How do you know you are running a quality FL School?

There was never a time when different kinds of businesses, from retail outlets to schools, did not want to be associated with up market products and quality services. The word quality, which under normal circumstances would bestow great honour to any service provider, has come to be one of the most frequently used words. Additionally, since FLS accredit themselves (with the exception of the select few who actually do go through an accreditation process), it is becoming less and less likely for the word quality to manage to put across the message of real quality. At the same time, disappointed school owners often admit that they strive for quality but, since what sells is low lwith the flow and cut down costs instead of investing in their schools.

by MARIA-ARAXI SACHPAZIAN, BA edu RSA dip/TEFL


A variety of questions arise at this point. Can a quality school not be a successful school? In that case, can we still say that the school is a quality one or is it simply out of sync with its target clientele which will pay for its services? Do people who run schools which lack quality, realize that their schools are not really quality schools or are we all victims of the same puzzling human flaw, our inability to relate negative traits with ourselves and anything that is ‘ours’.


Superficial Indicators of quality


There are many ways to define quality and because of this there is little consensus on what actually constitutes it. I will present three popular quality standards and I will explain why I consider them as superficial indicators of quality.


Quality schools offer educational quality. Therefore, their learners are successful and the school can boast for its high pass rate. This is the message behind all those posters (or now social media posts) with the number of candidates who have passed exams. The issue with this indicator, though, is that it uses external criteria (those applied by each exam board to describe performance that merits a pass) and that it gives credit to the school for what the learners have done. In reality, we all know that we can only brag about some of our learners’ success. The rest would have passed no matter where they studied. There is also that other group who have passed only because we found an exam board that would give them a certificate with as low performance as theirs. These last ones are not success stories. They are stories of survival and they have nothing to do with quality. If we want to celebrate our schools’ quality in terms of exams, we should consider some alternative criteria, such as the extent of exam-readiness, the development of skills and the autonomy of the learners when they reached the exam year and their own attitude towards the exam. Finally, a definite criterion of success is how accurate the school was in predicting the performance of the learner and how it supported the learner and the family.


The second characteristic is infrastructure. It is believed that schools which are housed in spacious, comfortable premises and boast for their technological equipment are advanced and offer great quality. The reason why I have placed this in this group is that, as all educators know, the existence of the equipment means little, its usage is what indicates quality. Making full use of the premises and the school infrastructure means advanced and appropriate planning, adequate training of the staff and continuous maintenance of the equipment.


The third characteristic is what clients say about our school when we are not there to listen, which is a highly coveted form of praise. This honest, indirect review of our school can reveal a lot about why our clientele has chosen our FLS. It is also related with rebooking and the way the services of our school have been branded in the area where it is located, therefore it is the last of the superficial indicators and the one that leads us to some more depth.


You may wonder why I have not included registration in this list. The reason is that we are trying to examine quality, not success. If we want to include registration as an indicator of quality services we should focus on the percentage of parents who have decided that it is worth forking out a little bit more money for their children to be able to attend a school that offers such quality.


In-depth Quality indicators


The deeper quality criteria can be seen as clusters which are interconnected and the presence of one is usually the prerequisite for or the consequence of the presence of another.
To begin with, quality schools leave nothing to chance. They tend to be proactive, rather than reactive and since they need to satisfy the criterion of consistency, they have procedures in place in case something does not go according to plan. These are usually written and followed faithfully. Consistency, already mentioned above, is the second of this little group of criteria and it is the conscious effort of the school to provide the same high level of services across the grid at all times. Quality is not a kind of varnish or top layer that is applied at the minute before the service is sold and wears off after a period of usage. Finally, quality schools are well-aware of their strengths and their weaknesses because they are not afraid to research themselves. Therefore, they know how to position themselves in the market, what their market is and how to approach it.


Another cluster of deeper criteria is the quality of teaching staff the school attracts and the progress these professionals make during the time they work for that school. I would even attempt to say that the way the school affects and shapes the career choices these professionals make after they leave the school, is also a very revealing indicator. Quality schools know that unless teachers progress, schools stagnate. This is why they start by hiring professionals and take a keen interest in the well-being and growth of these people. They also have procedures which help the staff monitor their own progress and encourage them to continue growing. Measuring the schools’ success through the number of certificates students get, is the surface. Let us try to measure the schools’ success and efficacy by the extent of progress the staff makes and the reasons that make this growth so necessary and the picture will change completely.


Finally, quality schools tend to have far-reaching effects on their students’ lives. The reason behind this is that such schools aim to fire the passion for learning, tend to shape their learners’ learning, teach them to become independent learners of absolutely everything and go beyond teaching students how to pass the exam or even how to learn a particular language. This indicator is not easy to monitor or measure. In fact, it is the least quantifiable piece of data but still very valuable.


Conclusions


The way each one of us defines quality, determines the kind of ‘quality’ we end up offering. The main aim of this article was to explore this misconception often held in our field that certain schools offer such great quality that their immediate ‘audience’, their own geographical and demographic niche, cannot recognise or appreciate, therefore they end up making little profit. I beg to differ. Quality cannot be an excuse for dwindling numbers nor can it fail to be recognized. It is what we try to pass as quality that cannot fail to be recognized as such and rightly so. When schools do not invest or even care to invest or when schools keep applying the same, evidently flawed policies there is no quality. There is just survival and a lot of bad marketing that fails to mask despair. •

 

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Maria Sachpazian BA education / RSA dip/tefl (hons) is the Academic and Managing Director of Input on Education a company which provides academic, business support and consultancy to Foreign Language Schools. She is also an educational management specialist who has worked as a teacher trainer and materials’ developer. Maria works as an EFL teacher at the Straight Up Markoyannopoulou schools. She is the current Chairperson of TESOL Macedonia-Thrace, Northern Greece.
www.input.edu.gr | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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