The CELTA failure rate

The number of people who fail the CELTA is approximately 3%, with another few percent of people who choose to drop out. I happen to believe that standards should be set a lot higher – does anyone think that only 3 to 5% of people who decide to go on the CELTA are totally unsuited to teaching? When I was just about to shell out my 850 quid to do the old RSA/ Cambridge version back in 1896, however, I certainly wouldn’t have been suggesting that the fail rate should be higher. I am therefore perfectly willing to admit that how high the standards should be set is a matter of opinion. This, however, is just pure fact:

Although at the moment 3% of people fail the CELTA, that does not mean that Cambridge have decided to fail 3% of people whatever happens. They set certain minimum standards, and if 97% of people didn’t meet those standards, then only 3% would pass. If 100% meet those standards, as they do on many courses, then 100% get their certificate and can then be told that their students’ hobby is sleeping in schools all over the world.

As it happens, 3% of people somehow manage to be even lower than Cambridge’s already rock bottom standards. If you are seriously worried that you will be one of those people, maybe you shouldn’t be thinking about teaching, let alone living off a teaching wage while you struggle to adapt to living abroad.

This piece is number two in my series of ridiculously popular and utterly ridiculous online TEFL myths. Whether you have heard it or not, you are probably wondering how this story got started and spread. Not sure about its genesis, but every person who I have seen spreading it online turns out, with a little digging, to have failed the CELTA…

Part One of this series is here:

No experience or qualifications necessary to teach conversation

Any suggestions for Parts Three, Four and Five?

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27 Responses to The CELTA failure rate

  1. TEFLista says:

    Glad to see some accurate facts about this, Alex.

    TEFL International has a whole page of misleading rubbish about this on one of their websites. They try to scare people with some guy’s testimonial:

     “In 1998 I took a CELTA course in Prague C.R. under some “Yankee hating” directors I called “Mutt and Jeff.” At that time I did not know the format of CELTA was that out of every class of 12, two MUST fail…The Australian woman next to me said, “you’re dead meat!” So I failed the course because I used green chalk during a practicum. I found the TEFL/TESOL course in Ban Phe a practical course in creativity and empathy, under the Direction of both Bruce Veldhuisen and Dave Hopkins…”

    The above is just another example of how they’ve been trying to scare and intentionally mislead people for a decade…

  2. Darren Elliott says:

    Only four percent get an A. That’s what I’d be looking for if I was hiring.

  3. English Raven says:

    Mmmm, well, of the many people I’ve worked with over the years who had CELTA (or *equivalent*), the “fail rate” in terms of basic teaching ability was somewhat higher than 3% (perhaps closer to 30%).

    I’m not saying that CELTA should have a fail rate of 30%, but things definitely don’t add up in some of the margins.


  4. Adam says:

    I know someone who left after a week and failed as a consequence. Do you have any idea if such cases are included as fails?

  5. Kate says:

    I did CELTA in February 2010. After the first week one teacher decided to give up (the course turned out to be intense and stressful for her that she got some health problems). Out tutors wrote to Cambridge about that and that teacher was allowed to resume her studies somewhere in the summer. So that kind of ‘quitting’ wasn’t regarded as fail. But we also had a young man who left in the middle of the course, he lost his money and got no certificate. But I think in somewhere in Cambridge someone made a record that that very Mr failed the course.

  6. When I did my TEFL Prep in 1986, there was an interview before the course and I am sure they weed out quite a lot of unsuitable people at that stage. Some (non-CELTA) courses have an application procedure which consists of “Have you paid the fees?”.

  7. Can’t speak for anyone else, but the CELTA course I did was pretty competitive to get onto – IIRC, there were around 200 people or so chasing a dozen or so places, and we had to do a written placement test as thick as your average teaching methodology book.

    For those who made the shortlist, a full day of workshops, interviews and micro teaching presentations beckoned…

    I don’t recall anyone failing the course back when I did it, although a couple of people did drop out on the way.

