“In France your qualifications and experience are worthless”

A French university head of department said this to me last year in an interview. This was in reference to CELTA, MA etc. And surprisingly they still offered me a job.

He then went on to explain that unless you have one of the French teaching test qualifications (CAPES, Agregee) then you are not entitled to teach in France. Later another teacher said that foreigners who do manage to “sneak in” are a “corruption of the system”. In essence, this is a very shrewd barrier to entry in that nothing is equivalent as these French tests don’t exist in other countries. Yet, some do say a PGCE is the same as the CAPES but from what I understand the PGCE is a postgrad course with teaching practice while the CAPES/AGREGEE just seems to be a test, in fact a ‘competitive civil servant on ‘ to be more precise. When I looked into this I was told that I would have to send my original certificates to some ministry to have them assessed to find their equivalents, if they existed. To most of us it would seem that a PGCE/MA is far higher than a teaching test which some say only tests your knowledge of the subject.

So, this seems why foreigners are relegated to PT work and will never get ‘in the system’ in France and get a proper job.  Is this fair? No, not at all but I’m sure it exists in other countries too. In the UK a lot of professors just have MA’s while to teach in schools you need a PGCE/BA Ed. The former means you have knowledge above the students level while the latter means you learn how to teach what you learned at school.

If we really are in Europe and have liberalisation etc shouldn’t we English teachers (and all teachers) be allowed to move and work anywhere? In France I met one women who said she had to redo all her teaching qualifications in French which seems unfair in that perhaps when French teachers go to the UK they are allowed to teach with French ones.

Should we get revenge and refuse all French qualifications as ‘not valid’ based on the sole reason that they aren’t written in English?

So, worthless eh? Well, when the French uni system relies entirely on foreign part-timers who by law can only be employed for 100 hours at each school, often get No contract and don’t get paid for 6mths + I think they are looking at a lot less willing foreign teachers. Not to mention all the problems in getting a house, health insurance and the basics which if you have no ‘real job’ are VERY difficult.

The result may be that foreigners leave, as if you are lucky enough to find a FT contract after 5 years they cannot renew it (or so I’ve been told). So, you may eventually have no choice but to leave or as one interviewer said “after a year you will be free to seek employment elsewhere”. This was because the 1 year contract he offered was unrenewable UNLESS someone high up deemed you were worthy of being kept for another year which he said was “unusual”.

This really sends a message that foreigners perhaps are ‘not invited’ but lots of staff do want us and need us, quite desperately so the big wigs in Paris should be listening. Having recognition of English qualifications would also be nice and not being told, as one blogger was that “without the Agregee we cannot be sure that you have mastered your language”. Hmmmm. Another outlined the extremely low number of candidates who pass these tests but also that she managed to ‘crack’ the test and just gave them what they wanted in the essays. I don’t understand the content of this test/qualification but I would hope that it is not just based on essays or a presentation as I have been told. According to some sources one of them lets you go home and prepare with friends and family.

The future will see but I really do hope Europe sorts this stuff out. An internationally recognised teaching qualification may solve everything and in the future we may even have a European syllabus for every school and course. Wouldn’t that be great especially if it was all in English.



An old forum discussion on teacher problems in France regarding lack of recognition.


Note: From what I’ve read you need to send your qualifications to have them ‘equivalised’ as there seems to be no standard.


23 thoughts on “Worthless?

  1. I come from the UK and live in Brazil, so the details are different because there isn’t even a pretence at having the same system.

    I have an MA in Linguistics from a British university and made enquiries at a local university about the chances of teaching here. I was told I would have to get my MA recognised, whch would cost thousands in fees and translation services. Even then there was no guarantee that it would be acceptable. This is despite the fact that Brazilian universities are not exactly world renowned and some of the people I know who have studied ‘Letras’ really haven’t got a clue.

    And it applies not only to English. I have a friend who got an MA from a prestigous university in the UK in law, but isn’t allowed to use it to teach here in Brazil unless she goes through the same rigorous and very expensive equivalence procedure.

    I put it down to
    1. Protectionism
    2. Any excuse for another level of bureaucracy
    3. A profit making exercise for universities that check the equivalence.
    4. Top-down rules when the top doesn’t have a clue what it is doing
    4. Paternalism; The state knows best.

    I gave it all up as a bad joke.

    • Thanks Stephen. It is really ridiculous.

      I remember at one point some unis wouldn’t take an IELTS that was taken in some Asian countries but I’m sure this was an excuse to sell foundation courses. I also know a few Asian students who did a 2nd BA in England as they said theirs wasn’t really recognised. In some circles they say that a _____ MA actually equals a British BA but to make things easier, in theory, an MA is an MA. Saying that, there are a lot of unaccredited schools/unis out there.

