Short on time? Here are the highlights:
- Leading ELT quality assurance bodies in Australia, Canada, the US, the UK, New Zealand, and Malta have banded together to form QALEN
- The new organisation provides a forum for sharing information and best practices on quality assurance in English language teaching
A new global association of quality assurance agencies for the language teaching sector has formed this year. The Quality Assurance in Language Education Network (QALEN) brings together quality assurers operating across six countries: Australia, Canada, the US, the UK, New Zealand, and Malta. These countries together draw a vast share of the global market for English-language teaching (ELT) – recently estimated at just over US$11.7 billion.
Through QALEN, affiliated quality assurance agencies share best practices and determine effective ways of assessing and encouraging quality standards in ELT centres across the globe.
QALEN operates on the basis of three pillars:
- Members: Signatories are representative of their sovereign jurisdiction in the promotion of quality assurance and accreditation for the English-language teaching sector;
- Communication: QALEN functions as a forum for collaboration, information sharing, and best practice in the accreditation and quality assurance of English-language teaching institutions;
- Support: Signatories agree to support each other and the QALEN concept in their discussions with all stakeholders including governments, schools, and students.
Current members include NEAS (Australia), Languages Canada, FELTOM (Malta), English New Zealand, ABLS Accreditation and Accreditation UK (United Kingdom), and ACCET (US).
Why a global network?
All of the members of QALEN are recognised in their own countries for their work in improving standards and quality assurance across the ELT sector. QALEN developed out of an understanding that the context of the sector is global. The higher the quality and rigour of schools across the main destinations for English-language teaching, the more attractive the option of travelling to learn English becomes for students. Students stand to have a better, more predictable, experience of learning English in another country when schools operate according to best practices in place around the globe.
“Defining quality in [English language teaching] can be challenging. We’ve all got an answer, but who’s right?” says NEAS Chief Executive Officer Mark Raven. “The thing is that we’ve all learned some things about what works and what are effective measures for quality assurance, and a good QA process should reflect those best practices.”
Canada provides one early example of how the knowledge sharing enabled by QALEN supports better quality assurance in individual countries. On the basis of discussions at the last QALEN symposium held in Malta, Languages Canada decided to adopt a new spot-check mechanism it had been considering for Languages Canada-accredited schools. It did so after seeing that spot checks (in which accredited schools are subject to unannounced visits to make sure they are conforming to standards) are a common mechanism among other member agencies, and it did so after listening to other QALEN members share their best practices for and lessons learned in developing spot check procedures.
Mr Raven points out that the significance of this sharing and collaboration is two-fold. First, it gives a quality assurance agency, Languages Canada in the example above, the confidence to proceed with a new process or policy that they can see has been successfully and widely adopted in other countries. But it also means that member agencies can benefit from all of the lessons learned, and best practices arising, across the entire QALEN network with respect to a given quality issue.
“I like the word validation,” adds FELTOM Chief Executive Genevieve Abela. “If Languages Canada is looking at [a particular quality issue] that we’ve already looked at, or vice versa, that’s validating that we are on the right track.”
Membership in QALEN is exclusive to only the foremost accrediting and quality assurance agencies in various countries. This separates QALEN members from less rigourous agencies, providing a clearer understanding among ELT schools about what must be done to obtain the most prestigious accreditation. Mr Raven notes:
“What membership in QALEN really means is that the quality assurance agency is legitimate and open to scrutiny. It’s a way of putting a line under those agencies that are members and thereby differentiating them from other accrediting bodies around the world.”
He points out as well that the result for ELT providers accredited by QALEN affiliates is a quality assurance process that has been mapped against best practices from around the world. “QALEN is also about creating a more transparent quality assurance process in which providers can have a high degree of confidence.”
Expansion on the horizon
QALEN expects that membership will expand over time to include 10 or more accreditation bodies in total. South Africa is poised to become the newest QALEN member, and industry body Education South Africa (EduSA) is in talks with the South African government toward this goal.
Meanwhile, Languages Canada represents the first bilingual (English/French) body in the QALEN group, opening the door to the possibility that the network may eventually grow to include non-English language accreditation bodies in its mandate.