Monday, November 30, 2009

Here Come the Cavalry - UK Borders!

Well, I guess this should be the final posting in the 'November is Accreditation Month' series of articles, in which I have attempted to reveal just how the British Council and English UK conspire together, through their skewed and corrupt 'accreditation systems', to undermine the status and living-standards of Britain's EFL teachers.

Fortunately this posting will attempt to offer a glimmer of hope, in the form of the Home Office's UK Border Agency. Yes, these boys from the Immigration Corp might just be the cavalry, lining up on the crest of the hill, and ready to swoop down on the notorious EFL employers, of which there are more than just a handful in the UK.

But let's recap first, and remind ourselves of a little context. When I asked both BC and English UK what I should do if I believed that I, working as an EFL teacher in one of their accredited schools, was being deceived and ripped off regarding working hours and payments, etc, their response was essentiually dismissive. Put simply, despite being the two main agencies of 'accreditation' in the UK, they were not interested in knowing about cases in which the very schools and institutions that they were accrediting were breaking the law.

Shall I write that again? No, I'll let them do it for you - for I have the very quotations here...

British Council: "Where there are serious concerns regarding legal and statutory requirements, the appropriate authorities or government bodies should be contacted". (Fiona Pape)

English UK: "In cases where an employee is concerned that his employer is not meeting its legal obligations we would recommend firstly, discussing any grievances with the employer and secondly, if the complaint is not resolved satisfactorily, approaching the relevant legislative body for assistance." (Mark Rendell)

In short, Fuck Off and sort it out yourself - we ain't ever gonna help you!!

[No time to finish now - summat's just come up. I'll continue tomorrow]

Friday, November 27, 2009

BC Explain the Party Line

Regarding that letter from the allegedly angry Tefler, I put the same points to Fiona Pape (looks quite horny from the piccy alongside), of the British Council's Accreditation Unit. From the reply below, it would appear that Ms Pape is rather fond of merely explaining the process again and delivering bland officialese - which makes her a prime candidate for BC management, I s'pose. I have placed my comments at the end of Fiona's piece - which could be a very nice place to be!


The BC accreditation unit manages the Accreditation UK, quality assurance, scheme for ELT providers in the UK and we do this in partnership with the UK ’s ELT professional association, English UK ( We are now an approved accrediting body on the BIA list.

For future, I’d be grateful if you could please direct any enquiries relating to accreditation and or the UK ELT sector to Elizabeth McLaren, Assistant Manager of Accreditation Services (, and Tony Jones, the new Manager of English Language Quality Services from 3 September ( I am of course also happy to respond to any further emails on this thread.

Further to our earlier exchange (and I attach our earlier exchange of emails for my colleagues info), let me respond to address the issue of inspections which you raised, copied here below:

"If, as you state, you 'therefore expect all providers accredited under the Scheme to be aware of and comply with all existing and new requirements', how do you verify that they are indeed doing so?

I ask because, at a recent BC visit to the school where I work, little if any attention was directed towards eliciting the views and opinions of the teaching staff, which struck us all as a bizarre state of affairs. In short, we were all rather disappointed that, instead of feeling that 'our moment had come', it came and went without our noticing!"

Regarding inspections generally, our inspectors look for evidence during the inspection from several sources. We call it a triangulation of evidence which includes:

1) observation of the provision in action: inspectors observe classes but also admin and student welfare systems,

2) interviews - inspectors interview admin and management staff and organise focus groups with both teachers and students

3) documentation - inspectors look at a very wide range of documents both before and during the inspection.

These are all listed in a separate section of the handbook, split into different stages, and are cross-referenced as well with the criteria so that you can see where inspectors look for evidence.

In this way, inspectors are able to cross-check evidence to corroborate findings or highlight weaknesses and to arrive at an impartial and objective judgement of the provision. This ensures a robust system which will hold up under appeal. The voice of the teacher is very important but clearly cannot be the only source of evidence.

Our inspectors are all very experienced senior ELT professionals and most have been inspectors for many years. They aim to be unobtrusive. Please be assured that they are very good at what they do.

