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UK independent schools shine in new BC scheme

A new list of top UK language centres compiled by ELT magazine EL Gazette has compared the percentile rankings of centres across both new and old British Council inspection frameworks. The latest analysis reveals that independent schools are outperforming the chain schools once again while the worst performing sector under both systems are junior summer schools.

Wimbledon School of English is the only school to score 15 "strengths" out of 15 under the new British Council inspection system

“The inspection criteria were very similar on both occasions but it feels tighter, more focused and more objective with each year”

As language centres still go through the transition phase between the British Council’s previous and current assessment systems, Wimbledon School of English (WSE), English in Chester and the ELC Bristol were found to be the UK’s top providers.

“All three schools in joint first place are long-established schools in leafy upper middle class areas with great school principals, a core of permanent staff and very low teacher turnover,” EL Gazette Editor Melanie Butler told The PIE News. “All these things are strongly correlated with good educational results, according to educationalists.”

The top 20 list also includes English language teaching programmes offered at university language centres and independent schools such as d’Overbroecks in Oxford, which ranked in joint-fourth place.

Among the top accreditation performers, WSE was the only centre to undergo the new assessment system and score 15 “strengths” so far, while English in Chester and the ELC Bristol both scored an unbeatable nine points of excellence, ranking them in the top 0.37% of the total 540 results recorded at the end of 2011 before the system changed.

“All three schools in joint first place are long-established schools in leafy upper middle class areas with great school principals, a core of permanent staff and very low teacher turnover”

The previous assessment framework offered up to 10 “points of excellence” with nine being the highest recorded score. The new system announced in 2011 awards a “strength” in one of 15 subcategories, although some schools are only eligible for 14, depending on the courses they offer.

Schools must exceed expectations in 50% of all the elements included in the subcategory in order to win a “strength” under the new system.

With the new system, the British Council aims to be clearer, more transparent and broader in range. WSE’s Principal Jane Dancaster said the inspection criteria “were very similar on both occasions but it feels tighter, more focused and more objective with each year.”

“There is very thorough focus on safeguarding and health and safety, which is a great benefit to all organisations,” Dancaster told The PIE News. “Also the added emphasis on relevant and structured continuing professional development in recent years allows the school to develop at a more holistic level.”

Apart from St Giles International and Bell, chain schools are not performing as well, but Butler believes it should be easier for chains to hit top marks in future: “It’s a lot easier to figure out what you have to change to get points, so more schools are getting more points.”

The full list of top 20 language schools under combined British Council rankings:

1. English in Chester; ELC Bristol; Wimbledon School of English*
4. BEET Language Centre*, Bournemouth*; D’Overbroeck’s College, Oxford; Lake School of English*;Oxford; Leeds Metropolitan University; London School of English; Language Specialists International (LSI) Portsmouth; St Edmunds College Ware*; Sussex Downs College; University of Edinburgh
13. Bell International Cambridge; Hilderstone College, Kent
15. Bell Young Learners; Ealing Hammersmith and West London College; South Leicestershire College; University of St Mark and St John, Plymouth
19. Excel English language School, London; Windermere International Summer School.

N.B. The centres listed in italics have been inspected under the new system which has a maximum of 15 points, though not all schools are inspected under all 15 categories. Those marked with an asterisk* achieved points in all the categories in which they are eligible under the new system. The other centres were inspected under the old system where perfect scores were not available – but no centre have ever scored more than the nine points awarded to English in Chester and ELC Bristol.

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