The House that John Haycraft Built: Part 4

We started this seemingly impossible biography, for want of a better name, “Notes Towards a man who probably destroyed English language teaching as a profession” some ten years ago. Being the tenth anniversary we have recently updated Parts One and Two and Part Three this month. These parts deal with Haycraft’s roots in the British establishment and his version of liberal internationalism, they also touch on the controversial time he spent in Franco’s Spain and his subsequent book about these experiences. Now we want to finally complete Part 4 and Part 5. We do so having the benefit of both hindsight and new materials/information coming into our possession. Indeed there is a marvellous quote by Hegel that “The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only at the falling of the dusk”, meaning it is only when events are passing into history that we begin to “understand” them. And, we would argue, that the “house that John Haycraft” is indeed beginning to fall apart.

The invention of the pre-service teaching certificate

On their return from Spain the Haycraft’s (John and his wife Brita) set up a language school in Shaftesbury Avenue, London, and in 1962 advertised a pre-service teacher training course for would be teachers looking to teach English in London or abroad, most notably in Academica Britanica and Casa Internacional in Cordoba, the IH mother house founded by the Haycrafts in the 1950s. The success of the courses grew as the IH franchise steadily grew across Europe. Indeed, the demand for IH training courses grew rapidly and by the mid 1970s IH London ran up to five Teacher Training courses a
month and courses were also offered by IHs in Rome, Lisbon and Barcelona; and plans were already being drawn up for Cairo.

IH were not alone in offering pre-service teacher training, and up until 1962 the commercial sector was dominated by school chains such as Berlitz and the British Schools Italy, which used a particular method of teaching and a set of materials and pre‐planned lessons which teachers were trained to use and stick to.  However, IH were to develop a different methodology and make evey effort to provide a transversal teacher training package which would equip teachers to teach in a variety of schools and contexts. Haycraft worked hard to get other schools to recognise the value of this pre-service training but clearly it was the only product on the market which removed the need of schools to train their own teachers and prepare those teachers to adapt to the necessities of the different schools (being less cultish than Berlitz).

The training was in large part an adhoc synthesis between presenting language  and some peer observation; techniques Haycraft picked up on a one year drama course he undertook at Harvard after he finished his degree at Oxford ( oh the lives of the great of good). Haycraft also encouraged students to adapt lessons from a course book rather than religiously follow the course book itself. The course book originally chosen was Haycraft’s very own Getting On In Englishwritten for the BBC. We wonder what contacts Haycraft had from his time in Oxford to receive such a commission or whether it was an intervention from his famous publisher brother, Colin Haycraft. The key aspects of this non-theoretical practical three week training course (three hours per day) were:

  • input
  • teaching practice
  • observation
  • feedback
  • lesson planning

Though the length of the course has increased and tutors themselves have now undergone advanced teacher training, the course remains pretty much the same today. Teachers are expected to learn the job by themselves by working with and adapting a course book in hopeful collaboration with other ill-prepared teachers.

In 1978 the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) officially accredited the course, later to become the CTEFLA (Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults and then CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) with the inclusion of UCLES (University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate) in the accreditation scheme. Though it has come under attack from rival accreditation schemes especially outside the former commonwealth countries and Europe (see our article on OPENCities) it not only retains its original prestige but has shaped the methodology of other accreditation schemes which have more or less copied the CELTA format.

The privatisation of English language teaching

In an introduction to a fascinating series of papers (the Dunford Papers) produced for the British Council, Christopher Brumfit says it loud and clear:

Any teaching is necessarily the servant of other agendas, for learning is a means to an end (though “understanding” may be an entirely desirable end in itself). The security of the late 1970s had to be illusory, if only because of the changed economic role of Britain. The shift of economic power to oil-producing states had assisted a major demand for ELT expertise as educational modernisation accompanied economic, political and religious ambitons pursued by increasingly independent states. Functions and notions, languages for specific purposes, needs analyses, interlanguage, community expectations of all kinds enriched and challenged both researchers and teachers. Publishers and critics, writers and adherents alike, were excited by the atmosphere of expansion, creativity and change.

In contrast, the 1980s appeard to be a period of consolidation. Innovation centred on methodolgy and materials, task based learning for teachers, classroom interaction patterns for researchers. Professionally, the generation of ELT specialists who had trained in conventional teacher education programmes and taught in formal state education became greatly outnumbered by the newer generation of those who had trained via specialist EFL diplomas, particularly the RSA, and taught in private scholls for young adults. Academdic interest had shifted from schools to higher education during the 1970s, and (as far as ELT is concerned) never really returned to schools. School-level ESL in Britain, let alone India or Africa, seemed far away  from the concerns of the most innovative textbooks and latest methodolgical panaceas.

Yet there was something of a paradox, for many of the ideas of communicative language teaching were derived from general pedagogy (use of groupwork for example) or from second-language experience of school-level practitoners. But the market no longer lay with the primary and secondary schooling, and the tertiary pipers called the methodological tune.

In short, ELT had shifted from the state to the private sector, and the rising private sector with its custom built, super mobile, super cheap teacher training programme was coming to dominate ELT theory and methodology. Just as Lenin, the chief architect of the Bolshevik party had called All Power to the Soviets, John Haycraft , the chief architect of  privatised teacher training, was calling All Power to the Private Academies.