    My guess as to why it has such a low failure rate would be that it is a tough and demanding course and you have to be pretty motivated to stick with it and put in the work required to go the distance.

    Speaking personally, I wouldn’t necessarily be looking for people with an A if I was hiring, as when I’m hiring I go with my gut instincts rather than rely on pieces of paper. The CELTA grade is based on a very brief window of observation and it isn’t necessarily an indication of how someone is going to pan out and develop as a teacher in the longer term.

    I’m not familar with CELTA *equivalents*, though I take Jason’s point on board. From speaking to other people over the years, I get the impression that the quality of TEFL courses can (and does) vary… and that not everybody leaves at the end as well equipped to teach as one would hope and expect.

  8. David says:

    That is totally normal for any education that is directly “paid for”.

    Education is something we “buy” and not something we “achieve”.

    That is the truth of the matter, when you dig deep. (and I’m not necessarily saying this is all negative…)

    That is about all I want to say about that and standards…


  9. GARY says:

    I always thought that Cambridge took over the RSA so they could emphasize using Cambridge texts which puts more money into their coffers.

  10. Alex,

    It is my guess that the fail margin on CELTA courses tends to be quite low, mainly because of the rigorous selection procedure. As Sue mentioned in her comment, she had to pass quite a stiff language test.

    As a CELTA course provider and tutor I know that we ourselves assess our candidates quite carefully. The cost of tuition and the commitment and effort expended are just too high to accept candidates who have poor language awareness, zero ability to write coherently, a poor language performance overall and look like potential fail candidates.

    The other thing is that once candidates are accepted, the course is structured in such a way that they receive continuous feedback and support and very clear action points of what is expected of them in order to do well. Sure, some will assimilate this advice faster than some other teachers, but isn’t this true of any learner in any learning situation? Learning rates are not uniform – but that is an obvious given.

    Finally, a candidate who didn’t get an A grade or even a B great is not necessarily going to be a poor teacher.

    Even an A grade teacher will end up as a pretty shoddy professional after having to explain every single grammar rule for a year or more, or be made to follow the coursebook blindly or else. Or even, if they teach in an innovation-hostile environment where training is considered something of a quirky thing to do if you can get the job without any qualifications anyway.

    A teacher with a Pass grade is a teacher you can employ but also a teacher you have to support and help develop. If employers do not know this or have no time for this, they had better look for higher qualifications and not blame this or other qualifications.

    Finally, I have been hearing and reading a lot of concentrated rubbish about the fact that you can’t make a teacher in 4 weeks.

    Well, who says? And how come parents are fully capable of teaching their language to their children without any qualifications? Human beings have an innate instict for teaching language to their young and these instincts are present in everyone.

    Or should parents have to go through a three-year training course to do that?

    I am sure there are good and better CELTA courses and centres as well as worse and it is very difficult for candidates to know which centre to choose – there are so many!

    The best ones are those which equip trainee teachers with both the thinking and the practical tools to keep developing after the end of their course – just like a good language course, wouldn’t you know….

    But anyone who has had the experience of a well structured and highly motivating CELTA course will report both the toil and the sleepless nights but most people I talk to – and I don’t just mean my own trainees – place a lot of value on what they learnt.

  11. I had the same experience as Sue and had to pass a rigorous and lengthy application process which included an interview and pre-coursework. I found that the majority of trainees in my group had been teaching for awhile. Like me they needed a CELTA certification to get a better English teaching job. Maybe my group is not the norm but if this is the case then I think the CELTA is valuable for helping teachers reflect on their instructional methods. I completed my Masters in Curriculum Instruction ESL a year before taking on the CELTA. Unfortunately, I found that many schools and decent paying ELT jobs in many countries require the CELTA. Not one of the universities or schools I applied to cared much about my Masters. They all wanted a CELTA and I applied to many institutions who said they would hire me once I received the CELTA. I knew a lot of pedagogy and theory but what I thought was very valuable in the CELTA was the observation process. All the trainees said the same and that is something you don’t get on a regular basis or in most Masters programs. Most teachers rarely have the opportunity to be observed by their peers and get a sincere picture of what they need to work on. All the trainees said in the evaluation process that they would miss this the most. The CELTA was extremely tough and I do believe that every trainee in my class would make an excellent teacher and benefited from the CELTA training.

