About us

Poster-de-FECEI---Claves-para-elegir-un-centro-de-idiomasThe Avila Centre of English was set up in 1983 by Derek and Hannah Rich and Jim Lawley. Noni Gilbert Riley joined them in 1986, originally as Director of Studies, and she has now been the sole director of the school since 1996.

The school originally opened in rented premises in the centre of Avila, but it very soon became clear that more space was going to be needed. A site in the then newly developing residential San Roque area, five minutes from the centre, was chosen, and in October 1985 the Centre started the new school year in custom-built premises. Since then, the Centre has gone from strength to strength; some changes have been made as the Centre moves with the times: there is now a staff room with extensive self-access material for staff and students (course books, reference, DVDs, literature and magazines), and a second office for the Director. There is fibre optic wifi and internet throughout the school and each teacher has a laptop to use in their classroom, where there are also screens.

A visit to the Centre will have a very different “feel” to it depending on the time of day. There are some adult classes during the morning, in particular for those preparing Cambridge ESOL exams, but the activity level shoots up at four o’clock when the children and adolescents start arriving for their twice weekly classes, which take place in the 4pm, 5pm, 6pm and 7.15 slots, and most of our adults come to classes from 8.15-9.15pm. The “quieter” time of the day is the morning, when you will find staff preparing classes, the administrative staff working their way through paperwork, and, as like as not, the Director preparing translations and the Head of Studies level testing prospective students,  looking at inspection copies of course material or readjusting timetables to suit our students’ ever-changing needs.

Most teachers have a total of 22 contact hours spread over the week (Monday to Thursday), although some choose to have fewer hours in order to be able to pursue other activities as well. As we have said, the bulk of classes take place in the Centre, but teachers also go out to give in-company classes in local businesses or private classes for students who wish to have their teacher come to them. Over the years we have taught in a wide range of businesses and professions, thereby developing specialised knowledge in many fields. A list would include the hotel trade, vehicle repair research, insurance, safety research, food technology, banking, IT support, lawyers, architects, small commercial businesses, various medical specialities, and, as the Spanish say,  a “long etcetera”.

The Centre has a long and close relationship with Cambridge exams, and was pioneer in bringing them to the city. We now run over 30 exam sessions a year, with the “high season” being from May to July. Most teachers are involved in some way with the exams, either as Speaking Examiners or as Ushers, Ingivilators or Speaking Marshals helping to follow the strict conditions under which the exams must be delivered.

We are also proud to be frequent contributors to teacher training in Avila and elsewhere. For some years now our staff have helped on refresher and ongoing training courses run by local Teacher Resource Centres for teachers at pre-school, primary and secondary level, and we have also contributed to and organised other training sessions with funds from the EU for those already in employment, as well as for the unemployed. We are in close contact with both the Teacher Training College in the city and the State language schools in Avila, as well as the CFIE in Avila (the Teacher Resource Centre), where we have provided numerous courses both in general English and specific methodology; this summer we shall once again be providing the teaching for their intensive advanced refresher English courses funded by the Junta, the regional government.

There is European funding available in companies and direct grant schools for ongoing education too, and over the years Noni has taught on a number of courses for teachers in those schools too, either invited by coordinating publishers, or directly by the schools.

All this output calls for some input. Nowadays the range of online training available is perhaps even overwhelming, but we also make an effort to find and offer in person courses in professional development for all our staff, subsidising attendance and expenses. Over the last few years our teachers have had the chance to head down to Seville for the prestigious ACEIA teacher and management training days there, and we also regularly attend FECEI’s annual teaching workshops in Madrid, and elswehere. Closer to home have been the Training Days organised by our regional association, ACLID, in Valladolid and in Avila itself (and we have been directly involved in that organisation!) These professional development days offer a wide range of training and information sessions which give teaching tips and the chance to be challenged by new techniques and approaches. However long you have been teaching, these occasions are extremely stimulating, and we believe they are vital for all teachers, whether experienced or not.