As I’ve said in previous email, all providers are expected to comply with all legal and statutory requirements in the UK . They submit an annual declaration each year to the accreditation unit where they confirm their compliance. During inspections providers must demonstrate that they comply with legal and statutory requirements under the criterion M1. This criterion is explained in much greater detail in our handbook which you are able to download free from the accreditation website The criterion covers a lot of ground and inspectors spot check for evidence for this criterion.

Please note that the Accreditation UK scheme is a voluntary scheme for UK providers and, while the governance bodies of the scheme can withdraw accreditation, we have no authority to force providers to comply. Where there are serious concerns regarding legal and statutory requirements, the appropriate authorities or government bodies should be contacted. The section on M1 lists many websites for relevant authorities including those which are employment related. They may provide a useful resource for you regarding your questions to the EL Gazette.

I hope this helps answer your questions. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch again in future.

All the best,

Fiona Pape

Regional English Manager for Near East and North Africa
British Council +212 (0)37 08 36


Well, what can we say about Ms Pape's measured response? Firstly I must say that I find her patronising tone rather offensive - "Please be assured that they are very good at what they do." In other words, please shut up and go away, as you don't know what you're whinging about. And to think that some people think that I'm offensive!? WTF!!

As a teacher I also find her statement that "The voice of the teacher is very important but clearly cannot be the only source of evidence" equally patronising - even misleading. The point made in the original letter was that teachers' views, and the matter of their salaries and working conditions, are entirely ignored - a matter that she also chose to completely ignore!

The other dodgy point is that the BC accreditation scheme is seen to be 'self-policing' when it comes to compliance with the law, as the accredited schools merely need to "submit an annual declaration each year to the accreditation unit where they confirm their compliance [with existing legislation]." That's hardly reassuring, is it? I mean, what if they relied on the teachers merely submitting a declaration that they did indeed possess the qualifications they claimed? Would that be seen as a satisfactory situation by the schools - and BC?

Even worse, I notice that the buck is passed once again when it's a matter of suspected malpractice by an employer - "Where there are serious concerns regarding legal and statutory requirements, the appropriate authorities or government bodies should be contacted". So, it's another case of 'don't bother us, we don't want to know, we're probably too busy'. It really gives the message that BC care very little when it comes to ensuring that legal requirements are adhered to. In other words, as long as they get the accreditation fee, the legal niceties of accreditation can go hang.

More importantly, a colleague of Sandy McManus has rightly pointed out that if the same questions were put to the UK Borders Agency (regarding their approved Tier 4 sponsors' compliance with employment law), their response would be quite different and much more robust.

And that's a point I'll be turning to next.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

EL Gazette - they DO know the law!

OK, I know that the EL Gazette play no part in the accreditation of EFL schools in the UK, but, in contrast to the British Council and English UK, they do know the law relating to the employment of teachers and the recognition of their rights. See here below the extremely comprehensive letter they sent in response to a query from a certain reader known as 'James Kilkenny' (ahem!), and contrast it with the response sent to the same letter by the craven bastards at English UK (previous posting).


In brief, what we have to distinguish is between the working hour and the teaching hour. It is perfectly legal, in most of the EU including the UK, to pay only for teaching hours and require to teachers to do other working hours, and this happens in both the state and private sectors. There are two things to remember, however.

a) Since September 2006 it has been illegal to include an amount for holiday pay in ANY hourly wage. This applies everywhere in the EU. The amount for holiday pay must be paid separately usually when you go on holiday. In the UK this works out at approximately 8 per cent of whatever you have earned so far this tax year.

b) Teaching hours are not the basis for calculating the working week or ensuring that the total remuneration meets minimum wage legislation - ALL working hours must be included for that. Non teaching hours don’t have to be paid separately but they do count towards minimum wage.

What is a working hour? Put simply, it is any hour when you are at your employers disposal. It specifically includes any meetings or training sessions. Any socialising you have to do for your employer – like your evening stints. Also any travelling time you have to undertake for your employer – except the normal journey to and from work. Any break of less than 20 minutes – like the break between classes – are also included. A break of twenty minutes or more, when you have time to nip out for a quick coffee and a fag, would be calculated as a rest period, which does not count as working time in the UK, though it does in some other EU countries. Unless you are required to do preparation and marking at your employer's premises, this does not necessarily count as a working hour, but does need to be paid at at least minimum wage– I will explain that a little later on.

