weekly

The debate surrounding professionalisation of the ELT industry has recently been reignited on the business English teaching community's discussion forums. The questions that are firing online exchanges are: should there be more accredited qualifications for business English teachers? and would the community benefit from a professional association to raise standards and enable teachers to command higher and fairer rates of pay?

With low barriers to entry, no professional governing body and few recognised international qualifications, it is debatable whether business English teaching can call itself a profession.

While there is a high level of interest in continuing professional development (CPD) among practitioners, the lack of accredited qualifications suggest low levels of demand for certification. Unlike general English teaching, for which there is a clearly set out qualification pathway, no such Celta or Diploma gold standard exists for business English practitioners, who must carve their own pathway through fragmented training courses.

Trinity College London does validate a Certificate in International Business English Training (Cert Ibet) and there have been calls for a diploma to follow on from this. But there is still no higher diploma or masters-level course specifically for business English.

Kevin Westbrook, an English for academic purposes (EAP) teacher and trainer, believes that the community as a whole doesn't seem to want to be professionalised. "People will work happily for a pittance. If you professionalise the business, by raising standards and by creating much better awareness among customers, it should mean that more experienced, better qualified, more capable teachers are actually differentiated and paid better."

Part of the vocal minority pushing for higher standards, Westbrook believes that teachers should engage more in this debate. "What's the point in being a good business English teacher? I might be a good teacher but actually the customers have no way of knowing that and they'll pay me the same as someone who is possibly far less competent at fulfilling the customers' needs," he said.

Lack of return on investment is perhaps the main reason why many teachers, and their employers, are reluctant to invest time and money in additional training.

"An economist would not understand why an English language teacher would take any CPD because it doesn't actually give them any economic benefit," Westbrook added. "I can't think of any other profession where that would be the case. You want your doctors to be going to CPD don't you?"

The fact that the industry as a whole doesn't require business English teachers to have any specific qualifications is another obstacle towards true professionalisation. The situation is exacerbated by employers and training managers who currently have no way of validating what these qualifications may mean.

According to Christopher Holloway, director of young learners, at the IH school in Madrid: "There is the perception that language training is a low value product. When you have the perception of low value then companies are less willing to pay more for it."

With apparent lack of demand from both teachers and employers, it is no surprise that awarding bodies are erring on the side of caution. "When people say demand, the question to ask is, are you prepared to give up time and money to invest in that training? Will you really do that?" asks Jenny Pugsley, recently retired as Trinity College London's head of Tesol. "It's not really what [teachers] want, but what they're prepared to invest in and find the time to do," she said.

Pugsley also points out that course provision and validation is "expensive and onerous for the provider" and has to be a significant part of the decision-making equation.

The solution may lie in the formation of a professional association to raise the profile of ELT as a profession and establish standards and quality control for companies, training managers and institutions.

"There needs to be a gold standard," said Mark Powell, trainer in English and soft communication skills. "There needs to be some benchmarking. There needs to be some qualifications that get you a certain status within the industry. Then it's worth having them because you can put those letters after your name."

English UK, the UK's main professional association for ELT providers, is currently exploring the development of a professional association for UK-based ELT teachers. "Anybody who works in ELT could be associated to it but there would be standards of entry and it would be a forum for promoting best practice and professionalism," said Mark Rendell, English UK's deputy chief executive.

"Being a member would have a value for teachers – you'd have to earn, show dedication to the industry and real desire to improve yourself and at the moment there are very few external drivers for that at all."

Working closely with the British Council on the development of a six-level professional development framework for UK-based teachers, CPD is high on their agenda, Rendell says.

Loraine Kennedy, an independent ELT consultant contributing to the British Council's CPD framework, said: ''The focus at the moment is on self-directed learning as a driver for professional development with a view to looking at what extra qualifications might be required in a subsequent phase of the process. This is not far enough for many people, but it's an important starting phase."

But until employers, teaching institutions, awarding bodies and teachers work together to identify the benefits to everyone in the value chain of professionalising the industry, it is debatable whether we will see a sea change in this area anytime soon.
Guardian Weekly
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