Industry Voices: Henry Tolley

Our Industry Voices this week comes from Henry Tolley, Head of Business Development at LanguageCert, a professional qualification company offering a suite of Ofqual-accredited exams. He talks about the company’s global reach, the languages offered in their certificates, and the need for flexibility and digital presence in an increasingly online world.

About PeopleCert and LanguageCert
PeopleCert is an organisation that started about 15 years ago. They were set up initially to do IT, and professional qualifications. Then in 2015, PeopleCert bought City & Guilds International and over the process of three years, we've launched it as LanguageCert. In the company, we've got people from Cambridge – Michael Milanovic, Roger Johnson, Roger Pike – who have come over to make sure that the exam fits the correct format it needs to make it an international exam. With them on board, we've got Ofqual accreditation, and that then has led them into being globally recognised exams.

About our suite of certificates
We deliver in 200 countries, so we've already delivered 5 million exams over the last 10 years. So the footprint is there. We’re building on that with the language... we do English, Spanish and now Turkish, and we will have French, German and Italian in the future. On the basis of the language area, we're basically the exam that will compete with main suite Cambridge, or other exams of that ilk; they are level exams, not like IELTS which is a thermometer test. This is an exam for a level, so we've got A1, which was missing from the market in the past, to C2. The other positive thing is that you've got a split; you've got an Ofqual certificate for speaking and an Ofqual certificate for the written part which is reading, writing and listening. Our students can range from 12 to 112, and they can be C1 level at speaking, but maybe B2 level at writing. They've got something that recognises that, but it also encourages them to come back and try for that other higher level, so there's flexibility. The exams are also on-demand – most other exams are fixed dates. [We understand that] schools have students who come for different times, so they choose. They tell us 10 days before and that's the date they have, whether it's written or spoken.

Flexibility is vital in a digital world
The aim is to be very flexible! All our exams are delivered online and paper, and we want to keep the balance of having both options and never to say you can't have this or that. Online will happen by the end of this year for all languages. We're moving into a digital world. Basically, we have a proctoring system where someone can sit on their home computer, they could even be in a hotel bedroom, wherever, and take the exam with a proctored service.

I've had this with other exam boards, where there are issues of sending examiners, or issues of insurance, or issues about something else. The format is very different [at PeopleCert]. We train a minimum of two teachers to be interlocutors for the spoken part. They deliver the exam, they record it like you're recording this now [on a dictaphone], and then send it to us to mark. That's the structure. So we don't have issues with war zones, we don't have issues with insurance policies around either Turkey, Ukraine or Beirut. We don't need to send examiners – we get the materials sent to us. With things like the papers, we can send them to you by UPS, and you can scan them back to us and as soon as we get them back, there are 10 days before you get your results. With the spoken exam, it can be even quicker! It's a process, it's the speed. People don't want to wait.

Our current status working with International House schools
It's interesting. We have Frédéric Borne on board from IH Madrid, so knowing the schools helps a lot! His responsibility is working with the UK and Ireland and the interest there, but also the Italian IH group in Italy. I've met them through AISLI, we've had meetings already here at the IH Directors' Conference, and as a group there are big European projects in Italy like PON, etc. that have happened in the past.

We're open to [working with] all of [the IH schools]. We've had conversations throughout this whole conference with loads of countries that we would not have necessarily had time to visit. They're here, so coming to the conference is a great boost.

The highlights in Sofia have been the series of meeting we've had. And all great surroundings – I've really enjoyed Sofia! It's a really nice city to be in, so a perfect excuse to come! As for the IH conference, it's been wonderfully organised, you've got a lot of experience running these conferences. Plenty of time is given, like breaks and lunchtimes, for people to come into the exhibition area and people have taken it very seriously and come and met us and talked to us.

Our plans for the future
We're looking at new things all the time. We're looking at more business-based exams, exams for young and very young learners... we're also looking to add French and German as two extra languages, and then every year to add another couple of languages. We'll probably get to a maximum of 10 languages. So we're looking to grow. We're also looking at technological delivery all the time, e.g. to be able to book the exam on your phone, which you can already do. If one extra student suddenly turns up to be put on the course, they can instantly press a button and it's all done for them. So I think that's important. And also having one CRM system, which does everything and sends them a bill at the end of it is better than having to have 5 or 6 different systems and they don't read into each other.

Henry chatted with IHWO at the IH Directors' Conference in Sofia, Bulgaria in May 2018.