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'Academias Fachadas' are degrading the TEFL industry in Spain

Por: | 12 de septiembre de 2014


There are few who would argue that la crisis hasn’t been the worst thing to hit Spain in the last decade, because it most definitely has. Yet out of the ashes of it all one industry has benefited immensely: TEFL.

Intensive exam courses that can equip young Spaniards with the means to escape their never-ending nightmare have become the cash cows of the trade. Such is the importance now placed on learning English that many reputable and certified academies are having to turn students away due to an insufficient preexisting level with which to tackle the strictly assessed B1 or B2 exams. It happens in the small academy where I teach in Granada on a near daily basis. 

The ‘B1’ (official intermediate-level qualification in English) and the B2 (official upper-intermediate qualification) are certified through several bodies, principally Cambridge Language Assesment and Trinity College London. The B1 tends to carry greater importance than the B2, since it is a mandatory requirement of numerous university courses, mainly those involving primary education.

Unfortunately, high demand has led to an inevitable popping up of shoddy language academies with little to no regard for the sort of integrity that is shown by legitimate competitors. That is to say, students who are more likely to solve the crisis itself than pass the B1 exam are being invited to try their luck, at a knockdown price.

Earlier this year, Andalucía’s official institution for foreign language teaching, ACEIA, announced that it would be taking action on the matter. Based on evidence that showed ACEIA integrated academies were being consistently undercut and the quality of teaching and pass rate in those culpable academies was much lower, ACEIA has presented an information campaign designed to offer consumers all the possible information and mechanisms needed to avoid such cases of blatant but often undetectable fraud. Borja Uruñuela, president of ACEIA, has labeled these centres ‘Academias Fachadas’– a rather fitting description.

There are numerous points suggested in the campaign, but some of the most key principles for consumers to consider are:

  • Whether there is a written and oral level test before a level is determined.
  • Whether the academy is fully licensed and its teachers are properly qualified and native or bilingual English speakers.
  • Whether the academy is insured and associated with a professional body with which consumers may take up issue in case they need to.
  •  Whether there are any hidden costs (textbooks, enrolment fee etc)
  • The existing percentage of students who have passed any official exams studied for at the academy.
  • The standard of resources available at the academy (digitalised classrooms etc).

Here in Granada, one or two academies fitting this ‘academia fachada’ profile had come to our attention, so we did what any self-respecting and industry-interested language school would do: we gave them a ring. Or rather, a Spanish friend of mine, posing as a prospective student, gave them a ring.

The objective was simple: grill whoever answered with a series of hard-hitting questions that addressed several of the key points outlined in ACEIA’s campaign. The first subject, which was offering clases superintensivos at €2.80 an hour, proved unreachable (lamentably), but the other, which, according to its flyer, offered a flat rate of €128 a month for ‘B1, B2 and C1’, yielded some telling results.

In short, a few of the principles did seem to be in place– a level test and native teachers, for instance –but most of our inquiries were met more imperviously than we would have liked. Questions about its teachers’ formal qualifications, pass rates and affiliation with any professional organisations repeatedly rebounded off a wall of ‘I don’t knows’ and ‘The director isn’t available at the moments’.

The €128 per month package (plus a €25 enrolment fee) apparently amounted to four 2-hour long classes per week, so, assuming there are 32 teaching hours in a month, that’s an hourly rate of €4.

Fully licensed, insured and ACEIA associated academies simply cannot afford to come down to that figure, and any unapprised, budget-conscious student will almost certainly plump for the more economical option.

There is, of course, another way of looking at it: some startups, whether legitimate or otherwise, often cannot afford to take the moral high ground, given that their loss will probably be a larger competitor’s gain, and often need to advertise lower fees in order to get a foot on the ladder. Nevertheless, students who are clearly well off the mark– 70% in the case of the B1 –still deserve to be told straight, rather than duped for weeks on end before failing abysmally and having their confidence shattered into a thousand pieces.

But what is the ultimate objective of the campaign? It’s not about closing these academies down– that is as impractical as it is idealistic –it’s about all academies competing on equal terms within the necessary legal framework and offering students honesty and every possible chance of success.

The integrity and guarantee of the absolute highest standards of Spain's TEFL industry depend on it.


Follow Josh Taylor on his personal blog and Twitter: @spain4pleasure

Hay 2 Comentarios

I work full time in a private company here in Spain and one of their requirements for a higher position is the fluency in writing and speaking English . A friend of mine advised me to do it online instead of taking a class from a private school which is expensive and my schedule could not fit in. When the vacancy for that position was available, I made it.

SOOOOOO true! I feel the industry needs some regulations, although I know this government well enough to know that if this is brought to their attention, the won't 'regulate' anything, they'll simply add another 20 hoops for us to jump through, and I have no doubt each 'hoop' will equal a few hundred euros missing from my wallet. Something does need to be done though. On a slightly unrelated note, but still quite important: any TEFL Teachers out there ever had to do a CRB or something similar to work with kids? It's like, the Spanish just think that Paedophilia doesn't exist in our countries? I have had 22 employers in Spain in my TEFL career, never has anyone done a background check! Hmmmm....

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