A correspondent, “The Sage of Barton”, reacting to the piece on Third Party Accreditation challenges me to supply a proposal. My answer is to ask what exactly is the problem to which a solution is sought. There are two classes of issue here – educational and legal - and while there may be, or appear to be, an element of overlap, they are in point of fact necessarily separate and distinct.
The recognition/accreditation scheme was set up as a voluntary scheme and exists to assess the quality of education and peripheral services offered by English language course providers. The inspectors are therefore drawn from the cadre of those with experience in English language education and EFL in Britain generally, and no doubt do a good job. If their brief was extended to include investigation into the possibilities of illegal immigration and so rigorous auditing of booking and attendance records, assessing the solvency of the organisation and the inspection of accounts, auditing actual accommodation booked for minors against CRO clearances, inspecting insurance policies and so on, it would not only change the tone and purpose of accreditation but it would also highlight the fact that the present structure, based on cooperation between the British Council and English UK, is quite inappropriate. Neither party is set up to assess such matters, neither can offer any degree of control, and inspector recruitment and training would have to start again under a new body. And the entire accreditation culture would change.
It’s not a proposal, but my recommendation would be that each should stick to his own. If schools and colleges feel that their market interests and professional development are served by accreditation then of course they should have that option, or indeed a range of options as they now do. If the government believes that language schools pose a particular problem that other types of international institution do not, and that the criminals who are said to use them would not have the wit to identify other ways of pursuing their trade if language schools were clamped down on, then they should identify an appropriate publicly funded inspectorate to monitor them. My own view is that it would be a complete waste of time and money, have no bearing on illegal immigration, solvency etc., and neither would it bring about any qualitative improvements in the industry, which would simply attract opprobrium. It would also mean more bureaucracy and more interference, and almost certainly an additional and significant cost burden for the schools. My proposal in sum: hands off.