Thoughts on schools

Thanks to all the great comments on my last post I’ve decided to air some questions I have about schools and the running there of. Thoughts and opinions on these, especially from managers, directors et al, are most welcome.

1)What is the best structure for a school?

Is it the traditional:              DOS


                                  Senior teachers


Or how about a flatter structure of:

                DOS             –               Teachers (each with special responsilities)

Then there’s the more middle management one of:



                                   Senior teachers

                                  Heads of courses

                      Heads of contract/freelance staff


2)Should we have more freedom for teachers to create their own courses or tighter syllabi?

3)Are annual appraisals enough, how about bi-annual ones? And what’s the purpose of them?

4)What degree of input should teachers have on how the school runs?

5)Does a school need DELTA/MA qual teachers? If courses are well-designed then are CELTA grads enough (they’re cheaper too).

6)How much and what form of TD is actually desired or has Twitter replaced in-houses TD already?

7)Should the DOS still teach or just do the management side?

8)Should a DOS be a teacher or would a business manager be better?

9)Would a secretary or admin assistant be more qualified and efficient to deal with timetabling and admin thus freeing the DOS/ADOS up for more teaching/school matters?

Any comments are most welcome.


4 thoughts on “Thoughts on schools

  1. Good questions, Phil!

    5) Schools need good teachers, regardless of formal qualifications. Where I work now, SGI London, all teachers need at least a CELTA or Trinity Cert., and some have a Diploma — Students’ feedback says the level of teaching is very high.
    Where I last worked in Sao Paulo, less than 15% of staff had “any” TEFL qualification, and the marks were pretty high too.

    6) Twitter is far from replace anything. We’re there and we like it, but we’re really a minority. PD should be varied and flexible in my opinion. A mix of INSETs, Action Research, Journal/Blogging, a good library, Portfolio, Conference, etc. Each teacher chooses what s/he prefers.

    7) When I was one, I was required to teach a lesson a day on average. The school directors wanted it because they wanted me to always keep up with the ups and downs of teaching and a grounded understanding of learners’ needs, difficulties, etc. Also, to have more authority when speaking to teachers.

    8) When I was a DoS, the biggest challenge was to ‘manage’. I think both are important. And I still think UK-led ELT career path when it comes to imposing qualifications in order to be a DOS is ridiculous! (for interesting arguments see: )

    • Hi Willy,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I like your comment about 6:

      A mix of INSETs, Action Research, Journal/Blogging, a good library, Portfolio, Conference, etc. Each teacher chooses what s/he prefers.

      Yes, I think the more diversity the better as PD is not a ‘one size fits all’ concept. I also like the ‘good library’ idea and having a culture of reading and keeping up with AND experimenting with book/journal/blog ideas. I don’t mean a school should jump on every new idea but having a healthy and supportive PD ethos seems natural.

      I think your boss was right about you teaching a class a day. I’ve seen a few bosses you have lost touch with what’s really going on and was why I was frequently called upon to give the ‘reality training’ which was seriously different to the official one. Simple things like what students were really like, how to use/not use the official books, how to economise on time, what marks we actually gave etc. The responses were usually “thank you so much, it’s so clear now”. I think the bosses gave clear training but from a viewpoint of a man/woman in an office who only read marks and feedback forms.

      I’ve never understood clearly what you need to be a DOS. I had a corporate one who didn’t need the DELTA but his GE equivalent did. Then some did ELT management diplomas. My real questions is CAN A TEACHER BECOME A MANAGER? Would an MBA qualified manager make a better DOS than an EFL teacher? I worked in 2 places with assistants/secretaries and they were very efficient and did all the timtables and admin very professionally. In comparison, I’d say (only from my experience) that ADOS/DOS’s are not as efficient but perhaps it’s because they have so many jobs to do. I also worked in one place where everything had been delegated down so the teachers had to do timetables and other admin duties. This mean very late nights and rushed prep.

