120-hour vs Level 5: TEFL hours and levels explained

There are a lot of different TEFL courses and providers out there and it can all quickly get a bit confusing. What do the different hours mean? Are there levels of TEFL qualifications? Will some courses increase your earning potential?

The most important thing to research when choosing a TEFL course is accreditation, which we’ve covered in a previous blog post. Once you’ve decided on the provider to study with you need to choose the course that’s right for you and in this article we’re going to break down the facts and help you do just that!

TEFL levels explained

You would be forgiven for thinking there are levels of TEFL qualifications, but this isn’t really the case. Level 5 would suggest there are four preceding levels, so where are the Level 1, 2, etc. courses?

The reason a Level 5 TEFL course is called as such is because of Ofqual. Ofqual is a non-ministerial government department that regulates qualifications in England not the whole of the UK. For those unfamiliar with how the devolved nations operate (Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland), education is the responsibility of the government in each nation. The regulatory body in Scotland is the SQA, in Wales it’s Qualifications Wales, and in Northern Ireland it’s the CCEA. So there’s no such thing as a ‘UK government regulated’ course.

But back to Ofqual. Ofqual has a qualifications framework that consists of 8 levels of ascending difficulty. A grade of D, E, F, or G at GCSE is considered Level 1, and at the top end of the scale at Level 8 is a PhD.

If a learning provider seeks out Ofqual regulation then they would go to an approved awarding body, not directly to Ofqual. In our case, that’s TQUK, but there are a number of other awarding bodies. This external body will thoroughly assess and inspect the learning provider and course and award regulation if the correct standards have been met.

To summarise: Level 5 TEFL courses are named as such because they have been assessed to be a level 5 qualification in accordance with Ofqual’s qualifications framework.

TEFL hours explained

TEFL courses are usually measured in hours. The hours listed is the length of time it would typically take to complete the course.

120 hours has been the industry standard for some time now, and you’ll see it specified on many job adverts. This is seen as the minimum amount of training required to get started teaching English and covers the essentials, from grammar to teaching techniques.

Taking a course with fewer hours puts you at a serious disadvantage as many employers won’t look at an applicant if they don’t meet the required 120 hours. Building your hours, with advanced training, can strengthen your CV and help to make it easier to secure work, particularly if you’re aiming to go into a specific area of TEFL.

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120-hour or Level 5: what’s better?

With all these different qualifications choosing the right course for you might seem a bit confusing, but it needn’t be!

We would recommend a 120-hour over a Level 5 if you fit most of the following criteria:

  • You have a minimum of a BA degree in any discipline
  • You have some previous teaching experience
  • You’re a native English speaker with a passport from the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa
  • You’re seeking work in a country with high demand for English teachers

And we would recommend a Level 5 over a 120-hour if you fall into the following:

  • You do not have a degree
  • You have no previous teaching experience
  • English isn’t your first language or you don’t have a passport from one of the 7 countries listed above
  • You’re aiming to work in a country with a competitive jobs market or online
  • You don’t feel very confident about teaching and want the most comprehensive training available

We’re always here to advise, so feel free to get in touch via live chat, by emailing info@tefl.org.uk, or calling 01349 800 600 and we can help you choose the right course.

Is a Level 5 TEFL course equivalent to a CELTA?

Both the Level 5 TEFL course and CELTA are level 5 qualifications according to Ofqual’s qualification framework. This means they’ve been assessed to be the same level of difficulty, not that they’re equivalent qualifications.

The reason for this is that while both courses are entry-level EFL teaching qualifications they’re delivered in very different ways and also have different focuses. The CELTA focuses on teaching adult learners, while a Level 5 TEFL qualification covers how to teach a range of different learners. You will typically study largely online through self-paced study when working towards your TEFL qualification, but the CELTA is most commonly delivered through full-time, in-person study over the course of a month.

Both qualifications are suitable for finding work abroad, but you will find a minority of employers request teachers have a CELTA. In these cases, where a CELTA is specified, a Level 5 is unlikely to be accepted. If they truly were regarded as equivalent qualifications by employers then this wouldn’t be the case.

CELTA qualifications are commonly required for working in English-speaking countries. But the sort of jobs that require a CELTA usually also require extensive experience too, so what many teachers do is get TEFL qualified, go abroad to teach for a few years, and return and complete the CELTA in order to be eligible for these jobs. Due to the cost (usually at least £1,200) and the time required, it’s a course more suitable for those aiming to make TEFL a long-term career.

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Will I earn more with a Level 5 qualification?

We have not seen evidence to back this up. While a Level 5 qualification can help to boost your CV and make it easier to secure work it won’t give you a salary bump.

Salaries in the TEFL industry are typically determined by experience, so entry-level teachers can expect to earn the same, whether they have a 120-hour, Level 5, or CELTA qualification. Depending on your circumstances and where you’re aiming to teach, a Level 5 may be the best option for you and help you find work where the markets are more competitive. But don’t expect to be able to command a higher salary, the industry doesn’t work like that and while it’s a nice marketing tactic, it’s misleading.

Bad practices in the TEFL industry

There’s no over-arching accrediting body for TEFL providers. This means there’s nothing stopping dodgy providers from saying their course is 120-hours when it actually takes a few hours to complete, or claim it’s a Level 5 TEFL course when it doesn’t have Ofqual regulation.

Without accreditation from established and respected external bodies you simply don’t know what you’re getting into. Accreditation is so important because it provides quality control and assurance that the course offers what it says it does. A proper accrediting body simply won’t grant accreditation to a provider that makes misleading or false claims about their courses.

A Level 5 qualification is only really a Level 5 TEFL course if it’s been regulated by an Ofqual-awarding body. Some less reputable providers will try to suggest they have this regulation when in fact they don’t. Or they will get endorsement from a body like TQUK, which is a much less thorough process, and is not the same as regulation, but they will try to imply otherwise.

It can be a bit of a minefield but all you need to do is check out a provider’s accreditation. They should be accredited by reputable bodies and remember that endorsement and membership of a body is not accreditation.

Take a look at our range of TEFL courses for more information about what’s included.

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