The PIE News: What is NEAS and what does it do?
Patrick Pheasant: NEAS is a quality assurance specialist and that’s our core business. We were created as the National ELT Accreditation Scheme, and we developed a series of frameworks to determine the quality of English language schools in Australia.
“Providers can see themselves benchmarked against other centres similar to themselves or benchmarked against other sectors”
We were started by English Australia as a separate accreditation body that looked at supporting schools through the accreditation and the application process for registration as an English language teaching provider in Australia. About nine years ago, the Australian government decided to change the accreditation process for English language teaching and absorb the accreditation into the newly formed ASQA and TEQSA.
The PIE: How did NEAS change when that occurred?
PP: At that point, NEAS, as an accreditation body, had to reinvent itself and the organisation changed its process and introduced stakeholder-driven feedback into the quality assurance.
That was the first time that students, teachers, and managers had been interviewed as part of the process for endorsement and the emphasis was moved away from minimum thresholds in determining minimum levels of quality required into more ‘aspirational’ quality. The standards were reworked and the whole system was redesigned to provide something that schools could aspire to rather than the minimum thresholds standards, which was the responsibility of the regulators.
We do professional development, support the providers in developing across the eight different areas we have in the NEAS Quality Assurance Framework. That professional development is in the form of the annual conference and our quality learning series, which is a series of face-to-face workshops we run across the country and also internationally in the ASEAN region.
The PIE: Why does NEAS continue to be recognized despite not being a regulator?
PP: From the provider perspective, having an annual touch point with an independent specialist is really important. With the regulators, sometimes it can be five years of seven years before there’s a chance to have a review and have an in-depth review process. NEAS does that every year, and every two years there’s a full-site visit.
“NEAS needed to reinvent itself and the organisation changed its process and introduced a stakeholder-driven feedback”
Part of quality, quality review, professional development and continuous development is that constant contact and that allows NEAS to look at different focus points every time we visit. We have a two-year cycle we operate in, so every two years we look at something new. It’s been welfare for under-18s and more recently it’s been strategy, risk and governance. These are areas that have cropped up because we’ve issues ourselves, or form the rectifications that we look at and the quality issues that we’ve identified in our centres. But also those new areas are from responses upon request from our providers or stakeholders in the industry.
The PIE: How are those reports used?
The reports we generate and the documentation that we provide can be used internally for change management or for lobbying for more funds. I used NEAS reports in that way in my role at the University of Sydney; they were good pieces of information that would inform proposals for change or proposals for trying to gain internal resources.
Often, it’s hard for a director or senior management to move their team through change. Having an independent specialist can really shine a light on things that they can’t do themselves. Those centres that really see value in that as a quality process stick with us and have stuck with us over the years.
The PIE: In what ways is NEAS changing over time?
We are providing online training for regional centres and giving people the chance to do the professional development online. We are also offering benchmarking: allowing centres to see themselves benchmarked against other centres similar to themselves or benchmarked against other sectors.
That’s not provided by the regulators, where you rank or where you rate against your competitors. That’s something we’ve been doing for four years or so, and that’s another value as part of the reporting.
The PIE: What work is NEAS doing outside Australia?
PP: There’s an expansion happening as part of the NEAS 2020 strategy. Part of this is into markets outside of ELT, so inside Australia providing quality assurance to the VET sector, to online providers.
“I think the [ASEAN] pedagogy is following a similar path as to the way Australian ELT pedagogy has developed
Then we have an expansion… providing our quality assurance to schools in the ASEAN region. That’s come out of a number of different initiatives. NEAS is the only quality assurance independent specialist in the region. We’re in a similar same time zone and we have that geographical jurisdiction in the Quality Assurance in Language Education Network, so that’s one reason we’ve looked at supporting English language schools in the region.
Another reason is that many of our providers are already doing business or have articulations with those providers. They want to be assured of the quality of the providers. Often schools come to us wanting to have the same quality assurance as an Australian provider because they intend to or are currently doing business with an Australian provider.
It initially started for us from a needs basis. But recently we’ve seen value in being a little bit more strategic about that and looking for good quality providers in the region that would consider the NEAS Quality Endorsement.
The PIE: Outside of being in a similar time zone, why do you think the ASEAN region is looking towards Australia for their ELT sector?
PP: From our experience, there’s a lot of conversation and dialogue among the ASEAN countries on use of English, training of English, and the required teacher qualifications in order to teach English.
I think the pedagogy is following a similar path as to the way Australian ELT pedagogy has developed: an initial focus on general English moving into academic English and then going even further, specialising into English for specific purposes, learning critical thinking in English and learning discipline-related genres in English. Australia is further ahead in English language teaching for higher education and it’s reinventing itself constantly as the ASEAN countries are catching up to offer English in their own countries.
The PIE: How do you see NEAS and Australian ELT progressing over the next few years?
PP: Everything goes in cycles. Having gone through a couple of cycles myself, there’s an upturn and a downturn. I think that cycle happened as various factors changed.
I think we will experience another downturn in volume, but there’s growth within Australia and also the ASEAN region for English language teaching.
The pedagogy will mature as we become more focused on discipline-related English language teaching, genre-based, and more focussed on the exit area for our universities, rather than the university pathways area. We have a very short cycle with our quality assurance and we’re certainly in a position to address areas of growth with quality frameworks and adapt what we know with our existing frameworks into new areas.
What we’re doing with the online space is an example of that. We didn’t reinvent [our frameworks] for online quality assurance of ELT. We used our existing frameworks and adapted them as necessary. We’re able to do that as new forms of teaching surface. We’re in a good position to engage with the industry, sector, and our members and develop modern standards.