Fact-checking: Level 5 TEFL courses

In the TEFL world, it’s sometimes hard to know which qualification will result in the best chances of employment. Which is worth your time? Does a Level 5 course have everything the prospective English teacher needs to get started? Here, we explain all.

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Fact-checking: Level 5 TEFL courses
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As with almost everything in the TEFL world sometimes, it’s hard to wade through the conjecture, half-truths, and tricks that are used to sell courses. The Level 5 TEFL course is perhaps one of the most misunderstood of all the TEFL qualifications, and when you scratch the surface a little, it’s not hard to see why.

For example, Level 5 of what? What about Levels 1-4 and 6+? Why would a Level 5 be the qualification you need to teach English abroad? What about the other TEFL qualifications; is a 120-hour course as good as a Level 5? What about the CELTA, or Trinity CertTESOL?

Really, though, it’s all very simple once you get your head around it. We’re here to help you do just that because navigating the world of TEFL qualifications can feel like an uncertain voyage a lot of the time.

So, Level 5 TEFL courses: what’s myth and what’s fact?

What is a Level 5 TEFL qualification? 

Probably the most important question of the lot: what actually is a Level 5 TEFL qualification? Well, a Level 5 TEFL qualification is one that has been assessed by an external body to be a level 5 qualification according to Ofqual’s qualification framework. A level 5 qualification is equivalent to a Diploma of Higher Education, or a Higher National Diploma (HND). A degree with honours is regarded as a level 6 qualification, while a GCSE is a level 1 qualification, to give examples of the framework in practice. 

What is Ofqual? Ofqual is a non-ministerial government department, which regulates qualifications and exams in England. An Ofqual-regulated Level 5 course will have gone through strict quality control by an external body that is officially recognized by Ofqual as an awarding organization to ensure that the course is of the high standard required.

Some less scrupulous course providers attach ‘Level 5’ to the name of their courses but they haven’t actually been externally accredited by a recognized Ofqual awarding organization. In cases like these, ‘Level 5’ is being used misleadingly to sell courses by suggesting a level of regulation that does not exist. 

We’re always telling prospective students about the importance of checking out a provider’s accreditation because, unfortunately, in the TEFL industry sometimes things aren’t always what they seem. Sadly, a number of self-styled TEFL course providers either don’t have accreditation -  meaning that their courses aren’t of the standard you can expect from a regulated level 5 course - or they invent new accreditation for their own purposes.

What are CELTA and Trinity CertTESOL?

When it comes to the Level 5 TEFL qualification debate, CELTA and Trinity CertTESOL are often thrown into the mix. So, for clarity’s sake, what are these courses, and what do they offer?

CELTA stands for Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and used to be taught only within CELTA-registered classroom environments. It’s taught for English teachers who want to teach adult learners and is a more expensive but prestigious qualification, designed by the University of Cambridge.

Nowadays, especially post-pandemic, CELTA has extended to the online sphere, meaning that prospective teachers can use online or hybrid classes to pass the CELTA. There are regular assessments, and the course is normally completed within two months.

Trinity CertTESOL, meanwhile, comes from Trinity College London (as the name suggests), and is a similarly reputable TEFL course. It has the same entry requirements as CELTA and is completed over 120 to 136 hours. 

Both courses have an established reputation within the TEFL world. Until more recently, the CELTA course was the established TEFL course in terms of job opportunities and reputation, with Trinity CertTESOL commanding similar esteem. Nowadays, both are still high-quality courses, but the marketplace has changed to meet the needs of the modern learner. In that sense, courses like Level 5 and a 120-hour TEFL course, which are both available as online and distance options, have built up significant ground, especially owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Is a Level 5 qualification equivalent to the CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL?

According to Ofqual, a Level 5 TEFL qualification and the CELTA and Trinity CertTESOL are assessed to be the same level of difficulty.

Do employers regard the qualifications to be equivalent? The honest answer is this: if an employer specifically asks for a CELTA/Trinity CertTESOL then it’s highly unlikely they will accept a Level 5 qualification instead.

How the courses are delivered is very different. Both the CELTA and Trinity CertTESOL courses are typically completed as an intensive classroom-based course, held over a month - although the CELTA course has adapted to hybrid and online learning. They both include six hours of observed teaching practice and focus on teaching adult learners. A Level 5 TEFL qualification is largely completed online and covers teaching a range of learners.