  12. Laura Ponting says:

    I agree with Sue, Marisa and Shelly. The application process, the cost, the time off work and, hence, the dedication involved in getting onto a CELTA in the first place, all serve to weed out most of those who aren’t motivated or who are obviously unsuited.

    Also, what is the alternative? For those who don’t live near a training centre, a part-time course is probably not an option. So, just how many weeks are folk supposed to take off work/ rent a place to stay etc etc?

    As Marisa says, Cambridge make clear that the Pass, B and A grades don’t reflect the level of teacher you are forever. They reflect the level of support you need to become the best teacher you can. It’s largely up to individual employing institutions to decide how much time and effort they are willing to invest in order to create *and maintain* the best teaching staff they can.

    To follow on from Marisa’s point, the employer also plays a further role in encouraging teachers to continue to develop and improve. There’s no reason at all why a Pass CELTA teacher can’t become a bloody good teacher with support. This could be in the form of in-house workshops or CELTYLS / Deltas etc.. Either way, rather than focusing on so-called ‘rock bottom’ standards, wouldn’t be good for all involved to think in terms of how we can continue to improve those motivated enough to complete the CELTA in the first place?

  13. CT says:

    Maybe a CELTA tutor can clear this up, but (having DOS’d at a CELTA centre in the past) my understanding was that students who drop out of the CELTA course are not counted towards the official Cambridge failure rate?

  14. Jay K. says:

    I just stubble across this site and found it to be a very interesting read.
    I just completed my CELTA course and have doubts about how strict the “Screening” process is and how valid the process of passing or failing a participant is. From what I witnessed…pretty Low Standards.

    There were two, in my opinion very unqualified participants in the course and should not have been passed. If I was the “screener” of these two individuals I would not have accepted them into the program from the start.

    But there they were part of our course. They both were very socially akward…………..each in their own very special way. They both were always disorganized in their lesson planning and both received several “BS”(Below Standard) on their teaching.

    In addition, during the morning input sessions they were a bit off base too, having very particular comments to add to the class discussions. They both had to resubmit all four of their written assignments, and I do not know if they passed their resubmissions, but I guess they must have as in the end these two individuals PASSED! So what does that say about my PASS? How valid does it make my certificate? Seems to me it is all about the CELTA centers making the money!!

  15. Alex Case says:

    Just came back to this post and realised I missed quite a lot of the comments:
    – The failure rate is exactly that. The drop out rate is an additional 5%

    “I always thought that Cambridge took over the RSA so they could emphasize using Cambridge texts which puts more money into their coffers.”

    The course providers decide what books they use, and from my experience they choose the ones all TEFL schools do, including OUP ones like Headway etc. Also, the students you practice on don’t have to buy textbooks, so not much money in CUP from that. And it’s not as if teachers will have any input into what books they will teach with once they get into jobs. I could go on…

  16. Lily says:

    Hi there, I dropped out 2 days before the end of my CELTA and think I was used to complete the 12 students requirement to open a class. I had applied for the august course and was told that It wasn’t possible but that I could start in September. Funny thing is that one of the tutors asked me if I knew anyone who would be interested into also taking the course, they wouldn’t even ask of that person to do the pre-interview or pre-course tasks… isn’t that odd?

  17. Alex Case says:

    I don’t really get your story at all. If you dropped out, why are you bitter? And if you got on the course when your friend managed to get that far, isn’t that a good thing?