      The money issue is ridiculous. I had to pay for stamped photocopies of my passport and other documents and pretty expensive they were too. I also had to pay for a translation of some. Well, it makes jobs a bit like the old 2 ticket system in Beijing train station where 1 train had 1 kind of ticket and the other, at the interchange, had a different one. Two women were employed who sat on two chairs. One took 1 kind of ticket and the other gave the new one. All this confusion made jobs and kept people off the streets. The result was a real pain in the behind for us though.

      Personally, I’ve given up applying for British uni jobs as I never seem to fit the criteria which can be anything from ‘previously studied here to has completed a PhD in …’. When I open my own uni you’ll be top of my list. I have opened a school though if you want to apply for a job: http://alternativeefltasks.tumblr.com/

      • Hi Phil2Wade

        I agree with nearly everything you have said.

        I was very disappointed not to see Geoffrey Boycott on the reception desk and offereing relationship counselling though.

        Therefore I think I am going to have to open my own Birmingham School of English. Lots of canal walks, baltis, nasal sounds and heavy metal.

        Oi think yow am gonna have some bostin competition.

    • Stephen
      Being a Brazilian, I agree that the bureaucracy and ambiguity of this country’s system is generally a joke. But, on the other hand, living in the UK now I can say that even if I had all of the best and highest qualifications my country could offer me within its national system, I would not be qualified to teach at a private EFL school in the UK if I didn’t have a CELTA, which let’s face it is a very amateurish qualification.

      So you’re talking about the difficulty of having a similar status abroad (you have an MA, you teach at a uni). I’m talking about downgrading abroad (personal example: I’ve taught for 10 years and managed a school of 25 teachers and 300+ students, and employers will only read my cv for the position of DOS if I hold a DELTA).

      I don’t see how the UK is any better. In fact, it’s where this credentialism mania started, other countries look up and follow suit according to their ideals.

      • Yes, DELTA is essential BUT I’ve known a couple of Corporate DOS people who didn’t need it, why I don’t know. Maybe I missed the ‘running a school’ option. I think there is a separate management Delta in Greece maybe.

        Sorry, guys. Imperialism still lingers. But some gov schools seem pretty diverse in England as they have Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans etc all who seem to get their quals accepted. I knew one group who lived together and one was a teacher so he copied his certificate and all his housemates got jobs in schools. That’s ridiculous that qualified people can’t get a job but some blokes who are clearly fake can. At the same time I knew a cleaner who was a qualified doctor in his country who couldn’t get recognition here.

        This is madness!

      • Hi Willy,

        I am sorry if it sounded like I was bitching only about Brazil. I was trying to use it as an example to show that it isn’t just France that has stupid requirements. I am also aware that the UK places a number of non-sensical and bureaucratic demands on people from other countries in a whole host of diferent ways.

        I have worked with Brazilian English teachers who are leagues ahead of some of the teachers I have worked with in the UK. A couple of them have asked me about the possibility of working abroad and it is with great shame that I tell them there is almost no chance.

        However, when it comes to universities, I think the UK is a lot more open to foreign teachers. On my MA we had lecturers from Brazil, Japan, Australia, Ireland, the USA and Greece, as well as the UK. I am sure they didn’t all have to jump through the same hoops to get a position.

        I do agree with you that the accreditation system seems broken, and not just for teachers. A lot of the time it is just about ticking boxes; no real proof that you can do anything except superficially meet criteria previously laid down by supposed experts. (And the CELTA course IS very basic!)

  2. Hi Phil,

    I was looking forward to this article! Very interesting issue here, which I’m very interested in as you have to be of a European nationality to take the CAPES/Agreg. This means that, based solely on my (American) nationality, I can’t even have a try at the exams.

    Wouldn’t you call this discrimination? Imagine if a company said “Sorry, if you’ve got any African/Asian/etc. nationality, you can’t even apply.” Somehow, I don’t think that would fly.

    I agree that the guys making the decisions in Paris need to wise up to the reality of the situation. A lot of good potential teachers in a variety of subjects come from other countries, both in and outside of Europe. Shouldn’t teaching qualification requirements reflect this? In fact, when I was talking to one of my French friends about the Agreg, his first reaction was “That still exists? You know it was created under Louis XIV?” I’m not sure about that last part, but his surprise echoes mine. Why does this barrier still exist?

    From what I remember about the Agreg, it is just a big test. If you want to be an English teacher, for example, you had equally grueling exams in civilization, linguistics, translation, and literature. Basically, there is a given topic for each field for a given year and you have a year of prepa to become an expert in each topic for the exam. When I was a student, the civilization bit was on the Lewis and Clark expedition, for example. This meant that if I wanted to teach EFL to, let’s say, biology students, I would have to be judged an expert in Lewis & Clark (and whatever other pinpoint topics were chosen for the other fields). However, teaching methods, techniques, and pedagogy are NOT on the program.

