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Eaquals at 30: Belfast conference celebrates association’s third decade

Eaquals members, the organisation itself and the industry as a whole are now “standing at a crossroads” after the last 18 months, delegates at the organisation’s 2021 conference heard.

Eaquals celebrated its 30th anniversary with a special panel with former chairs. Photo: The PIE News

Attendees remembered Tim Goodier, a member of the Eaquals development group and head of Academic Development at Eurocentres who sadly died in March 2020

Leadership and management were key themes as the language school association held a hybrid annual conference for the first time in their history, with those attending in person at the famed Europa hotel in Belfast.

The conference took the time to mark the organisation’s 30th anniversary, with a special panel held by former chair Ludka Kotarska, who currently manages its accreditation.

“We started in 1991 – when we got to 1998 , there were still only if I remember rightly, 23 members,” said Frank Heyworth, one of the founding members of Eaquals. “Four years later, we were over 100.”

Justin Quinn, who was chair from 2016 until spring of this year, reflected that he “really wanted to bring new people and new energy to the board, and even bring different languages into the board”.

“We need more languages, we need more people from higher education,” Quinn added.

Another former chair, Richard Rossner, also commented on a need for diversifying the organisation’s portfolio.

“There is a possibility for Eaquals in the future to be even more diverse in terms of the partnerships and projects.”

Thom Kiddle, the organisation’s current chair, also reflected on the last three decades, “The reason that we’re here after 30 years from 1991 was the foundation of solid principles and a vision which we all saw.”

A special gala dinner was also held at the Titanic Museum. As well as celebrating the organisation’s 30 years, members came together to remember Tim Goodier, a member of the Eaquals development group and head of Academic Development at Eurocentres who sadly died in March 2020.

At the welcome to the conference, Kiddle announced that the opening plenary of conferences going forward would be named in Goodier’s honour.

“He worked as an inspector, as a member of the board of trustees, and he gave such contributions to our industry and was such a wonderful, caring person,” Kiddle added.

The opening plenary was given by Queen’s Management School lecturer and reader in leadership and organisational change for the university, Joanne Murphy.

“Leadership and change are closely connected,” said Murphy during her speech, asking delegates to reflect on their own leadership within their institutions.

“Have you ever spent time thinking about what your organisation means, what your leadership means, and how you can draw on that to help you when things get tough?”

“Leadership and change are closely connected”

Sessions were in full swing across two days, with an introductory session for prospective members, putting the focus on language learning and another talk from Murphy on resilience.

David Coarsey of Guided E-Learning gave a talk on the benefits and practicalities of moving to online learning in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Online learning is a tool that delivers your schools best attributes, which is what you market – not the online learning itself,” he told delegates.

“It has all the ability to compile your data, then you can look at it and use it to improve and maintain consistency.”

Other highlights included a talk from Rossner on finding the common ground between subject teachers and language teachers and a session on plurilingual teaching qualifications by Trinity College London’s Ben Beaumont.

“We also have launched an online teaching course which will help our centres deliver more online where necessary,” he told The PIE News.

“Online learning is a tool that delivers your schools best attributes, which is what you market – not the online learning itself”

“Our online systems have been pretty essential, especially in Manchester who reported to me that they’ve students on their courses from Nigeria, Russia, Brazil, the United States and China, and it’s all the same course,” he added.

A session was also held on the updates to the vital Eaquals frameworks, which touched on the ongoing theme of online learning, as executive director Lou McLaughlin told The PIE.

“With online learning coming in, it’s a whole different set of skills to be manage managing people in that way, so it’s about finding a new medium to do it through,” McLaughlin said regarding the organisation’s new management framework.

The pandemic, McLaughlin said, was not one of the drivers of pivoting the organisation’s newest framework to a managerial perspective.

“I think it’s been really poignant regardless, because managers need something to be able to shape where they need to go and really identify their training, whether it was pre-Covid or now, especially with online learning.”

Peter Brown, the founder chair of the organisation, also gave a speech via Zoom at the hybrid event.

“I think one of the issues with anniversaries generally, possibly big ones like 25, 30, 50, is it is inevitably an invitation to look back, and that’s actually not my style – it was always looking ahead,” Brown told delegates.

He finished his message to the online and in-person audiences with an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far go as a group.

“And I think that’s a great message for people – I think we do want to go far and, of course, we are a group and that’s the best message that I could give you on our 30th anniversary,” he added.

View the gallery from the 2021 Eaquals Conference here.

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