Interview – Big changes at Trinity TESOL

I can’t remember why I ended up looking at the list of Trinity TESOL courses a couple of months ago, but when I did I got the distinct impression that they had expanded since the last time I’d looked. I therefore contacted Trinity to see whether I could make a TEFL.net TEFL Newsroom story out of it, and this email interview with several top managers was the result. Not everything made it into the actual news story, so with their permission I’ve also posted the whole interview here, basically as they sent it to me with just some very minor edits to make it easier to read.

I first contacted you because I got the impression that the number of centres offering Trinity CertTESOL courses had gone up and was getting a bit more geographically diverse. Was I right?

Yes – the number of trainees has increased and the demand internationally is increasing.

And has the number of trainees gone up too?

Yes, but not at the same rate as the number of centres.

Any similar changes with your other courses?

The DipTESOL numbers are growing (although this is going through a review). 2013 has seen a significant increase with over a 30% increase in the number of candidates sitting the exam in May and a 50% increase in August compared to the same period in 2012. The TYLEC (Teaching Young Learners Extension Certificate) is growing fast – with many new centres and potential centres.

Could you give us some numbers, e.g. number of new centres over the last 12 months and number of centres outside UK and outside Europe now?

New CertTESOL centres include a new University in the North of England, and new centres in Spain, Vancouver and Toronto, Istanbul, Cardiff, Malaga, Athens, Tenerife, Southampton, Kent and Reading.

There are also DipTESOL centres in Uruguay and Moscow, and potential DipTESOL centres in a London University, a Welsh University, two other potential new London centres, plus potential centres in Switzerland, Hastings, Vietnam and Mauritius.

There are also new TYLEC (British Council/ Trinity TYLEC: Teaching Young Learners Extension Certificate) centres in Hanoi, Colombo, Kyiv, Ho Chi Minh City, Barcelona, Valencia and several new centres are making enquiries internationally.

Was this expansion something you were pushing for or a consequence of a change of approach, or did it just happen naturally?

It was natural – all of the qualifications are going through (or have gone through) full reviews. This has made the process simpler with new documents including syllabuses, validation requirements and the use of electronic rather than paper documents.

Have you needed to make any changes to keep up with that expansion, e.g. more staff in Trinity HQ in London?

We have not needed to recruit new staff but the team has changed completely over the last 18 months.

Why do you think the Teaching Business English Cert hasn’t taken off, despite its strong start?

We are currently reviewing the slow take up of the CertIBET. In order to meet the needs of a changing market, the CertIBET (International Business English Training) is due for a full review next year. There has also been a shift to more of a focus on young learners, which is evident in the number of new TYLEC centres.

Some of the smaller face-to-face TEFL courses are complaining that online courses have eaten into their market. How do you think you’ve managed to buck that trend?

I’m not sure we have bucked the trend – there has been an increase in demand from centres in the UK and internationally. I think employers as well as careers advisors now understand the importance of having a recognised qualification. The same is also true for visa requirements – in some countries teachers will only be issued a visa if they have a teaching qualification that has a minimum of 6 hours of observed teaching practice.

Does Trinity offer any blended components?

Many DipTESOL providers now run their courses through a blended format. The CertIBET and CertICT can be done fully online or blended. However, the CertTESOL does not currently have a blended format, although some centres use an electronic version of a pre-course task.

Do you plan to move more into online content being available?

Yes – we have launched support pages for Teaching English course providers and moderators. It is a secure online platform where a range of support resources- including syllabuses, teaching and delivery resources- and a discussion forum are available.

Two things that set the Trinity DipTESOL apart seem to be absolutely having to have a degree to get on the course and the oral interview. What are the justifications for those two things? Have I missed any other USPs?

– Currently candidates must have a degree or equivalent.

– The one-to-one interview with the examiner is a key component of the qualification where the candidate, in addition to presenting and discussing his/her topic, also has to phonetically transcribe a text and discuss theory and practice of phonology. Candidates are also able to do their teaching practice within their area of speciality e.g. young learners

– The co-ordination of all examiners is run through Trinity and the responsibility does not lie with the local centre to arrange – therefore there is complete impartiality in this respect.

What are the selling points of the other Trinity courses for trainees?