If a working hour doesn’t have to be paid, why is it important?

First, all the working hours you do added together must not exceed 48 on average. Preparation and marking done at home are not included in this. Everywhere in the EU except the UK it is illegal to make anybody work more than 48 hours a week. In the UK, employers can ask employees to sign a waiver; however, it is illegal to put any employee under pressure to do so.

Secondly, all the working hours count towards minimum wage, as does preparation and marking time, even if done at home (see below) Take the total amount of money you get for teaching hours, divide it by your total number of working hours plus preparation time and if it is under the hourly rate for minimum wage, then your employer is breaking the law.

Preparation and marking time. Prep and marking, which is normally included in the teaching hour payment, should be a contractual obligation, specifically mentioned in your contract. If it isn’t, you are perfectly within your rights not to do it. If it is, the expected amount of time should be specified – but all too often schools do not include this. If there is nothing in the contract, the trick is to look at the norm for the job, which means looking at the state sector. In most of the EU, the state sector contracts specify 20 minutes for preparation and marking, for every hour taught (yes I know that is not necessarily enough, but that’s the way it is). So unless your contract specifies otherwise use 20 minutes preparation for every hour taught as the standard for calculation. So, every teaching hour is in fact an hour (or 50 minutes plus 10 minutes break which has to be paid anyway) plus 20 minutes preparation time (80 minutes). Method schools such as Berlitz or Callan, may get away with not taking this into account for wages, if they specify in their contract that they do not expect any preparation or marking, but every other school will basically have to take it into account.

Let’s look at an example. As of October 1 2007 the UK minimum wage has been £5.52. Let’s take a teacher doing a 50 minute teaching hour with a ten minute break between classes. They have to be paid minimum wage for the entire hour + a third for the 20 minutes preparation time. The minimum wage they can legally be paid for their teaching hours is thus £7.36. It is thus perfectly legal for a school to pay a teacher say £7.50 a teaching hour, as some of the non-accredited schools do. However they aren’t entitled to anything more from the teacher than to turn up and teach - – £7.50 is 2.5 per cent above minimum wage – which means they can only require a teacher to do another one and half minutes work for every hour they teach before they are breaking the minimum wage act!

Finally what to do if you think your employer is breaking the law. Even if you think they are doing this by mistake, and many of them are, join a Union BEFORE you raise the subject with them. If the whole thing turns nasty and you end up losing your job, the Union won’t protect you if you weren’t a member before the dispute broke out.

To be honest, my advice to every teacher working in the private sector, is to join a Union – the UCU is the best one in the UK. This is not because I think most employers are mean, horrid and out to get the teacher – many year round language schools in the UK are barely breaking even. It is just because ever since the British Council accreditation scheme stopped even looking at terms and conditions as part of accreditation, a Union is the only possible protection a teacher has. There are a small number of unscrupulous employers who basically work on the principle that they know they are breaking the law, but they also know the teachers haven’t got the money to sue them. Sad but true.

Please let me know if there is anything you don’t understand. I’ve spent so long studying this now that what seems obvious to me can seem impenetrable to anyone else.


So, there you have it, and from a reliable and concerned source. If you feel that your employer is turning you over, join a union such as the UCU first, as you can't expect either the British Council of English UK to waste their breath on a mere Tefler such as you.

Next up is the British Council's response to the same letter. But don't hold your breath, eh?!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Who's Screwing You at English UK?!

A couple of years ago I sent a letter to the EL Gazette, claiming to be a miffed EFL Teacher who had a grievance with his employer. The apparent gripe centred around the old chestnut of 'unpaid work' that EFL teachers are expected to put in at even the best of schools (there are some of those in the UK, aren't there?).

I've no intention of boring you to death with the whole letter, but the main idea centred around a common practice at many shifty private EFL schools, i.e., paying their staff an hourly rate for teaching, then adding other non-teaching tasks and refusing to pay for them, claiming that the remuneration is included in the hourly teaching rate. The key paragraphs were these:

" contract states that I am obliged to work one evening a month to either supervise students or provide entertainment for them, on or off the school premises. No extra payment is given for this, the argument being that my hourly rate covers the extra three hours per month I am expected to give to my employer."

