Under Pressure: The UK’s English Language Schools:

If you like the idea of owning a Language School, now’s your chance. The online business marketplace, Rightbiz, is advertising 13 of them for sale, 5 of them in London. However, the now retired International House Director, David Will, has forewarned in the IH Journal that if you want to make lots of money, then investing in property or the stock market might be a better option. Running a language school “can provide a nice living, but very few who do it can retire to the Bahamas at the age of 40 – so be sure that you are living and breathing the project before you start”.

At the moment, there’s unlikely to be long queues of clients competing to purchase any of the 13. On 29th July, Pie (Professionals in International Development) News highlighted the “shocking impact of Covid-19 on Britain’s English Language Teaching (ELT) industry and cited a report published by the market research and data specialists, Bonard, which showed student numbers down by 82% and a loss of half a million pounds to the sector.

The headlines of regional newspapers throughout the summer have corroborated the accuracy of these figures. The business editor for the Southern Daily Echo group, Darren Slade, on 7th July noted that “around 90% of staff in language schools across the country are said to be in furlough, while their representative association, English UK, has predicted that around 30% of language testing centres will cease trading altogether”.

Slade calculates that the absence of the 50,000 international students who head for the Bournemouth and Poole area each year could cost the local economy £300 million.

A similar crisis scenario has unfolded in Devon where, the local journalist, Paul Greaves, has observed, many language schools in the county, such as the family-run Globe English Centre, which has been operating in Exeter since 1978, “are fearing for their future”. Foreign students, Greaves points out, not only pay their course fees direct to the educational institution, they also contribute to the surrounding economy, spending a lot of money in cafes and bars. In addition, many host families rely on the income from them to cover their mortgages.

The main problem for the smaller ELT establishments is that they have far fewer financial resources than the large language chains and hence it will be much longer before they can re-open. The Isca School of English in Exeter, for example,will remain closed until 2021 because they are unable to run their courses, activities and excursions this year, the Worthing English Language School in March made the “emotional decision” to freeze the company for a few months (as reported by the Worthing Herald contributor, Isabella Cipirska) and the Suzanne Sparrow Language School in Plymouth closed on March 23rd “until further notice”.

By contrast, in London, St Giles International has resumed face-to-face teaching at their Highgate and West End locations, as has the Wimbledon School of English. The acknowledgement by the Chairman of the London School of English (LSE), Timothy Blake, when interviewed on 24th January by “Quality English” to mark his 50th anniversary with the organisation, that “totally uncontrollable events, such the exchange rate, worries about disease and safety concerns”, can have a significant effect must in hindsight now seem somewhat prescient. The pandemic arrived in the UK just a few weeks later.

The LSE will reopen for classes on 31st August, followed by (among many others), Bayswater College in Queensway W2 (7th September), the Central Language School, Cambridge (14th September) and the British Study Centre, Manchester (12th October).

English UK has estimated that 58% of its members hope to recommence the teaching of adults by 1st October, but 47% consider it’s improbable that by 1st January 2021 they will be able to cater for new junior students, who comprise more than 50% of those enrolling for English courses in Britain.

The repercussions for market confidence, declares English UK, have been catastrophic. Many of its members face financial ruin and won’t survive the summer. ELT, it emphasises, is a seasonal activity. For many centres, missing the important Easter and summer peaks will mean little or no income and 75% of them expect no more than 40%-60% market recovery in 2021.

English UK is especially aggrieved that the 12-month “business rates holiday” which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, in March granted to the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors in England did not include ELT. This, in the opinion of English UK, is grossly unfair as “ELT is clearly part of the tourism industry”. Consequently, only 17 local authorities (in London, just Ealing and Harrow) have deemed the English language centres in their areas to be eligible.

A petition organised by the English UK interim Chief Executive, Jodie Gray, for the relief to be extended to all English Language Schools has to date attracted 6,245 signatures. Once the figure gets to 10,000, the Government is obliged by law to respond.

Filed under: Society | Posted on August 24th, 2020 by Colin D Gordon

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