The sector has been left without a proper accreditation or quality assurance body since ACELS’s legal foundation was stripped as the result of a 2015 court case.
Although ACELS was not shut down by the court case, it can no longer accept applications from new schools seeking to prove quality standards and ACELS accreditation is not required in order to be listed on the Interim List of Providers (needed to accept non-EU visa nationals).
“In a response to that sort of vacuum, we were being proactive”
David O’Grady, CEO of MEI, told The PIE News this led to fears that standards may be allowed to lapse, so MEI decided to step in and offer its expertise.
“We had a feeling that schools in the long-term would maybe cut corners or be less interested in keeping standards. We wanted to bring, from the industry, a model that would be a good model for quality assurance,” he revealed.
Working with the consultancy firm Evolve, MEI has built its own quality assurance scheme, with the working title ‘English Language Education Ireland’.
MEI has piloted the inspectorate arm of the new scheme in two schools, the ATC school in Dublin, and the Bridge Mills school in Galway, and following a training day in June which was attended by almost 50 schools, MEI is awaiting feedback on its self-assessment module.
The move is a positive interim measure given the vacuum in regulation options since the court case challenging ACELS accreditation as the de facto indicator of quality back in 2015.
The sticking point for a government-backed accreditation scheme since then has been legislative backing.
The Irish government passed legislation on the International Education Mark in 2012, which allows QQI to award IEMs to institutions with satisfactory quality assurance in place. However, an amendment to the QQA (Education and Training) Act 2012 is needed before an IEM specific to the ELT sector can be implemented.
“With the introduction of the IEM ELE, the ACELS scheme will cease to exist,” explained Sue Hackett, QQI’s validation of English language education manager.
However, until that legislation is passed, Irish ELT schools are left without a functioning regulator. It was due to this gap that MEI began constructing its own QA scheme.
“In a response to that sort of vacuum, we were being proactive,” O’Grady explained.
But, he continued, “there is is no immediate hope that there’ll be any clear regulatory framework or architecture for the English language… this year or next”.
Therefore, while the quagmire of a minority government in the Irish Dáil continues to hamper efforts to establish a fully fledged service similar to ACELS, MEI will continue to progress with their independent QA scheme for its own members.
“Our aim is not to usurp government of their role in accreditation and QA, but to assure our members and maintain their quality standards,” O’Grady said.