  18. marts says:

    So why put people into a mental haze over 4 weeks, like a commando training.To prepare for the ugly real world which education establishments profit from? Teaching like factories is designed to reduce people to humiliating lows of dependency on tests, exams , routines and command and control by the teacher.Nothing in these fluorescent lit classsrooms resembles dignified interactions which correspond with the best that educationalists know about language and interaction.The reason we are sausagemeat in what could be really lovely engaging environments instead is all about false personalities producing 45 minute virtual realities being sold as real language learning, but only for those already so dumbed by the system since childhood into believing that clones need cloned products to survive.Time to re-invent the wheel and tell the sadists at cambridge with all their mental case supporters around the worlds sadistic classes that enough is enough.Some of us care enough about time not to waste it under false pretences of being trained.

  19. Alex says:

    First of all I would like to reply to marts. I just completed the CELTA.
    Personally, i hate to be told that i’ve been brainwashed. None of my coleagues have, they’re not stupid. In fact, a lot of the language used while doing it is completely new in terms of language analisys, TP points, bullet points… and so on. I mean , what the hell does bullet point stand for? Well, that’s what I thought the first day of the course. There’s people who spend like 10 or 12 bloody hours studying and preparing lessons , each and every day , ( including saturday and sunday ) which is insane, and these are the people prone to get frustrated and even paranoid.
    If the CELTA gives me opportunities for working abroad or even here in my country, excelent.
    If you want to be a teacher celta is a good start, but is like driving. You practice driving and you take your exam, but when you get your licence, a whole new world of WTF and OMG appears E.g: the real world.
    I’ve been teaching “real people”, not dummies, and the students were very good, but I’m aware that in some places, the situation is different.

  20. richard mullins says:

    I was failed on CELTA in 2008. I am still waiting for a single comment on where my work fails advice given in Scrivener or Thornbury.

    I have 1000 hours of classroom teaching experience, mostly in 1998-2002. i also have a B.A in linguistics from ANU, and a M.Sc in speech and language processing.

    One comment from the CELTA course was “he shows very little evidence of training when he stands up to teach”. This seems to be a bowdlerised comment remembered from the course book “Learning Teaching” by Scrivener who says (p36) “Don’t feel that being a teacher means that you have to behave like a teacher”.

    The course seemed to be operated to suit non-native speakers, who do not know English well enough to converse freely.

    I still think the assessment is so bad that it could eventually sink Cambridge. Eventually the word will get out to foreign students how bad the course is. I am astonished that Cambridge could be licensing such a system.

  21. Alex Case says:

    According to the Cambridge criteria you should have been warned that you were likely to fail the course and told exactly what you needed to do to pass it. Was that not the case?

  22. Lola says:

    International House-Prague, class of ’06 in tha house!

    I, unfortunately, had both good and bad experiences with my CELTA course.

    Initally, I was told during my interview that I should be prepared for the fact that people in the Czech Republic do not like those with dark-skin, and that a few dark-complexioned students had some difficulty during their stay.

    One of my “tutors”, and I put that in quotes simply because I found their was limited support, actually failed one of my lessons based on the questions that I asked before I had to present my lesson. Now, understand, during the lesson everything went smoothly. It was actually a good lesson. When I asked her why I failed the lesson, she told me that she failed me because it didn’t seem that I was clear about the content of the lesson prior to teaching. (Hence, why I was asking the questions.) I fired back saying, “So, if I hadn’t asked you about these particular aspects of this lesson, you would have never known, and I would’ve passed the lesson?” She responded, “…but, you did ask.”

    -I’m pretty sure this woman thought that I was an idiot, and probably an easy target (to fail). This completely shook my confidence about the program.

    The papers that I turned in were never “up to par”. The same tutor said that they were too “wooly”–not that I gave the incorrect information, just too much information. Therefore, my tests had to be redone.

    -Now what got me was that there was this other kid who did all of his work in red pen and on what seemed to be the back of whatever paper bag he ate his lunch out of, or napkin that he used, and he passed every exam. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that kid. A free spirit that just happened to be taking a CELTA course.