This means that while the qualifications are the same level they aren’t really equivalent because the way they are taught and their focuses are very different.

Should I do the CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL instead?

​At this point, you might be thinking that a Level 5 qualification isn’t worth the time and you should do a CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL instead. Well, that just isn’t the case.

Only a minority of employers ask for a CELTA qualification and those that do typically also require teachers to have several years of teaching experience.

It would be a mistake to think that because the CELTA is long-established, highly regarded, and comes with a much higher price tag that it would open doors to better-paid positions. Truthfully, the opportunities for an inexperienced teacher with a CELTA qualification vs. one with a TEFL qualification are very similar. This is because in the TEFL industry salaries are usually determined by experience.

If you take a look at some of the biggest TEFL job boards you’ll find that the vast majority of entry-level positions require teachers to have recognized English teaching qualifications, with both TEFL and CELTA ticking that box.

To summarize: if an employer stipulates that a CELTA qualification is a requirement it’s unlikely they’ll accept a different qualification. In reality, the number of employers with such a requirement is limited, with most happy to accept a TEFL qualification from an accredited course provider.

Will I earn more with a Level 5 TEFL qualification? 

It’s hard to imagine this being the case.

The best-paid TEFL jobs go to those who are in particular parts of the world, have years of experience and some form of TEFL qualification. Having a CELTA, a Level 5, Trinity CertTESOL isn’t the deciding factor when it comes to wages.

The type of school a person works in, the landscape, and the demand for teachers in certain regions; there are more important factors. So, you might not earn more with a Level 5, but you won’t exactly earn less either.

Can I use a Level 5 TEFL qualification to teach in an English-speaking country? 

You can, but in order to find permanent work in English-speaking countries, it’s going to be difficult with just a Level 5 qualification on its own.

Teaching English in any English-speaking country can be difficult due to how competitive the market is. With such a big pool to select from, employers can afford to be selective and tend to recruit teachers who have come back from teaching abroad and have several years of teaching experience under their belt. Entry-level positions are few and far between.

The exception to this is summer schools. Roughly 5 million US school students are English learners, with summer schools providing excellent extra time to catch up. While this can be a great way to get started teaching English, it’s unlikely to lead to a more permanent position in the near future.

Experience is by far the most important factor when it comes to teaching English in English-speaking countries. Our recommendation is to get your TEFL qualification, find teaching work abroad to build up your skills and experience, and then you’ll be in a position to compete for jobs in the likes of the UK, the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and other English-speaking nations when you return.

What’s the difference between a Level 5 and a 120-hour TEFL? 

The truth is that the opportunities with both are pretty much the same. Most employers worldwide require teachers to have a 120-hour TEFL qualification, so a TEFL course with at least these hours and a Level 5 TEFL course meet this requirement.

So, why would someone opt for a Level 5 course over a 120-hour course? With more hours, a Level 5 course goes into more depth, which means it can be a better option for those completely new to teaching who might not be feeling very confident.

A level 5 course may go more into the history of the English language, and how particular linguistic rules came to be. The methodology of English teaching also tends to play a more advanced role in level 5 courses.

What course should I pick? 

Simply put, this is a personal choice. There are different levels and courses to explore, and each has benefits and drawbacks, depending on your perspective.

For many, the flexibility of the 120-hour TEFL course is what sets it apart. With self-directed study, tutor support, and excellent materials, 120 hours has become the industry standard in TEFL training and will give you more than enough to get started. However, as explained, the Level 5 course is more intensive and comprehensive, owing to its increased number of hours.

The CELTA course is a good choice if you have the funding and the time set aside for full-time study. Yes, there are part-time options, and remote options now, too, but traditionally the CELTA course has been taught in person at a CELTA-registered center. For those from a more academic background, the schedule and assessment system of the CELTA might feel like a more comfortable fit. However, it is comparatively expensive. 

Really, it comes down to how much time you have, your commitments outside of learning a TEFL course, and the kind of finances you have available for a TEFL qualification. The Level 5 course, while newer than its counterparts in Trinity CertTESOL and CELTA, certainly has a solid reputation with employers. If the end goal is being able to teach abroad or online, any of these courses - provided they’re properly accredited - will achieve that ambition.