First ever online members' conference emphasises collaboration to overcome challenge of the Coronavirus pandemic
Be honest and transparent, remember the details, collaborate and keep communicating. A few insights from last week's Members' Conference, which attracted almost 500 registrations for two plenaries and 16 breakout sessions on marketing, finance, safeguarding, teaching online and more. Thank you to all our delegates and speakers for creating such an interesting and inspiring afternoon.
Interim Chief Executive Jodie Gray opened the conference with an overview of English UK's response to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis to support members and the wider UK ELT sector. Including 16k visits to the Covid-19 resources hub, 50 free webinars and online Q&As with over 7k views.
"It's in times of hardship and crisis that being part of an association, a community of peers, is more vital than ever," she said. She went on thank all English UK member centres for their support and engagement; "for asking pertinent and often difficult questions of our experts on webinars; and writing in your hundreds to MPs and councillors for the support our vital industry needs."
"We need English UK as a strong industry voice to help us succeed in ordinary times and more than ever in extraordinary times," English UK Chair Steve Phillips agreed, adding thanks to the English UK team for their hard work supporting members during the crisis.
The day's break out sessions covered marketing, operations, teaching, management and strategy. And it was amazing to see the delegates mood shift from worried and uncertain about the future of the UK ELT industry, to hopeful and optimistic. While it isn't an easy road, we have a creative, dynamic and resilient industry and will overcome the challenges of this crisis together.
"The responsiveness of English UK was most impressive. You have identified The ELT industry's need at this difficult time and responded brilliantly" - Linda Walker, Nottingham Language Academy.
Uncertainty is unavoidable: so be open and honest
Student accommodation specialists Michele da Silva and Harsha Brown reminded us to be clear and to explain the situation openly to students and agents, as well as our accommodation providers - they may be able to do more than you expect.
In marketing sessions Richard Bradford, Jimmy Leach and George Chilton emphasised the need to connect with students: be helpful and optimistic but honest. Don't throw out all the content you have ready, just double check it to make sure it is sensitive to the situation.
Uncertainty is unavoidable but that means communicating with students and agents is all the more important. Talk to your agents about long term plans for once we can welcome students to the UK again and get students excited about future plans and also explain the measures you have in place to protect them, they advised.
"The conference gave lots of good practical advice in a very uncertain time" - Emma Jennings, The Mill Hill School Foundation.
Attention to detail makes for safe and effective learning
Focus on the details is what will help you keep students and staff safe. In sessions on the lessons learnt for emergency response with 170+ delegates, safeguarding experts Kevin O'Donnell and Mel Rayner said: think about every aspect of your provision, from centre layout to the paper and pencils your students use to create a safe environment for returning students.
Can you create a one way system in your centre? Identify which homestay hosts can implement the necessary protective measures. And always explain the measures you have in place to students and parents to give them confidence as you welcome students back into our centres.
"Brilliant. Well organised, great content, good timings. Amazing work English UK" – Fiona Dunlop, Wimbledon School of English.
Get into the best position possible to welcome students
Now could be a great time to automate processes, improve systems and enhance digital presence so you are in the strongest position possible when students are ready to travel again, suggested Richard Bradford, managing director of Disquiet Dog in a group discussion on marketing during the crisis. Get ready to jump in with business options and a soon as students are ready to travel again.
The importance of focussed and targetted course development and promotion was key in market development discussions. Samuel Vetrak, CEO of Bonard with over 20 years' experience advising governments, destinations, education providers or student housing investors, said: "In China, agencies are getting back to offices, but they are being more selective - locking in on programmes that are more sellable, and also increasing activity related to selling winter camps."
Innovate and be realistic to survive
This moment of crisis can also be a time for innovation. Innovation doesn't have to be big - as Andrew Fisher, chair of the English UK Enterprises Board, and Richard Bradford and Jimmy Leach of Disquiet Dog discussed in a business development breakout session.
Think about what is available to you within your current culture. You don't need to create entirely new products. Think small - take on projects that are new to you.
Can you shift the use of your building? Are there local projects you could pair up with? Local needs you could meet? Or could you develop that special something that grabs your partners attention in 2021? How you can make your offer unique drawing all your years of experience?
Mark Henebury and Jon Wall discussed financal and government support with over 150 delegates. Together they explained the provision available, answered questions and reminded members to be realistic in their planning - the goal is to make sure your company exists next year. view business support and advice +
"I found the breakout sessions really interesting especially which market will send students first and the online discussion, gleaned a lot of good information." – David Arrowsmith, Inlingua Cheltenham.
Build on your strengths for great online learning
Your existing expertise, brand and quality is the best place to start to build your online presence said Thom Kiddle and Andy Johnson, both of whom have years of experience in delivering online learning.
People-focussed online learning gives language learners much more than an app or self-study course - invest in quality with excellent tutors, supported teachers, impactful resources, monitoring and professional development as well as reliable and user friendly platform
And if you include online a part of your delivery - don't undersell yourself. While there is an expectation that online courses should be cheaper, do not undervalue your services. You are selling your training expertise and can offer excellent value from individual tutor support and involvement - and students save on travel and accommodation.
While the spontaneous learning that makes UK ELT so rich is hard to recreate online - we can still try! says Chris Farrel. When asked: so much learning happens outside the classroom, can we recreate the buzz online? Chris suggested creating non pedagogical spaces to allow students to interact informally and enrich their online learning experience.
"The conference fully served its purpose and achieved everything we could have done face-to-face - indeed it offered much more flexibility" – Alistair Walker, Lewis School of English.
Collaborate, we will get through this together
The value of working together was a reoccuring theme during the Members' Conference. Whether through partnership, marketing or lobbying, we will be able to get through this more easily together.
Chair of the English UK Enterprises Board Andrew Fisher said: "The wonderful thing about the UK ELT industry as a whole is that it is a family. Now could be the ideal moment to turn to someone you have known for years and trust to open collaboration - you might be able to get through this together."
Our closing panel discussion with Dr Anthony Manning, Emma Meredith and Samuel Vetrak, similarly emphasised working together - but as the wider education sector. "For the UK to recover - how do we send out the message the UK will be open for business? We need to look carefully at marketing messages from the UK and work together across the sector," Emma Meredith stressed with agreement across the panel.
They discussed opportunities in online and blended learning, distance pathway courses, summer 2022 and all agree that we must work to raise the profile UK education together as a sector.
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