We also have close links with similar schools throughout the country, both informally and formally, which help us to keep up to date with events in the EFL world. We are, as we mentioned above, active members of the regional association of private language schools, ACLID, (Asociación Castellano-Leonesa de Idiomas), and Noni Gilbert, is a long serving committee member of the association, and for some years now has been its president, guiding schools through the difficult COVID period among other things. She is also on the committee of the national federation of private language schools, FECEI (Federación de Enseñanza de Idiomas), and is currently the vice-president.

These links mean that the school is always very much aware of the latest developments affecting our sector.

Dialogue between staff members has always been most beneficial. Many teachers have been with us for a significant length of time, and they are always happy to share their experience with more recent arrivals, and at the same time keen to pick up new ideas from this “fresh blood”. We are anxious to avoid stagnation!

The role of the Heads of Studies is central to the effective running of the school. It covers an alarming range of matters, from timetable design, through student placement to ongoing in-house teacher training and additional impromptu coaching for students. In fact, after various attempts to limit the role, we decided (or rather, recognised) that just one person could not possibly cope with the workload, and so now the job is divided up, with one Head of Studies having responsibility for adult students (Noni) and another having responsibility for children and adolescents (Ross). Further to this, Pace, our Senior Teacher, has responsibility for coordinating the preparation of students for the Cambridge Young Learner Exams.

Students sign on for classes at the Avila Centre of English for a number of different reasons, although they will all claim their motive to be “the wish to learn English”. For many parents with school age children, it has become the norm to send their children to extra language classes. We see our role as complementary to the English that they learn at school, offering smaller groups which can concentrate particularly on listening and speaking skills, which are so hard to acquire in the school context.

Demand for qualifications has grown immensely and the majority of our secondary groups are working towards Cambridge exams at all the levels from A2 to C2. For younger learners, the Cambridge YLE examinations (for students aged 7-12) are also available, although the groups are less obviously exam oriented.

Our adult students may also prepare these exams to improve their professional prospects: English is undoubtedly a very strong card to have in furthering careers in 21st century Spain. Other students want to improve their English as a means of communication when they travel abroad, others in order to be able to read texts in the original language, be they technical or literary, and still others simply come to class because they enjoy learning English! In fact, we hope that all of our students find that learning English with us is an enjoyable experience, whatever the motive for signing on.

Our teachers have joined us from a variety of walks of life. There is no doubt that the training offered by many establishments is a good starting point for a EFL teaching career, be it specific to EFL or for teaching in general, but we also think that experience of many different kinds can contribute to the making of a successful and effective EFL teacher. Many of our current staff have indeed come to us from a teaching background, but we have also had teachers with experience in the care sector, in administration, and in VSO, for instance. Degrees held by our teachers range from the predictable modern languages, through history and anthropology to performance arts.

As we mentioned above, we are not all EFL obsessed either. The acquisition of foreign languages is not surprisingly an interest shared by all, be that foreign language Spanish or indeed any of the other languages available for study in Avila (not a great range, it has to be admitted, but we do like to feel we are reasonably multilingual!). The fact that Avila is a small city which doesn’t take that long to cross from one end to the other means that it is possible to combine a number of other activities with a teaching timetable. Several of the staff are keen sports players, and we boast fine footballers, swimmers and dancers. Walking, either in the wonderful countryside and mountains nearby, or further afield, is another great joy for various members of the staff, although this is more of a weekend activity. Over the years we’ve had musicians and horsewomen, contributors to local “good works” and potters.

Avila is not the cultural centre of the universe, let there be no mistake, nor do a lot of people who live here feel it is “where it’s at”. They leave that to other cities (several of which are within striking distance for the weekend), and instead enjoy the benefits of a quieter city, not entirely bereft of cultural activity (how many cities of 50,000 inhabitants have more than 6 cinema screens, after all), which allows us to fit far more into the day than would be possible in a larger city with greater travelling times. Having cast aspersions on the city’s cultural level, perhaps we should point out that there is actually quite a lot going on. For instance, there are venues for live music with frequent events, especially the smaller venues, and we have been pleased to observe the rise in literary events. A significant number of these events are free of charge. It’s an area of Spain which has not yet been fully remodelled for the tourist trade, which boasts high quality regional cuisine, and which has not lost touch with its traditions and customs.

We´ve tried here to give an overview of both the school and, albeit very briefly, the city we live in. Please contact us directly if you would like more information on anything in particular.