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ACE – The Language Teacher’s Driving Licence
Susan Davies

Peter Fabian (Fabian, 1983) once likened language teaching qualifications to driving licences – they provide a licence to teach. The new Access Certificate in English Language Teaching (ACE) was inspired by the UK driving test and was developed by City & Guilds in response to demands for a teaching qualification which was affordable and accessible but most importantly, of a reliable standard.

The City & Guilds of London Institute is the largest provider of vocational qualifications within the UK. Pitman Qualifications became part of City & Guilds in 1991 and ACE is designed to support and complement the range of Pitman Qualification awards known as English for Speakers of Other Languages or ESOL. The demand for a training qualification came from many of the Pitman Centres throughout the world. They wanted initial training of new teachers and the re-training of experienced teachers. The experienced teachers may have been trained many years ago and received little professional development since then. Alternatively they may never have received any training at all. It was recognised that proficiency in English was no longer enough to make an English teacher.

City & Guilds invited Richard West from Manchester University to work in partnership to develop ACE. Designing courses which deliver the academic quality required and allow flexibility was something the Centre for English Language Studies at Manchester University had done successfully for many years. Out of this partnership came a new approach to teacher education – one which uses distance learning and new technology to maintain academic standards and security while keeping costs low.

ACE is designed for teachers who are newcomers to the profession, or who are existing teachers who want to upgrade their skills or perhaps want to move into ELT from teaching a different subject. Many teachers round the world do not have easy access to training either for financial or geographical reasons. One of the main concerns from the outset was to design a qualification which is flexible and takes account of the many different teaching situations around the world while removing the barrier to many – high cost.

ACE comes a s a complete package with support materials which can be used in a variety of ways – including pre-class reading, in-class discussion, groupwork tasks, follow-up reading - depending on the length and format of the course. Like the driving test, ACE evaluates trainees in two parts – theory and practice. The ‘theory’ module is assessed through a one-hour test based on distance-learning materials to complement the set books, How to Teach English by Jeremy Harmer (Longman, 1998) and Teaching Practice Handbook by Roger Gower, Diane Phillips and Steve Walters (Heinemann, 1995). These books were chosen as representing the closest that is currently on offer as a language teacher’s Highway Code. Jeremy Harmer shares the vision of using new ways of training to open doors to many whom would never have the opportunity otherwise. He not only supports the concepts behind ACE, but also he has approved the comprehensive self-access materials, which complement his book. Also available if required are materials to support trainees working on their own, guiding them with practical help on their learning styles and study skills. These materials were produced by Manchester University, who have a long successful history of producing distance-learning materials for ELT.

ACE is not merely an examination – it is a training package for both trainees and trainers. The practical part of the training is a teaching practice module again supported by self-access materials. Lessons taught by trainees are assessed by local tutors or mentors who have been trained and standardised through a video-training package.

ACE allows for a variety of delivery options and also takes advantage of new technology. CD versions of the materials are available and the theory test is available as a computer-based test. At present, trainees are assessed in the practical teaching component through observation but provision can be made to have such lessons videoed and sent to an assessor within 48 hours. It is planned to enable centres to assess these lessons via computers, as facilities such as web-cam become more widely available.

The metaphor of the driving licence has been extended. Any driver wanting to drive anything more than a car, may have to take an additional test so that they will then have a fuller licence. For example, in the UK you have to take an extra test if you want to drive a heavy goods vehicle or ride a motorbike. The idea of an enhanced ACE Certificate for specialist applications has already been developed. An ESP-ACE is already available for teaching of English for Specific Purposes and there are plans for teachers of primary learners, PL-ACE.

Finally, a quote from one of the ACE centres in Zimbabwe, gives a taste of how ACE is fulfilling its vision:

“Apart from the obvious fact that the completion of the course gave us five much-needed properly trained EFL teachers, we discovered an unexpected plus to our training programme. This was the dramatic change in the staffroom atmosphere which came about as a result of the course. With six enthusiastic trainees in the staffroom, keen to ask questions and share their triumphs and disasters with the rest of us, we found that the rest of the staff were suddenly inspired to produce better, more interesting lessons, to discuss pedagogical issues and take part in training discussion. From a rather jaded group of experienced teachers we were newly energised by the trainees. There is now a much more supportive, co-operative, sharing environment in the staffroom – a real bonus from our training programme.”

Supported by the British Council, ACE was piloted in several countries. There are now a number of Pitman Centres and Pitman agents in Brazil. If you are interested in knowing more or would like to become a centre, contact Glyn Jones glynj@city-and-guilds.co.uk

REFERENCES

Fabian, P A (1983) ARELS Orals: the modern linguist’s driving licence. In Jordan, R R Case Studies in ELT, (pp 68-77) William Collins Sons & Co Ltd
Gower, R; Phillips D; Walters, S (1995) Teaching Practice Handbook, Heinemann
Harmer, J (1998) How to Teach English, Longman

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