    The pros:
    Nice roommates
    Cheap beer, cigarettes, and water
    Absinthe (the real deal)
    The other tutor–he was actually very constructive in his critiques
    The guy who owed the cafe at the school (even though I’m pretty sure that he may have charged me a bit more than what I was supposed to pay)
    My trip to Italy right after the program ended (which has nothing to do with the program except for the fact that it was nice to be around family and in a country that is a little bit more accepting of dark-complexioned individuals)

  23. blackcherryswirl says:

    @ jay k: Each student is allowed 2 or 3 below standards; it’s not uncommon for a student to resubmit all 4 papers, as long as they pass at least 3 of them on the resubmission.
    What matters more is how the student develops their skills over the course.

    @ lily: There can be fewer than 12 students in a course; 12 students is the maximum, not the minimum.

    Though the CELTA is a good program to have and is excellent for practice before going out into the real teaching world, it does have its flaws. I find it to be a bit overrated. Most teaching jobs are for minors, yet the CELTA course, while claiming to not be for those wanting to teach only adults, dedicates only an hour or so in the entire course to how children learn, and the practice is only with the other CELTA trainees, not actual children. And like others have stated already, some of the instructors are downright condescending and refuse to admit making a mistake themselves. But please keep in mind that this isn’t the case for all instructors; some are excellent at their jobs.
    That being said, my DOS has told me that he himself finds the CELTA overrated in the ESL world. (I have a CELTA but he doesn’t.) He said he will be seeking teachers who have other teaching credentials which are more practical.

  24. Si low says:

    Just completed CELTA. Felt that, because of Covid, applications have dropped so schools have lowered standards to get enough people to cover costs. The standard was quite low and at least two people from the 6 in my group should fail. My own performance was never that great, yet still passed.
    Week 3 and a “teacher” doesn’t know the 4 verb forms. Another doesn’t know what uncountable nouns are. CELTA feels like it’s been adapted for generation turn up and get a trophy. Not one person delivered a TP that I would consider worthy of charging money for- even at a discount rate. Felt sorry for people taking our class.

  25. Gen says:

    Just completed my Celta and am quite disappointed. 11 students in my batch, 3 dropped out. That’s a 27% drop out rate. I did the pre – interview with 1 of them who could not even identify the simple past tense during but was still accepted to the course. Seemed like the centre was intent on collecting fees rather than screening candidates. 1 of the tutors was very clear and supportive but the other tutor untaught everything he taught and would even contradict the official Lesson Planning guide,so it was confusing. I passed despite this. So I would say quality of the centre and quality of the tutors vary.

  26. Fernando says:

    I took my CELTA course in August 2018. Loved it although I despaired at times. Both Tutors were knowledgeable and helpful, albeit with very different styles/approaches.

    Mixed group, six natives and 4 non-natives (me included). Of them, there was a native trainee who was clearly unsuited to pass, yet he passed -borderline, the Tutors admitted-. Mind you, the point is not your performance in the interview -most natives had no clue whatsoever about grammar and thought Swan was just a fancy bird- but your evolution. Some of my fellow trainees really progressed throughout the course.

    I had 10+ years of teaching experience, but until then I hadn’t had the time or resources to take it. So I could be considered a ‘seasoned teacher’. The course, however, allowed me to understand better some things I did unconsciously, and question certain opinions I held dear (I was against drilling until I took my course, and I saw how my excessive Teacher Talking Time was a problem to be addressed) So, for me, it was a productive experience.

    I think it is true that those of us who have taken it have a tendency to gloss over it -after all, we committed our time and money, right?- but it’s really beneficial. Now, you have to keep an open mind and be able to take criticism (some of the natives were quite thin-skinned).

    @Richard Mullins. Interesting that you say CELTA is rubbish after you paid to take it, and failed. And blaming non-natives for your fail it’s not only childish, but it’s also bitter. Assuming natives are better suited to teach is defending that any member of ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ can teach English based on their nativeness; defend that if you dare.

    Ah, I got an A. In December 2021 I did DELTA Module 1 (passed with a B). And I intend to complete the other modules in the future. I think CELTA/DELTA is not a teacher’s panacea, but with a willing enough attitude, it will equip you with more and more useful tools to become better at teaching.

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