TEFL vs ESOL Teaching


TEFL vs ESOL Teaching:

I’m often asked what are the main differences between teaching TEFL and ESOL in the UK? After all teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) sounds pretty similar to teaching English as a second language (ESOL), doesn’t it?

I’ve spent several years working for both the TEFL and ESOL sectors in Plymouth, UK. I’ve taught in two private TEFL language schools and also at an ESOL school. Nowadays, I tend to teach ESOL students from September to June and then in private TEFL school in July and August [1].  

Generally, I would describe the main difference between TEFL and ESOL in the UK, is that students in private TEFL language schools come to learn English for a short period of time (either for a holiday or course) with the intention of returning to their home country afterwards or going on to study at a university in the UK.

The ESOL sector, on the other hand is for students who have moved to the UK permanently. This could be because they are migrant workers, they have married a British person or they have fled their countries because of war and persecution and are asylum seekers or refugees.

The differences between teaching in these sectors in the UK are quite vast.

Here are a few of the main ones I’ve encountered:

TEFL/ Private language schools

·      The private sector tends to be more seasonal with mainly zero hour contracts. In the UK a TEFL teacher can earn a lot of money between March and April, but struggle to find work during the winter months [2].

·      The private sector tends to follow the CEFR guidelines for English Levels (A1-C2) [3].

·      The private sector tends to focus more on teaching for exams such as IELTS, First Certificate and TOIEC (depending on what the students’ requirements are).

·      The private sector often teaches specialist English such as aviation English (TEA), Business English and English for specific purposes (ESP) [4].

·      Classes in the private sector can be between £250-400 a week (depending on the language school or time of year) [5]. Private 1:1 lessons can also cost between £20-40 for one hour (depending on the school.

·      Many language schools run homestay Summer Schools for teenagers, which feature English lessons and activities (such as bowling, going to the cinema etc.) [6].

·      The majority of students attending classes in a private school tend to have had previous experience learning English in their home countries.

·      The lowest level I’ve taught at a private language school has been elementary (A2) and the highest level has been advanced (C1).

·      From my personal experience, the private sector has only a small amount of paperwork and teacher admin. I have very rarely been asked for a formal lesson plan or scheme of work. Often the teacher follows a curriculum or specific textbook, depending on what course is being taught.



  • The ESOL sector on the other hand is subject to OFSTED requirements, so it has quite a lot of paperwork and admin.

·      For my current school, I am required to produce daily lesson plans, schemes of work and complete Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) for each student that I teach.

·      The ESOL sector follows the UK adult education guide for levels. ESOL Levels start from Pre-Entry (absolute beginner) to Level 2[7]. Check out my ESOL guide for more information on Levels https://www.esolqueen.co.uk/p/what-do-all-acroynms-mean-and-other.html

·      Students in the ESOL sector tend to work towards the ESOL and Functional Skills exams, in reading, writing, speaking and listening. They might also complete courses for employability and interpreting [8].

·      There is a big emphasis on community integration in ESOL. Some ESOL classes might focus on the practicalities of living and working in the UK and helping students to understand British culture and values.

·      Some ESOL students may have no previous experience learning English or attending school before. This might be the first time they have held a pen or learnt to use a computer. This year I have taught a class of completely illiterate students in both their first language and in English.

·      The cost of lessons depends on the students and can vary on their individual circumstances. If a student is working, then they might be expected to pay, but if they are on Universal credit or are seeking asylum then their lessons will possibly be free. For more information about funding check out my school’s website https://odils.com/free-english-language-courses-devon/.

·      I personally find the ESOL sector extremely diverse, as I teach students from over 40 different countries from Brazil to China and every county in between. My students are extremely keen to learn as they know learning English will make a big difference to their lives in the UK.

Overall, I think there are many benefits and challenges for working in both sectors. I am grateful to have positive experiences in both TEFL and ESOL.

Do you teach TEFL or ESOL? Let me know in the comments box below and I would love to hear about your experiences.

[1] Except for this year due to Covid-19, where there is very limited TEFL work available.

[2] This is based on my experience of private language schools in Plymouth.

[3] See my blog page ESOL explained for more information about CERF and ESOL Levels https://www.esolqueen.co.uk/p/what-do-all-acroynms-mean-and-other.html

[5] Here is the example prices for Mayflower College in Plymouth https://www.maycoll.co.uk/english/courses-adults.htm#xl_GE

[6] Check out Mayflower College’s website for an example Summer School programme https://www.maycoll.co.uk/english/courses-adults.htm#xl_GE

[8] For more information check out my school’s website https://odils.com/free-english-language-courses-devon/


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