We deal mostly with course providers from Head Office in London – the course providers are able to adapt the course to individual situations as long as they follow the flexible framework for the qualification.

What about for trainers and centres offering your courses?

As above.

What are the main criteria for centres to be able to set up Trinity TESOL courses and to become a trainer?

A prospective new centre will conform to the framework above and will go through a validation process. In the first instance, we check centres are creditworthy and accepted in the market. They also have to have the appropriate resources to deliver a Trinity course. In order to become a trainer on the course, it will depend on the experience and qualifications of the individual. All new trainers go through a thorough shadowing and induction process.

What checking of standards then goes on?

A validation visit, a mid-course visit on the first course (and every three years) and a moderator visit on every course. All one-to-one interviews are recorded and a percentage of these are monitored. 10% of moderations are live monitored – the moderation report is checked by Trinity and sent to the centre.

How possible is it for trainers or centres to lose their right to be involved in Trinity courses?

Centres lose their right to run courses if they do not conform to the validation requirements or if recommendations from moderation reports are not followed up.

How often has that actually happened?

In the last 18 months no centres have lost the right to be involved with Trinity courses. However, in the past, centres in Dubai, Iran and Spain have been de-registered.

How much variation between courses can there be depending on location?

Our qualifications are distinct – we have a qualification framework which fits into each course. This allows for variation and flexibility in the delivery of the course, but still ensures that each course is internationally standardised.

I’ve somehow got the impression that becoming a centre or trainer is much easier with Trinity than with Cambridge. Would you say that is true? If so, is it a deliberate policy, and how can you make sure that standards are maintained?

This is not true – the procedures for becoming centres and to become trainers are very similar. Centres have to submit an initial expression of interest, if accepted they have to complete an application form, supporting evidence and all the necessary paperwork for the course which includes pro-formas and a timetable. Applications are sent out to a panel of external consultants and centres have to make changes to make sure that they are fulfilling all of the necessary criteria. Once an application is considered acceptable, a member of the Teacher Development Team visits the centre to check the facilities and to discuss any issues that the provider may have. Trainers normally have to shadow two courses and observe/ run input; TP feedback and assignment grading.

How well recognised are Trinity TESOL qualifications outside Europe?

Trinity’s TESOL qualifications are recognised as equivalent to other industry-leading qualifications throughout the world by organisations such as the British Council, and as we have TESOL graduates teaching worldwide, they are almost universally recognised by anyone who is concerned with the quality of their teachers.

The CertTESOL is accepted virtually everywhere as the equivalent to the CELTA, and if it comes to our attention that an employer is discriminating against the CertTESOL we take steps to ensure that they receive the information they need to grant it equivalence.

Do you think trainees applying for jobs that ask for “CELTA or equivalent” have any advantage from having a Trinity qualification rather than another non-Cambridge four-week face-to-face cert?

The CertTESOL and CELTA are recognised equally by The British Council.

How should someone with a Trinity CertTESOL explain their qualification on their CV for employers who might not be very familiar with it?

The CertTESOL is an internationally recognised teaching qualification with 6 hours observed teaching practice, a focus on individual learner needs and creation of a scheme of work, with a strong focus on pronunciation and materials design.

Any other changes in Trinity TESOL recently?

The DipTESOL and TYLEC are currently being reviewed – all other qualifications will be reviewed in the coming months.

Any other changes planned?

Some new qualifications – no further details currently available.

Can you give us a brief history of Trinity and Trinity TESOL qualifications? For example, Trinity College London doesn’t seem to be a college, and how did an organisation more famous for music and drama end up as a leading TEFL course provider?

Trinity’s ESOL exams were first developed in the 1930s because an increasing number of non-native speakers of English were taking our elocution and speech exams – and Trinity felt that they would be disadvantaged when compared to native speakers sitting the same exams. As a result, exams in speaking English for non-native speakers were developed.

This was Trinity’s first contact with the world of EFL and through the increasing number of centres offering these exams both in the UK and overseas; we developed a network of contacts. One of the centres using Trinity exams wanted to offer a teacher training course which was different to those available at the time. The centre worked with Trinity to develop what would become the CertTESOL.

The flexibility of the programme and the personal service offered by Trinity to its centres meant that the CertTESOL grew in popularity over the years.

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