    I could be wrong on that description, as it was nearly 10 years ago. If anyone has any more update information, please correct me. But I do remember that the exams had pretty much nothing to do with what you would actually be teaching afterwards.

    I chock it up to basically a hoop to jump through to get to a cushy for-life job, that is if they let you sign up for the exam.

    It would be nice if there were alternative ways of being recognized for the quality of your work, not a test you managed to pass because you “cracked the system.” Sounds to me like it’s the system that’s cracked!

    • Really? My old boss was American and she had the CAPES, perhaps she got dual nationality after marriage!

      From what I understand there’s a presentation and a written test, that’s it.Hmmm.Not really a degree then. How about teaching methods and observed practice. Sounds more like an old Qing dynasty imperial court exam.

      What I’d like to know is if a PhD is accepted.

      I have met a few French people working in unis and they seem to creep in as they are often high school teachers. So, is a high school maths teacher better qualified to teach English than a native with a DELT/MA? Perhaps not I think but it would mean one less ‘job for life’ for a local.

  3. Hi again,

    The person you are thinking of may have had dual citizenship. I also had an American teacher agregée, but with double nationality. And just to check to make sure, I went on to the Education Nationale site to check the requirements for taking the exams, and, yes, it does specifically state Euro citizenship is required.

    As for the PhD, I was considering doing one and went to see the American teacher mentioned above. She told me that when recruitment meetings rolled around, anyone who didn’t have the Agreg was immediately pulled out of the applicant pile. There are always just so many applicants for a single job opening that they give priority to people with a PhD + Agreg then to MA + Agreg then, if they still need to look, to PhDs. That being said, this was one single person who told me that, and like you said earlier, there are always ways to sneak in and “corrupt” the system.

    Also, I believe the Agreg allows you to become a uni OR high school teacher. Maybe you can start at a high school if there are no uni positions available then you probably get some sort of priority (if there are no PhD+Agregs who apply) when someone retires and their job is up for grabs.

    But, like you pointed out, I think it does partly boil down to keeping the jobs for the locals who adhere to the system.

    • Yes, probably.

      Doesn’t it just make you sick that in england we have to pay for a BA/MA/Phd but in other countries they are free. That’s not right at all. It means English people will be less educated and that unis will recruit more foreigners (no negative meaning intended) because we just don’t have any locals. This is the complete opposite of France. Why can’t we have European courses, all funded and European jobs?

      I was offered a weird permanent job which seemed impossible. When I asked they said I would start on some ‘frozen’ contract and then change and change and then go permanent. Then suddenly 9 FT permanent positions became available at a local uni but they were unofficially only for ‘internal candidates’ who “were deemed more reliable” apparently. I managed to squeeze into an interview and it was a farce, I was completely set up. I was told to speak English then French which I did but then didn’t get the job because I hadn’t just spoken French. I think I should have twigged when I realised every other candidate was already working there. This ‘internal hiring’ is ridiculous as they end up with no PT teachers and the ones they do give contracts to have been there 10+ years and so won’t have as long a working life as newer staff. But maybe that’s the strategy.

  4. My pound of flesh:
    History repeating itself…..many moons ago I left on my final day at university with a rucksack on my back (literally!) and headed to Paris to seek my fortune (and somewhere to live). To cut a long story short: I ended up working for a pharmaceutical firm and did some English teaching on the side whilst my request via the British minister of education was being played out at the court in Strasbourg. In the early 90s I was informed that the French hadn’t yet got round to ratifying whatever document was necessary in order for them to accept foreign diplomas. It sounds as if the situation hasn’t changed much.
    I was advised in the meantime to go and sit the CAPES exams (with whose money?). And this after having a joint honours, pgce, Belgian dual aggregation and already a fair amount of experience (I had played guinea-pig for a new pan-European joint diploma so after my pgce also trained in Belgium and the Netherlands and combined it with a study at the University in Antwerp). So in spite of one of my diplomas coming from a country sharing a border and a language with France, the French stuck to their guns. They have always been remarkably good at national protectionism! (and yet I still regret leaving Paris…..).
    Saying that – though not impossible, the red tape in the Netherlands is perhaps even more impossible than in France. Ok, they do assess your diplomas and accept that an MA is an MA, though not necessarily of the same value as a local one ;).
    And still we move on with initiatives such as the CEFR whilst we know that your B1 isn’t my B1 (have participated in Europe-wide research projects where this has been proven). I doubt there will every be any European country which fully accepts qualifications from another country – except perhaps the UK, which, as you point out, is quite happy to employ teachers with foreign diplomas.

    • Hi Louise,

      Ah yes, I did one of those dual things. Never understood it, employers neither.