And finally from Brumfit:

Educational values ( necessarily long term and difficult to quantify) were in constant competition with consumer choice. Expertise was pulled ( some would say distorted) by the need to attract maximum return from customers. Customers understandably want rapid succcess with minimum outlay and effort. Effective language learning need not be nasty, brutish and long but the temptation to proclaim that it would be enjoyable, British and short confronted many in ELT, in both public and private sectors, whose careers were thrust into a crude, insenstive and recession dominated market-place.

ELT and “development”

We are clearly suggesting here that a different teacher training programme was possible, one which prepared teachers more fully, was less dependent on the coursebook and, consequently served students needs better. The reality, however, was that John Haycraft’s proto-neoliberal vision of the ELT industry, dovetailed neatly, not only with private language schools and the ELT publishing industry, but also with the emerging economic reality throughout Europe and further afield. It would be wrong to suggest that the private sector had complete dominance of the direction of ELT (thinking here of the university sector and English as a Second or Other Language), but we would agree with Brumfit that it is the “tertiary sector” which is generally calling the tune.

The dominance of the neo-liberal regime which emerged from the ruins of post-War Keynesianism not only found itself reflected in ELT but also found a loyal servant, spreading the message of private education as a guarantee of widening wealth inequality (with its extra-curriculum classes and trips abroad to English summer schools).

Moreover, this new economic regime of privatisation, curtailing workers’ rights and liberating capital flows through deregulation found itself perversely enshrined and amplified in ELT ideology. ELT second acquisition theory and teacher development both seem to have increasingly relegated the role of “experts” and facilitators in the learning process with an emphasis on the “naturalness of learning” as a development process which will take place largely on its own, provided students/teachers have access to a “flow” of rich and diverse experience and information. The role of the teacher/teacher trainer becomes similar to that of a central bank, setting and completing certain monetary targets for a balanced economy and leaving the market to its own devices.

This point is beautifully explored by Mike Beaumont and Gerry Abott in the aforementioned collection of Dunford Papers, in how “development”, the very word itself, moved from a transitive use (develop a syllabus, develop a teaching strategy etc) within ELT  to an intranstive use (development errors, teacher development etc). This mirrors a shift in state economic strategies from fiscal interventions (infrastructure  spending, industrial strategies) to deregulation and ensuring free capital flows shape economic activities. Well, we all know where that got us, spiralling inequality, historical low levels of growth (in general) and productivity (in particular), wage stagnation and levels of public debt once only seen in times of war (not forgetting a financial crisis which almost brought the whole system to its knees). In the field of ELT we have indeed seen an impressive growth of the industry but we also seen crushingly low wages for teachers and increased inequalities between countries  and inside countries in language competence/qualifications. Moreover, in Eastern European countries, (a point we will be returning to in our discussion of Haycraft and his “liberalisation” project with George Soros in the final part of this biography), we have seen English (and other languages) decimate the demographics of those countries, as the “brighter” and more mobile younger people abandon their countries for work abroad , leaving older, less qualified, less mobile people behind. Indeed, some have argued that this process (with its inequalities and disdain for community) is at the very heart of the rise of authoritarianism in Europe and the undermining of social liberal values. This is what leaving “development” all to itself leads to.

Certain markets have become saturated for the ELT industry and entering decline, while new markets are not necessarily turning to the traditional ELT industry. The UK is itself turning its back on Europe and the idea of openess with its Brexit vote and consequent crisis of identity. The model of John Haycraft is exhausting itself as the neoliberal regime is also itself running out of time and ideas. One might not draw this conclusion from the bright smiles of plenary speakers at IATEFL and the fake positivity of their admirers, but be sure the game is over. The old is dying and the future is struggling to be born. While many of our fights may appear defensive at present (over pay and conditions), the very fact that we are fighting at all in an industry dominated brutally by neoliberalism and a disdain for solidarity (as opposed to “networking” and self-promotion) means this is a moment of great advance. A different world is possible as is a different ELT community; understanding our history, which includes the iron if rusting grip of the legacy of John Haycraft, helps us shape the future.

Note: Below our some useful references dealing with threats to the traditional ELT market in general (and UK in particular) mentioned in the final paragraph.

  1. Rise of Edtech in Asia 
  2. The end of the blond-haired blue-eyed teacher   and our own modest piece
  3. The decline of UK ELT


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4 responses to “The House that John Haycraft Built: Part 4

  1. hi
    interesting stuff here (as is all your other writings),
    link to “while new markets are not necessarily turning to the traditional ELT industry” is broken?

    • Thank you!!! And thank you for being a keen reader and a person who shares our articles with others.
      We don’t seem to be able to get the link to function correctly so we have decided to add four entirely new references at the bottom of the article which help support (maybe not as strongly as we would like – ie numbers) our argument and which readers will hopefully find in some way persuasive and thought-provoking.

  2. Hi Marxist ELF,

    I really enjoyed reading this account, and have a suggestion I’d like to put to you. Can you email me ( or dm on Twitter?


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