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BC-accredited schools feedback on challenges of PON

British Council-accredited schools voiced concerns over quality provision, price wars and challenges around satisfying group leaders of the Italian MoE’s National Operational Programme (PON) scholarship scheme at an event held by the British Council, English UK and Trinity College London this week.

Henry Tolley, Head of Business Development, UK & Eire at Trinity College London outlined PON requirements for 2014-2020.

“Agents know the market, the high schools and the needs of students and teachers"

Henry Tolley, Head of Business Development at Trinity College London, introduced the session by confirming that funding for the scholarship scheme that sends Italian secondary school students abroad to learn European languages has been secured at €3bn for 2014-2020.

Funding for the PON scheme is €3bn for 2014-2020

One member of the audience remarked that the fact that non British Council-accredited schools are actively advertising for PON groups has “lowered the quality”, while another school pointed out that PON groups dominate certain cities and schools and there is “lack of representation across the UK”.

Davide Bresquar, board member of Italian agency association IALCA, responded by saying that agencies in his association want the Italian MoE to introduce quality inspections.

Sarah Wang from English UK confirmed that the UK-based organisation will do more lobbying in this area: “We’re looking into it now.”

Steve Wheeler, Principal of Delfin English School, underlined that PON-specific ELT provision was a good business opportunity.

Wheeler, along with other members of the audience, relayed that PON students are “very hard-working” and “generally a pleasure to have in the school” but outlined challenges around the sometimes demanding group leaders.

“Try to understand how southern Italian culture works, there’s a big focus on bureaucracy and lunch!”

It was explained that there can be a lot of pressure on group leaders accompanying the Italian groups, balancing the needs of the students and bureaucratic expectations.

Delfin English School, which has a dedicated member of staff that looks after PON students year round, also relies heavily on its agent partners in Italy to support the PON scholarship process.

Another concern voiced by schools was the introduction of compulsory electronic invoices which Bresquar said is something agents are also generally able to assist with: “agents know the market, the high schools and the needs of students and teachers,” he affirmed.

The PON funding is available for Italian students in the last three years of schooling and groups range for a minimum of eight to a maximum of 15.

Travel, accommodation and study is covered in the funding, and students also expect to be involved in the social programme. Payments are generally issued to schools in three instalments, typically 20%, 30% and 50%.

Schools are expected to offer 60-80 hours of classes over three to four weeks as well as an entry test and exit test, a test half way through and an external exam, the most common being the GESE (Graded Exam in English), offered by Trinity College.

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