"However, in your article you state that under existing employment laws, 'every hour worked has to be paid'. So, is my employer breaking the law by insisting that my extra three hours a month are 'already paid'?"

"On a related note, you also state in the article that, according to the law, any hour .spent at the employer's disposal' is to be paid for. In that case, what about all the preparation, marking, and test creating that I do at home? The old argument usually repeats the mantra about the hourly rate covering all the time spent preparing classes and marking the students' work, etcetera; but again, this would appear to be illegal, according to UK employment law."

The reply that I received from the EL Gazette was exemplary and detailed - and I'll post it on this blog later this month. However, when I sent the letter to English UK for comment, pointing out that it appeared to indicate illegal practices at one of their member schools, the reply could not have been more different. In fact, a certain lickspittle by the name of Mark Rendell (see picture above) could only just about manage, after a month or so, to find some time to dismiss the whole idea. His exact and condescending words were these...

Dear James,

Thank you for your email and comments regarding the recent article in the EL Gazette. I do apologize for not getting back to you earlier; I was away on vacation and last week we had our annual StudyWorld event. It is a requirement of accreditation and in turn membership of English UK that members comply with all relevant legal and regulatory legislation. In cases where an employee is concerned that his employer is not meeting its legal obligations we would recommend firstly, discussing any grievances with the employer and secondly, if the complaint is not resolved satisfactorily, approaching the relevant legislative body for assistance.

Kind regards,

Mark Rendell
Deputy Chief Executive
English UK

Well, that was extremely helpful of Mr Rendell, don't you think?! In other words, if you have a problem with your employer, if you think he's screwing you over AND breaking the law, don't bother us at all - 'cos we don't care! Incredible as it may seem, English UK is happy to admit to having no interest in knowing when their own member-schools are deliberately disregarding the law! That obviously says a lot about their bad attitude towards EFL teachers in the UK.

Which is to be expected, I suppose. After all, the toady Mark Rendell has had a glorious career at none other than EF, that well-known Woolworths of the Whiteboard World. But, even more appropriately, English UK is, according to its own website:

English UK - the world's leading language teaching association.

Now, don't you find it just a little strange that 'the world's leading language association' doesn't give a toss about the teachers that work in the UK Tefl industry? Or am I being a shade too naive - cynical even?

In fact, what they really care about, of course, is making more and more money for their members - the language school owners. From their website, again, it states the following:

English UK has five main aims:
  • Quality assurance, especially through the Accreditation UK Scheme, which we run in partnership with the British Council.
  • Professional development, consultancy and research.
  • Representation and lobbying both in the UK and internationally.
  • Marketing and promotion, especially in new and developing markets.
  • Business services and business development.
Our main roles are to promote quality and to represent our members´ interests.

Not a word about looking after the teachers, though, eh? You might have thought, foolish Tefler, that 'quality assurance' had some correlation with EFL teachers' terms and conditions - but English UK have other ideas. Of course, there is no parallel between the interests of the members of English UK and the EFL teachers they employ - none at all, is there! That's probably why they employ former EF tossers to do their grubby little work for them.

So, three cheers for English UK!!

UPDATE: Only now, two weeks later, do I remember sending Mark Rendell this reply. Needless to say, he didn't respond!

Dear Mark,
Thanks very much for your reply. Am I to assume that, by your own admission, English UK is not interested in knowing if its own member-schools are flouting the law? Quite frankly, I am astounded by this admission, which clearly says volumes about your attitude towards EFL teachers.
Perhaps you would like to elaborate upon your statement?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The British Council Inspectorate - Exposed!!

Fancy getting yourself a nice cushy job as a British Council Inspector? Well, if so, read on. You'll find the selection process probably isn't as tough as you might have thought - in fact you may even be over-qualified! This little document here - the BC Inspector Job Description - should tell you all you need to know about accepting the BC shilling.

For example, to join the noble ranks of the BC Inspectorate, you need little more than a degree (or a similar qualification) and at least a diploma in ELT/TESOL. Which is hardly asking the Earth, is it? Many of the teachers that they'll be ignoring during the inspection will probably be better-qualified than them, so it's probably not wise to publicise this too widely, eh?

