UK language centres expand to meet young learner demand

If there is one English language market in the UK which is booming, it is the sector aimed at the under-18s.

Existing providers are organising new courses and even new centres to cope with the demand to accommodate increasing numbers of children as young as eight.

And standards are rising all the time. TUI Education (which owns centres including EAC International Summer Schools), for instance, has just spent £10m on Condover Hall, a historic building in the Shropshire countryside within easy reach of Manchester and Birmingham. Its attractions include a Harry Potter experience, a laser room, a climbing wall and an on-site cinema.

Andrew Fisher, Managing Director, Language Portfolio of TUI Education said this age group wanted English-plus and that courses offering extensive activities were increasingly popular. "We find these sort of activity centres, much like Condover Hall, offer variety and physical stimulation as well as good core English and this is great for the 9-14 year olds. The 15-17 year olds want something more city orientated," he says.

The investment made by TUI in Condover Hall is some indication of the growing importance of the young learners market, which centres say is getting busier by the year. "What do we want agents to know? Book early for July and August," says Stephen A'Barrow, director of Harrow House International College.

He adds: "This market is not just holding up, it is booming. We offer Junior courses in January- February, at Easter and over the summer from June to September and we have never been busier. We are adding new residential capacity and more residential options year on year and we can't build them quick enough. We are now actively looking for new summer centres."

Like Andrew Fisher, he says parents, teachers and agents are demanding more. "They are now increasingly not only expecting excellent on site facilities and accommodation but also new, varied and exciting off campus activities and excursions." He is adapting to meet the demand with more differentiated junior courses in the fields of sport, leisure, academic studies, activities and excursions, with extra courses tailored to specific age groups.

Liverpool International Language Academy (LILA) is another centre noting the increased interest in specialist courses, which are about much more than learning English, doing a bit of sport, and enjoying some sightseeing. "The current growth in the young learners market is matched by the massive expansion of courses for young learners. Today's programmes are more dynamic and appealing to today's stimulated teens, and focus on a specific topic or skill, such as dance , theatre and football," says LILA's Sarah Gallagher. LILA now runs a programme called Artists of Tomorrow, aimed at students who dream of becoming successful artists and combines morning language classes with afternoon offerings such as rock school and theatre school.

Ms Gallagher adds: "Programmes that help develop kids' confidence in English outside the classroom are proving to be popular in the Middle East and the ever-expanding EU."

Often, people are looking for something slightly different. The Brighton International Summer School, based in a large secondary school in the city, not only offers the usual language and sporting options, but takes groups during the English term time. These students get the chance to attend classes with the Brighton students. This makes the school popular with students, such as those from the Netherlands, whose English is already good.

"We make sure it's beneficial for both groups when they attend lessons," says Jim Ward, director of BISS. "They might go into cookery lessons and talk to the English students about food in their own countries, for instance.

"We had a group of Japanese students here during the earthquake, and they collected well over a thousand pounds from the English students by standing round with collecting tins, and the English students organised fundraising events as well."

The story is a similar one among other English UK members. John Barnett of Cambridge Academy of English says: "We're experiencing very strong demand this year, with a high level of returners, and parents getting their bookings in early for this summer. To satisfy the increased demand, we will be offering a new summer centre from July 2012, with new promotional materials ready for agents at StudyWorld."

Saint Michael's College in Tenbury Wells, which has run a summer school for 10-16 year olds for the past two years, is also looking to expand. "Over the past 2 years we have seen a rapid growth in demand for such summer school places and have subsequently been oversubscribed for the majority of the 8 weeks that the course is run," says admissions officer Janine Faulkner.

She says the success of the summer school is due to a mixture of competitive fees making it affordable for a wide range of nationalities, and also because the academic and sports and social programmes have been perfected over many seasons with the help of extensive feedback from users and staff."

"Due to this success, the directors of our school have decided to open a second programme for the summer of 2012 in order to offer a similar programme in a different area of the UK," adds Ms Faulkner.

At Sidmouth International School, which has run young learners courses for 25 years, the story is similar: it is a booming, developing market with new trends emerging. "We have found the market is holding up well but it has narrowed with most of our students now coming from Europe. There is a huge market in Spain and Italy," says director Jane Dumenil. "We introduced the Young Learner Intensive course in 2009 due to demand and it is proving to be very popular." Bath Academy is also finding lots of demand for its courses.     

In Bournemouth, meanwhile, Anglo-Continental is adding a January course to its repertoire. "The course includes sports and activities such as ice-skating, swimming and arts and crafts. Also included is a weekly full-day excursion to exciting destinations such as London, Bath and Oxford," says the centre's Emily Shaw.

Twin Group has found markets changing slightly, with increased demand from China and Russia and the Ukraine holding up well. "English plus programmes are amongst the most requested, with our football and tennis options being our best sellers and we have also had requests for other sports such as rugby and golf, which we will be looking into," says Joanne Sayer, admissions and customer services manager for Twin Group.

Another trend noticed by some schools is for the whole family to enrol for English lessons. "Others come with their family and stay in self-catering accommodation in the town," says Stephen A'Barrow.

Accommodation and child protection is another growing issue in this market, particularly with the younger groups. Some centres offer only residential accommodation for this reason. Agents need to be aware of the rigorous Child Protection laws in UK and the specific British Council regulations covering schools that take junior students including supervision ratios, and qualification of teachers.

English UK member centres offering young learner programmes

To see the full spectrum of member centres  offering young learner programmes please use the multilingual  course finder tool on the English UK website.



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