      Yep, we are too nice in England I think. Maybe it’s time to stop. We accept everyone then when we go abroad and expect the same common courtesy we don’t get it. I’m sure there would be change if we tightened our laws. I mean, how many Europeans study in the UK and go to work there? People say we’re not really in Europe but on this point I think we’re leading the pack.

      B1 B1. Oh yes. That is a sticky issue. Like explaining to a prepa student why they really aren’t advanced in the UK but they were in France. But if they’re paying they’ll probably end up in advanced anyway.

  5. Just figuring out how all of this plays out in France, and yes I agree with Stephen that there is quite a bit of protectionism involved. As others have shown, though, this is pretty typical across the board, and only gets worse in other professions, such as medicine and law. However, there is less ‘peculiar’ to our profession than those.

    I feel international standards might be put in place, but then the wonderful question is… whose are they? Celta/Delta are attached to a university that’s attached to a publisher that’s attached to a cultural identity… masters programs vary from country to country. Lots of economic reasons for certain organizations to push really hard one way or the other.

    • Well said Brad.I’m using the French EFL situation as an example but this is spread out across many professions. When I worked with refugees there were loads of them with PhDs, MAs, bar exams, you name it. But they couldn’t get recognised in the UK. Scientists working in McD’s, professors in cafes it’s bonkers.

      Aha. Yes, CELTA/DELTA are from Cambridge who also….So there is a circle there. After all, why didn’t other EFL courses catch on or become the standard. I think Pearson are pushing their EFL test now but do they have the power to oust Cambridge?

  6. Ridiculous, really. Exclusion of French credentials from all others, especially of native-English speaking university MAs and classroom experience, just perpetuates the stereotype that French only like French. Of course, I don’t have experience either direct or indirect from most other countries but Canada.

    We too (at least in my province) insist on an evaluation of foreign credentials against what the TESL organisation of this province deems required though it’s not thousands of dollars, but still a pain in the ass. I guess no matter where you do your qualifications, everyone is still skeptical that it isn’t as proficient as their own.

    • Thanks for the comment Tyson.

      I hope that in Europe an MA will just be an MA, if from another European provider. But there are a lot of schools and colleges that aren’t accredited and do MA courses so I guess they have a problem but are more than happy to sell their courses to foreigners. I’ve known some Asians who do these courses then go home and nobody knows, as long as it says LONDON on it’s accepted. This also accounts for why you get so many little schools/colleges around famous ones.

      There should just be an official equivalency/acceptance document like for uni entrance ie IELTS 6=TOELF…TOEIC..CAE..CPE.. For teaching qualifications it can’t be that difficult. Something like:


      A teachers should have an accredited postgraduate teaching qualification delivered in English on teaching English as a foreign language. I don’t think the CAPES/AGREGEE count as they are not full courses but tests. That’s like skipping an MA but turning up on the last day for the final. Do you know any other course I could add?

      • Our higher education system is quite strongly controlled by the federal government ministry of education so no school can call itself a ‘college’ or ‘university’ without their approval. And to do so, their programs need to fit within similar standards.

        We do have various levels of Mickey-Mouse programs though, stretching from the official accreditation required by TESL Canada and provincial organisations (not government related, and such are ‘certificate’ courses of 100+ to 350+ hours of instruction and practicum) and then the ridiculous weekend courses that everyone with half a sense know are a complete joke.

  7. http://www.enic-naric.net will give you an idea of who recognises what. Ireland has a very nice site http://www.qualrec.ie.

    When I was in the UK there was a fee of about 80pounds sterling to rubber stamp a non UK qualification. Naric is most useful when people are trying to meet entry criteria for another course.

    Having said that Warwick as a provider of teacher training does not recognise the validity of UK qualifications in either English or Maths – you must sit an assessment (exam) in one or the other before you can attend a teacher training course – but the assessment is free.

    Oh and in Spain English language qualifications – FCE, CAE etc have a shelf life of 2 years, if you need the qualification and it is three years since you past the exam, the qualification is not recognised. I have met the same policy with Danish universities, so maybe it is pan European.

    • Cheers David.

      2 years, that’s the same for IELTS I think. Well, that will certainly get more customers. I’m sure they’ll bring them down to 1 year eventually.

      You’d think in Europe a BA/MA etc would be equivalent. What’s the point of Europe and Free movement etc? Too much national protectionism perhaps.

  8. http://www.enic-naric.net tells you which countries recognise which qualifications.
    Spain and Denmark do not recognise language qualifications -FCE, CAE that are more than two years old for university entrance – so currency of language quals might be a pan European issue. Employment – it`´s who you know in most countries when there is an over supply of applicants and having a pulse when there is a dearth.

    In the UK a CELTA may be required to teach in a private language school but to teach in the state further education sector you need to be in the process of taking a two year teaching diploma (DTTLS) (which will cost you six thousand pounds) A DELTA is not recognised as a sufficient qualification either.

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