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Know you own website – British Council and IELTS

July 7, 2011

Well yesterday whilst being fitted with new face furniture to aid the ability to read, the good woman and her friend unbeknown to me, decided to descend upon the British Council office at 5 Fantana in Odessa.

The reason they went, IELTS. This is a system accepted by UK schools and universities grading the knowledge of English for a foreign student. It has entered the head of our boy (if 16 years old still counts as a boy) and the good woman’s friend’s youngest daughter that they wish to go to university in the UK.

Our boy has decided that he would be rather partial to studying at the LSE whilst the daughter of a friend wants to do a BA (Hons) in Photography at Portsmouth University. As both are 16 years old, it is some years away yet and both are soldiering on at school in Odessa until they reach 18.

The “Rule of P” (Planning and preparation prevents p*ss poor performance) being foremost in these mothers minds, they duly headed to the only British NGO in Odessa remotely directly connected to Britain, IELTS and promoting all things British (including education, a major source of revenue to the UK when it comes to legitimate foreign students).

My good lady knows the lady who runs the British Council in Odessa (the rather wonderful Lyudmila Tatsenko upon whom this tale has no reflection) as she has been present when the good woman and I have met with the luminaries of HM Embassy Ukraine on several occasions here.

After a brief exchange of pleasantries with Lyudmila, the good woman and friend where directed towards a woman called Irena who “looks after” education for the British Council in Odessa. It soon became apparent that the British Council only conduct the IELTS tests and do not run preparatory courses for potential examinees. At lest that is what Irena told the good woman and friend.

Further more, she did not know anybody who did run preparatory IELTS courses in Odessa. The good woman and friend duly left the British Council rather crest-fallen as failing any IELTS examination puts pay to their offspring’s aspirations of a British university education and one imagines that to score highly enough on an IELTS examination for a British university is not going to be a simple accomplishment. Furthermore, the good woman herself wants to do a Master’s on-line via a British university and one suspects will have to do the IELTS as well.

Anyway, I return home with new (and rather nice) reading glasses, to then be told of their expedition and unsatisfactory outcome. Finding it rather difficult to believe that the only British NGO specifically tasked with promoting Britain (and British education) had failed so miserably to offer anything other than the IELTS examination (at the cost of UAH 1500) and not even a smidgen of other assistance, I donned new reading spectacles and pulled up the British Council website.

Lo and behold! – What did I find, if not a free on-line British Council 30 hour IELTS preparation course which had not been mentioned during the 30 minutes the good woman and friend had pressed the British Council for help! Indeed a good start although I felt that 30 hours is hardly enough to prepare my boy for an examination that will have considerable influence on his future when it comes to where he will go to university.

New spectacles still affixed to my nose, I then proceeded to delve through the hundreds of business cards collected during my years here and began to telephone the English language schools run by Brits in Odessa in search of a particular chap I had met but who’s name I could not recall but distinctly remembered he had told me he carried out preparatory IELTS courses. Within a matter of minutes, one of the better (or at least legal, all native tongued teachers having Work Permits and IM-1 Visa’s sponsored by the school) did indeed do an IELTS preparation course. It was indeed the school of the chap I was trying to locate.

This particular school is run by a young chap who comes from Hull University by graduate background and whom I met whilst in the company of the luminaries from UK Embassy when visiting Odessa. Needless to say, if I met him at such an event, so did the people from the British Council in Odessa (as they are always present for group meetings and group hugs) and I seemed to recall he mentioned he provided an IELTS preparation course. (The eyesight maybe fading but the memory is not……at least not yet)

Notwithstanding not mentioning or knowing the British Council offers 30 hours of free IELTS preparation free and on-line, you would think in a city as small as Odessa and with no more than 100 British people living and working in it (at most) and even fewer running English language schools or teaching in them, it is not particularly difficult to make follow up telephone calls from exchanged business cards at UK Embassy sponsored Brit gatherings to find what the schools actually offer said Brits own/run or work at.

As there is at least one (there maybe more) British owned school in Odessa offering IELTS preparation courses for an examination the British Council in Odessa conducts, you would think they would know about it and also promote it to people like my good lady and her friend prepared to invest £60,000 and more into their children’s education at UK universities……if they can pass the IELTS course with a suitably high grade.

You come to expect Ukrainian institutions to offer little help and that you will have to do all the detective work, but you expect the British institutions (particularly those promoting Britain and paid for by the British tax payer) to be a font of all knowledge when it comes to their locality and businesses that possess a synergy to the ultimate services it provides.

No? Times have changed and the UK is not the UK I remember? Things are not that “joined-up”? Very well, but you would at least expect them to know what is on their own website!

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