But even then, if you only have that well-pawed CELTA from IH in 1979, you still might be able to make the grade, as “If an applicant meets the selection criteria in other respects, they may submit a rationale for the consideration of their application in the absence of the stated formal qualifications.” In other words, I guess they're rather 'flexible' here, i.e., willing to take on any Tom, Dick or Harriet, as long as they have the nerve to steadfastly ignore EFL's most valuable resource - its teachers

In fact, dear EFL teacher, if you read the entire Terms and Conditions of Service - Accreditation UK Inspector document, you'll probably be a little surprised to learn that the words 'teacher' and teaching' are mentioned ONLY ONCE each. In the first case, it mentions that you may apply if you have experience of “teacher/trainer training”, and in the second it states that you should have “At least 10 years ELT experience including teaching”.

However, one of the qualities on the 'desirable' list could be key, I feel – 'the ability to deliver difficult messages effectively and professionally' Yes, that could be very useful when it comes to telling teachers that their terms and conditions are universally ignored by the BC, as they are not considered worthy of consideration. Let me write that again - EFL Teachers' salaries and terms and conditions of employment at the schools the Inspectors visit warrant no mention at all. Did you get that?

Anyway, talking of remuneration, just how well paid ARE the BC's Inspectors? By all appearances they are hardly underpaid, unlike the unfortunate little Teflers whose schools they will be evaluating. For example, the standard day rate for an Inspector comes in at £230.00 per day, and if, God forbid, the overburdened inspector finds himself working late, he can claim another £26.80 for a late dinner. Those lunchtime sandwiches can be expensive, too, at £7.25 each – smoked salmon, I suppose?

Travel and accommodation costs are also reimbursed, with a London hotel notching up £90.00 in claimables, and mileage is paid at 40 pence per mile. No fees were mentioned for a night-time companion, although you might try to find a Chinese take-away at the local pole-dancing establishment and claim her for your late dinner.

It actually gets better, though. Should our overworked BC inspector have to make a presentation of his findings, he can claim another £160.00 for his efforts, whereas the onerous task of actually writing up the report releases a further £230.00 into the poor soul's bank account. Tough, eh? That's more than a week's wages for most EFL teachers.

But the gravy train doesn't reach the terminus there - oh no! There are also such cash-generating items as Training Days, which earn our impoverished Inspector another £100.00 for the annual Inspector Conference, and the annual Autumn Training Day Event, which collars him a further £50.00 per day. Contrast all that with the training days for IELTS examiners – teachers who actually earn their money – which are always UNPAID and usually COMPULSORY!

Of course, we EFL teachers would not begrudge the BC inspectors the occasional bringing together of snout and trough, would we - if they were actually looking out for our welfare. Yet the sad truth is that the British Council (and even more so English UK) couldn't give a toss for the teachers, which is why they pay no attention at all to their salary, terms, and conditions.

I'm sure I'm not the only EFL teacher who finds that disgustingly arrogant, immoral, and conceited. It's really about time this changed, and the push for a new approach needs to begin now. I'm not asking for a revolution, for a wall to collapse, but I am looking for a spot of reform - i.e., recognition to be made of the need for EFL Teachers' salaries and their terms and conditions of employment to be brought into the scheme and given due consideration.

I'll be bringing you more news of this 'movement' at a later date. Meanwhile, I'll be contacting BC and English UK to ask them how they feel about all this. I look forward to receiving their replies - as I'm sure you do, too! I'm sure they'll be completely open about their position here - as revealed by the picture alongside, which exposes one of the cunning disguises that BC Inspectors resort to in order to avoid the accusatory gaze of the EFL teachers they so willingly ignore! Shame on them all!!

BTW, more info about the BC's Accreditation Scheme and the criteria for its Inspectors can be found via the links below.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Yes, yes, YES!! This month I shall be bringing you a whole range of exciting information about the UK's EFL school accreditation process, kindly presided over by the British Council and English UK. As you probably know, these two organisations represent the greedy bastards known as employers, and really enjoy their task of shafting EFL's most important resource - the humble EFL teacher. Oh, and there's also a poll on the right (or rather, there will be when I get round to it), so you can make your own opinion known - interactive or what, eh?!

