TESOL in the UK

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by Ben Davies

If you are a native or fluent English speaker, you have at your disposal one of the most reliable job skills in the world. English is a language that is used worldwide in fields such as science, medicine, business and communication. As such, the TEFL job market - the teaching of English abroad - has increased rapidly over recent years and continues to do so. We dealt with that topic here, and it is also covered in our blog ‘My TEFL journey'. This article, however, looks at the TESOL job market within the UK.

Teaching English in England

Within an English speaking country, the term Teaching English to Speakers of Other Language (TESOL) is more often applied than Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). Why is TESOL necessary in the UK? Every year, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers come to the UK. Businesses often sponsor these workers to study English.

Their families and others also sometimes request training in English, which opens up opportunities in schools and colleges. On top of that there are hundreds of thousands of foreign students in the UK, some with the express intention of studying English. Also, many refugees come to the UK requiring English language instruction. The UK, then, is plentiful with opportunities to teach English. 

TESOL in the UK

TESOL in the UK can be broadly classified into four categories:

  • Schools
  • Colleges/Universities
  • Businesses
  • Private language schools

The opportunities for an ESOL instructor at a school include positions such as Language Teaching Assistant. Within classes there may be some whose mother tongue is not English who require further instruction. The Language Assistant's duties include teaching the necessary vocabulary for the lessons and offering explanations, sometimes in the student's mother tongue. Sometimes an ESOL instructor at a school provides private classes or small group lessons for such students.

Adult and further education colleges are perhaps the most reliable source of positions. Many colleges offer ESOL courses leading to qualifications such as ‘Skills for Life'. The instructors for these courses need to specialize in teaching English as a second language. Part time work on temporary contracts can be found, although you should bear in mind that evening work is often part of the job.

Business and private lessons

Businesses in the UK often want to help improve the language of their workers. Therefore, many such businesses hire teachers to conduct small classes. This work is often found through agencies or private advertising. It often involves teaching the language specific to that business sector, whether it's finance or construction. Private tuition can also be found in the UK, which involves holding private classes, either in group settings or with individuals. The pay can be higher from this method of teaching, but the obvious drawbacks of being self-employed can be challenging. It also necessitates advertising in order to become known as a teacher.


Teaching English as a second language requires some unique skills. The Trinity College TESOL course offers comprehensive training in this area that is well-recognised by employers. Also, the Cambridge CELTA course is reputable. Teaching experience is always going to count in your favour, as is a university degree. In fact, taking one of these courses at your local college may well help you to find your first job, as you are given practical teaching experience as part of these courses.

Teaching within England can also be an excellent first step if you are thinking of going abroad to teach English. It gives you the advantage of experience, but without having to make the commitment of relocating.

Responsibilities and skills

TESOL is a varied job, involving the following duties and tasks:

  • Lesson planning
  • Preparing and producing handouts and materials
  • Developing a curriculum of learning
  • Writing reports on students' progress
  • Teaching a variety of English styles - business, basic, conversational etc.
  • Communicating with fellow teachers to plan and improve methods
  • Communicating with students to assess needs

Some skills that are useful in TESOL are:

  • Listening to what your students say
  • Speaking clearly so as to be easily understood
  • Having a sense of humour to make your classes more enjoyable

Finding a job

Jobs at schools, adult colleges and further education colleges are most likely to be advertised locally, through the council website or local newspapers.

The British Council is another mine of information. Their recruitment pages state that although vacancies can be found at any time of year, spring and early summer are key periods for hiring in time for the new academic year. Their website includes vacancies within the UK, and abroad.

Recent issues

The organization that monitors the standard of classes for migrants and refugees has recently expressed some concern. Although the quality of ESOL instruction in the UK is improving, it is still not at a level that OFSTED considers to be ‘good'.

In August 2007 the government stopped subsiding the course payments for ESOL students at colleges and the result has been that student numbers have dropped somewhat. OFSTED are pushing the government to try to resolve this issue. They also say that businesses should play a greater part in their workers education by offering English classes to those who request it, and that likewise students should be offered the opportunity to put the English skills into practice in the workplace.

More information

The government has lots of helpful information. Also, the British council's website is well worth checking. For TEFL qualifications, see here.

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