The people behind it, and the Whois search only brings up a PO Box in Yarmouth (Canada), are unknown; the Who We Are
page is 'coming soon'. As they are trying to bring arbitration to ESL, their anonymity is a serious problem; anonymous people have no gravitas, yet they expect schools to submit to their arbitration. Starting in this premature way strikes me as disastrous.
They say that their decisions will be made by a panel of three; a school owner, a manager and a teacher. Given that many ESL managers are little more than staffroom biscuit monitors, I would like to see some further definition of that role. It excludes many others who could have relevant and worthwhile knowledge, including academics. Arbitration itself is not a universally accepted process; as some Asian countries joined the WTO, I had to sit through endless presentations on the subject by post-graduate lawyers coming to study it. It is also voluntary, which means that all the crooks and cowboys will simply have nothing to do with it. It is also unclear how they would enforce compliance.
Their Approved Schools
page is also 'coming soon' and it is not clear whether this approval will have anything to do with their Rate a School
page. If it does, it raises very serious issues as the ratings can be done completely anonymously and have the following categories for their star ratings:
A Gem of A School, A Joy to Work For!
Better than average
About what you can expect not perfect but not bad either
Avoid this school, there are many better
My experience was generally poor
THEY OWE ME MONEY! THEY CHEATED ME!
The poor English aside and the fact that schools cannot rate teachers, the categories seem to display a bias that is in favour of teachers, especially the one-track lowest, which ignores many other reasons why a place could be dreadful to work for. The fifth highest level is still mediocre and there is only one genuinely positive rating; why would any school owner think that the people who set this site up would be impartial?
It will take, according to them, about three weeks normally to reach a decision. Given that many ESL disputes could be very complex, involving different languages and legal systems, I can't help wondering where they got this number from, especially as they are new and have no records of actual cases or statistics on the site. I have taught in a few countries, but that would not qualify me to be able to give an quick decision involving labour laws of countries I am not familiar with, or even those that I am, and they suggest that an arbitrator will only be clocking in on a very perfunctory basis (five hours a year
). They also have no mention of practical issues such as who will bear the costs of translation, though there is an empty column headed 'Site Sponsored By'.
On the homepage, they say 'Here's to Truth and Justice in the English Teaching world' and this site is more like a toast than a serious step forwards to that goal.
[Update 1st July 2008: The Whois record for esljudge.com now gives an address in Madeira:
Avenida do Infante 50
Funchal, Madeira 9004-521]