      All this also leads us to question the priorities ie is ‘the business’ of the school placed ahead of educating students? Probably it is. But in government institutions educating students to the highest level it may not always be the goal either. Here I refer to the ‘failing culture’ I see where students fail courses and then have to resit in the school or outside. Of course, this means extra work for teachers. Whereas, in some places a course with low pass marks can reflect how hard and good it is. There are still many though that pride themselves on 100% pass rates but, as with some EFL exam prep courses, this may not reflect the amount of learning but how good students were before they started.

  2. Hi Phil,

    First, great blog and I also appreciate your thoughts in the BESIG newsletter, very helpful.

    Getting on to the business side of TEFL, I am going to look at this from a strictly Business English side because diffent target clients require different business strategies.

    For schools which focus on retaining corporate clients we need to get out of the ‘school’ mentality and see ourselves as consulting services. In fact, our models should be accountants, lawyers, management training companies, etc. A must read in this industry is Managing the Professional Services Firm by David Maister. It is a bit dated (mid 90s) but still very applicable.

    There are a few rules we need to realize.

    1. We need to better show/prove ROI. This means better quantitative and qualitative data both before and after the training. Furthermore, the sales contact with the client must be able to describe the service in business/financial terms and speak to their goals.

    2. Understand our product. The trainer (knowledge, experience, ability) is the product. The quality of that product should not be left to Twitter. Qualifications are a baseline for determining quality, but are no guarantee. Many talented trainers have no qualifications and some ineffective ones have several certificates.

    3. Understand our client. We need to sell to our client’s client. “Your customers will understand you better.” “Your customers will receive faster service with fewer misunderstandings.”

    4. The partnership business model allows for trainer career progression. Trainer career progression means we are able to retain and improve our best people and weed out those that do not fit the organizational goals. Unfortunately, the current employment agency business model offers little incentive. The existing titles you have mentioned can be integrated into this model, but entire strategies would have to change. Partnerships would also encourage business growth because more people are engaged in business development and hold a stake in performance.

    5. Course scheduling is one of the most crucial business functions within a professional services firm and should not be left to admin staff. To place a flexible and talented trainer in a course running ‘by the book’ is a waste of resources. Placing a trainer with no business experience in a one-to-one at the executive level is bad customer service. The scheduler must have a firm grasp of trainer abilities (the product) and the clients needs.

    This is just scratching the surface of where I would like to see the English training business go. Some businesses are doing an outstanding jobs. Others… not so much.

    Charles Rei

    • Hi Charles,

      You have some great points.

      I completeley agree with:

      In fact, our models should be accountants, lawyers, management training companies, etc

      I work for a small corporate training school and it is a business, not a school. even as a freelancer I find myself doing marketing, accounts and approaching my students as ‘clients’. It’s also a competitive world so I have to make sure they get what they want and leave them knowing I can help them get more. This is very different from working at a uni but a bit similar to some language schools.

      Yes, in an ideal world I would just help students progress and get the highest grades/learning possible but most of the time there are other factors at play.

      For all these reasons I do think it is helpful having bosses with business knowledge but also someone with EFL knowledge too, it’s probably hard to have both.

      All the business topics you mentioned are all vital for teaching BE too. When I taught foundation, pre-MBA and MA BE I taught content classes in those topics so now when I teach corporate students I can ‘talk the talk’ so to speak. This elevates my classes beyond just ‘English’ which other competitors can do.

      The tough question is though ‘are many schools just interested in the money and not the actual students?’.The student should be at the centre and we should mould the course around them as people. I’ve seen many big places that have big folders or long syllabi and just say “here are all the LP’s, materials and T notes, just do those”. Hmm. That’s not good business. Yes, it may be easy to manage and allow you to hire cheaper/less qualified staff but some leverage is needed I think. Saying that though, I once had a student who just wanted to talk about Monty Python which isn’t what his NA/DT said.


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