Gordon Watts: BELTE 2011 Interview
Question One: Tell me about yourself as well as your involvement with the BELTE.
After being in retailing and manufacturing, I got bored and retrained to be an EFL teacher in the early nineties. I worked mainly in the field of Business English in the UK, France and Austria. I have been working at Bellerbys College for about 15 years and have been instrumental in developing training and the English content of our Foundation course.
I have also opened a school in Kazakhstan for one of our agents and been Marketing in China. Furthermore, I am a long established IELTS examiner within Brighton, Eastbourne, Portsmouth, Southampton, Guildford and Middlesex Uni as well as Almaty (Kazakhstan) and Beijing. I also examine Skills for Life and Cambridge Upper Main Suite. I have a CELTA; DipTEFL and MATESOL.
Question Two: What is the history of the BELTE?
After Bellerbys and EmbassyCES English departments were merged in our new building, I was running training for all staff. Staff were paid to attend training on Friday afternoons, so it seemed sensible to ask publishers to provide some training. We had a variety of speakers (Hugh Dellar, Michael Swan and Catherine Walter, Peter Moor, Paul Seligson, Adrian Underhill, etc.) at some of our sessions and I wondered if this idea could be pushed further. I came up with a proposal which senior management agreed to; the idea was to see the outcomes of the first BELTE from a variety of angles (business; marketing; EFL and local community relations, etc.).
The event has no budget and is self-funding with any profits paid into the Building Futures charity which builds schools in developing and disaster struck countries. I also proposed a meeting of Sussex DoSA that by supplying the labour on the day and co-producing the event, the profile of the Association would be raised and hopefully attract new members. The first BELTE was held in 2009 and was adjudged by the 320+ attendees as being a success. The main ‘name’ speakers were Michael Swan, Peter Viney, Adrian Underhill, Sam McCarter, Sue Kay, Pete Sharma, Jane Allemano and Luke Meddings: an all-star cast focussing on skills and technology.
Studygroup then agreed to continue their support (media promotion, promotional material design and print and use of building) and agreement to run the event indefinitely was reached. The next BELTE was improved by the introduction of a Q/A panel, rather like Gardeners Question Time, delegate bags with freebies and SDoSA t-shirts. The focus this time was on exam skills in EFL, EAP and ESOL which resulted in many visitors from the state and support sector of the language field. Several of the original ‘names’ agreed to re-visit and Sue O’Connell, Mary Spratt and other writers and behind the scenes speakers were recruited.
Question Three: What makes the BELTE unique and different compared to other EFL related conferences?
The main difference is that it is FREE, there is no pre-booking; the atmosphere is very ‘Brighton’ and the format is based on a comfort zone with no pressure. For example, the speakers are there for the teachers, not necessarily to promote a book/website (the exhibitors on the stands are available to do that). As mentioned, the event is for teachers primarily, not managers, DoS or owners. It is a mad day that people may find exhausting but exhilarating.
Question Four: Tell me more about the BELTE 2011.
The best thing for me to do here is mention the two websites www.eflinsussex.co.uk and www.studygroup.com/BELTE and point out that exam preparation and CPD are the main thrusts this year. Four new exhibitors have signed up at the last minute and for the first time local teachers are presenting. For the first time we area blogging and tweeting (courtesy of Martin Sketchley and Russell Stannard).
Question Five: In what capacity is Sussex Director of Studies Association involved with the BELTE?
The Sussex DoSA, as mentioned before, is co-promoter, source of labour for the show and provides emotional support when planning gets a bit hectic. I do the entire organisation myself and deal with exhibitors, promotional materials, etc (so this does happen!) and a generator of interest in member schools, via personal contacts etc. The membership has increased recently to 22 schools so there must be some force at work!
Question Six: How can the BELTE benefit EFL teachers?
Receiving free training from experts and well known writers, being able to see all principal materials publishers all under one roof, being entertained and educated free of charge, making new/renewing contacts, exchanging ideas and experiences are all essential to the modern ELT teacher in all fields. Next year, we will be looking for more input from our own teachers to work alongside or even in competition with the big guns.
Question Seven: What is the future of the BELTE?
Already we have been oversubscribed by speakers; there will be a series of midweek evening training sessions, mostly during the Spring, promoted by SDoSA as well as Member Schools. The first training sessions will be at Studygroup but this will not always be the case. Publishers will provide speakers and promotion, schools provide venues and refreshments, promotion to Member Schools and are advertised as co-promoters with the publisher on direct email shots etc. We are probably going to call these sessions SussexmELTs (mid-week evening English Language Training Sessions). I imagine that next year may the event expand with maybe a BELTE day and an e-BELTE day; as more schools are investing in technology, the direction will be in this direction but with a focus on the real event on the ground.