First off though is a recent submission from Agent D, currently doing battle with the Tefl bastards in London. This below is what he had to say the other day about his attempts to understand Britain's whacky Tefl Trade...

I am finding it hard to take this Tefl thing seriously at present. It seems that organisations expect teachers to be highly conscientious, always open to self improvement, and prepared to read up on or attend the gut-wrenchingly dull methodology seminars/literature (often apparently created by people on the autistic spectrum), while most companies /schools for are just in it for cash - and the British Council has no intention of including teachers' conditions in its protracted accreditation process.

I put this last point to a woman on the English UK stall at the language show today. She said she had no reply to my question. It was worth going to though, for the free pencils and high contingency of young females present.

Fair point, Agent D. I'm glad to see that your priorities were spot on too - I guess the young lady at the English UK looked a bit of a go-er, eh? And let's face it - wouldn't a good shag be a fuck sight better than a job in EFL right now!?!

Anyway, before I get a little too carried away with matters that are really not at all connected to Tefl, let me open Accreditation Month on the Tefl Tradesman with a posting of mine from a couple of years or so back. I mean, if I can't pillage my own back catalogue of rantings, what's the bloody point of hanging on to all this stuff?


English UK - They Don't Care, You Don't Matter

Or should that be ‘you don’t care, they don’t matter’? We’ll come back to that later, anyway, if I can remember to.

Actually, I’m presuming you’ve all heard of English UK, the Cosa Nostra of the British EFL scene? They ensure that EFL teachers get low wages and minimal job security through being an employers’ cartel, basically, although they themselves wouldn’t put things quite so bluntly.

Quite how they do put things is evident in this month’s issue of the EL Gazette, where they have responded at length to a reasonable enough request from a disgruntled Tefler (just how many of those are there in the UK, I wonder?). The teacher asked English UK just what they were prepared to do to resolve the parlous situation that British EFL teachers find themselves in regarding pay, conditions, low morale, etc. He ends his letter with the entirely practical question ‘are you part of the solution or part of the problem?’, which I seem to recall from the 1960s as a radical yippie slogan.

Of course, he could have saved himself the wasted ink and the stamp, not to mention the effort of writing in the first place. The replies, from Sue Bromby and Michael Wills, the two joint chairs of English UK, were Mandelson-like in their blandness and refusal to be committal in any way. In essence, they ain’t gonna do nuthin’, but the manner in which they put this across is a real triumph of marketing-speak.

Mr Wills makes the cringe-inducing statement that ”the guarantee of quality (presumably the British Council kitemark) costs the industry a lot”. That may be so, but who ends up paying for it? And what sort of guarantee is BC accreditation, anyway? In my experience, most schools just pay lip-service to the BC, especially when it’s inspection time. Otherwise, it’s back to normal – charge as much as you can, and offer the minimum, thus fleecing both the customers and the teachers.

What’s worse, he offers this glimpse of Teflerian logic: “the UK is probably the most expensive EFL destination in the world” – which is why the pay’s crap, apparently. So, should we all shoot off to third-world countries to get a better salary? Yes, Mr Wills, Britain is an expensive place to live in; that’s precisely why the teachers need a proper salary!

Sue Bromby offers a bit more window-dressing, but makes the outstandingly disingenuous comment that more trade unions in the private EFL sector would help to resolve things. Yes, Sue – have you ever tried to get unions recognized at a private EFL outfit? The boss would just laugh, very loudly, right in your face, and then show you the door.

Amazingly, she also states that what English UK can do to push things along a bit is “to continue to promote the accredited British ELT sector as the best in the world”. Pure marketing bollocks, in other words – more spit’n’polish, more glossy brochures, but nothing of any real substance.

Like I said, they don’t care – and neither do you, probably. It’s just a job, after all. Only the likes of Michael Wills, Sue Bromby, and other similar-minded snake-oil salesmen can look forward to making a well-paid career out of it. And they’re well away from the classroom now, aren’t they?

First published: 11 February 2006

PS: The suggestion that the 'letter' from that 'disgruntled Tefler' was in fact an e-mail from no less a person than a certain Sandy McManus himself is entirely without foundation - just like SM's teaching style!