TEFL hours and levels explained

As exciting and demanding as the world of TEFL is, it’s easy to see why there’s confusion over what qualification is the “right” one to get. Let’s shatter a few myths about the levels and hours needed for TEFL qualification.

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There’s no doubt the world of TEFL is an immensely exciting opportunity - a chance to attain a new qualification, see the world, set up your own business, help people in your local community, and much more.

Learning to teach English as a foreign language is no small undertaking. There are plenty of courses and course providers around, offering different types of TEFL qualifications, promising job opportunities and academic excellence.

There are good providers and bad providers. In general, a TEFL provider should provide tutor time, excellent teaching materials, opportunities beyond the qualification (for example, a Job Search service), and, above all else, a qualification that properly prepares prospective teachers for the vocation of teaching English abroad or online.

Some TEFL companies might promise qualifications in next to no time, with very little money spent, although there are huge risks involved. Sometimes, people find themselves bound to the wrong type of TEFL course, one that doesn’t meet their personal needs or career objectives.

For something as established as TEFL, then, there are different types of qualifications, with different hours and levels. There are different amounts of time in which a course can be finished, and there are perceptions about which is the “best” qualification, and what really gets employers interested.

Also, there are reputations involved, a perceived difference in salaries, and arguments about the “levels” of qualifications that can be achieved to get ready to teach English or to be an ESL Teacher. What does it all mean, and how can you tell the difference between a qualification that’s worth it, and one that won’t help much?

As ever, The TEFL Org is here to shatter some myths and explain what TEFL qualification is really all about.

TEFL levels explained 

You would be forgiven for thinking there are levels of TEFL qualifications like there are in finance, engineering, and the like, but there aren’t. Level 5 would suggest there are four preceding levels, so where are the Level 1, 2, etc. courses? It’s a good question, and it’s little surprise there’s some confusion about it all.

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 - crucially - there’s no such thing as a ‘UK government regulated’ course, due to devolved educational systems in each country.

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. At the top end of the scale at Level 8 is a Ph.D.

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.

In summary,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 number of hours listed on the course page 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. As a rule, 120 hours of TEFL study will generally get you where you need to go, whether it’s teaching online, or exploring your opportunities overseas.

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. To put it in blunt terms, you won’t have learned enough to get your TEFL show on the road. 

There are Groupon and discount courses that promise TEFL qualifications within a very limited window of time. However, if they really did deliver, there wouldn’t be demand for 120 hours. Instead, these courses won’t sufficiently prepare potential teachers, and many who take these courses will find that there are plenty of hidden costs, whether it’s materials or time, which means that these discount courses become prohibitively expensive.

Advanced courses, on the other hand, can provide extra gloss for a TEFL CV. Typically, Advanced TEFL courses last between 20 and 40 hours and are a great way to “top up” your TEFL qualification, in a sense, while zeroing in on a specific area of TEFL teaching. For example, a course in exam preparation, or Business English, are both very worthwhile choices.

120-hour or Level 5: what’s better? 

With all of the qualifications on offer in the world of TEFL, it’s often hard to know which is the “better” course to do. The truth is, there are always differing sets of circumstances. The qualification that’s right for one person mightn’t be what’s best for another.

It’s all about choice. Though there are recognized industry standards in terms of qualifications, there are different ways to get to that attractive level of employability. 

So, 120-hour v Level 5: what’s better for you, specifically?

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 (to emphasize, your degree doesn’t have to be in a specific field, for example, Teaching, or English.
  • 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 the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa
  • 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, 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 qualifications framework. This means they’ve been assessed to be the same level of difficulty, but crucially, 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. TEFL is not a uniform, objective subject, and there are different ways of teaching it to optimize a qualification for use in the real world.

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. Normally, study will take place 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. However, 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 $1,300) and the time required, it’s a course more suitable for those aiming to make TEFL a long-term career. However, you don’t necessarily need a CELTA qualification to make a career out of teaching English as a foreign language.

Will I earn more with a Level 5 TEFL course? 

We’ve not seen anything to really suggest that a Level 5 qualification can lead to a bigger payslip. 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.

So 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. A Level 5 qualification may help to make some doors open more easily, but in terms of salary, there’s no real difference.

Will I be eligible for more jobs with a Level 5 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. Simply put, for whatever reason, some employers prefer a Level 5 qualification on a CV to CELTA, or a 120-hour TEFL course.

However, there’s a confusing element to this; if you have a Level 5, that’s great. That said, you can do Level 5 without a degree or experience. Many employers will insist on experience and a Bachelor’s Degree, as will a number of countries - particularly in the Far East and the Middle East. That’s due to stricter immigration laws and Visa conditions.

As ever, it’s better to assess each job opportunity based on its own merits, and each country based on its own immigration system. Again, the best rule is to achieve 120 hours of TEFL qualification and go from there, rather than relying on generalizations about each kind of qualification.

Bad practices in the TEFL industry 

There’s no over-arching accrediting body for TEFL providers. This means there’s nothing stopping questionable 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 an 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 the same as accreditation. 

How can you avoid the pitfall of being fooled by a bogus “accreditation”? It’s all about doing research. If you don’t recognize the accrediting body’s name, give it a Google. It should have a proper online presence and be a name that’s recognized by a number of different TEFL course providers.

Not only that, it should be an accreditation that is relevant to the industry (obviously!) and one that has some degree of clout in terms of English teaching, distance learning or qualifications in general.