Ten tips to choose a good English academy

Rather than utilise one of the learning options available at el professor ingles you may prefer to enrol at a private academy and be part of a class. In Spain there are a lot of private academies and like all markets, the products and services on offer vary significantly. Enrolling on a course is an investment in time and money and like all investments, choose wisely.

So, how do you choose?

Here are some things you should consider and questions you should ask before enrolling.

1. First impressions.

You can tell a lot about an academy or school by the reception area. Is there a receptionist? Are staff dressed like professionals?

2. How big is your prospective classroom? Does it have natural light? Are the chairs comfortable and the desks big enough?

You are going to be spending a lot of time in this room, so these aspects will impact on you and your learning at some point.

3. How many people will there be in your class?

The school may not be able to give you a precise answer but they should be able to tell you what the maximum number would be. Also, consider how that number relates to the size of the classroom.

4. Is the school Cambridge certified?

You would think this certification would reflect on the quality of the school but unfortunately it doesn't make much difference. Once a school has achieved  certification there doesn't appear to be any sort of ongoing quality assurance process.

5. Are the teachers qualified and experienced?

The minimum qualification level of your teacher you should be the Cambridge RSA Certificate; a pre-requisite for this qualification is normally an Honours degree. However, it is commonly excepted in the industry that for the first couple of years the teacher is learning on the job, so ask about experience too.

Many schools place a great deal of emphasis on using 'native speakers'; I have met many non-native English teachers from many countries who are excellent teachers, speak more accurately than a lot of native-speakers and have a better understanding of the language than a native speaker. Experience and qualifications count more than ethnicity.

6. How will your English level be assessed?

To ensure you attend a class that is at the correct level you should be assessed using a structured method; idealy this should include the opportunity to demonstrate your ability of the four skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking).

7. How many levels of class are offered by the school?

Larger class sizes increase profitability for schools but classes comprising students with a range of language skills invariably lead to frustration. 'Lower' students are frustrated because lessons are too difficult, 'higher' students are frustrated because lessons are not challenging enough.

8. If you are enrolling in an exam preparation course, what is the school's pass rate?

If you are told "we don't collect that data", then they either aren't keeping good records or they don't want you to know. You decide which is worse.

9. Do you have to buy a book?

In Spain, getting students to buy a book is a significant part of a private academy's business model, especially those offering Cambridge exam preparation. I have recently seen students who have failed an exam one year being sold a book for a higher level because "they needed something to do".

Interestingly, in other parts of the world schools develop their own course materials and encourage teachers to create bespoke materials for their students.

10. Has the teacher under-gone a police check?

If you are enrolling your children in an academy, this is an important question to ask.

In Australia, it is the law that all teachers successfully pass such a check before working with children up to the age of sixteen.

I have recently had casual employment with two local schools working with children as young as six and in neither instance was a police-check conducted. I even raised this with one of the schools' owner who informed me it is also the law in Spain but it was "a lot of work".

It is worth noting both these schools are Cambridge certified.