Islamic Summer School
31 March 2009

One of the most unusual English courses in the UK is expanding this summer - and admitting girls for the first time.

English Language Adventure School combines Islamic culture and religious observance with class-based lessons and plenty of after-hours activities and excursions.

It may sound like an unusual mixture, but founder and principal Abdul Qadeer Baksh says it is tailor-made to ensure his customers and their families are happy.

"We try to structure it between giving them a really exciting holiday and teaching them English," he says.

"We do this because I was the principal of a school in Dubai for around a year and I know what these kids are like. They can often wake up late, sleep late and don't have any interest in attending classes.

"So our summer school is structured with lots of activities and excursions so if they do their 20 hours a week learning English they will get this other stuff. They know that. For them, they're not coming to learn the English language -- that's a secondary thing."

Mr Baksh got the idea for ELAS after many requests from parents in the Middle East. They wanted recommendations for a school where their teenagers could learn English but where they could also live as Muslims.

He put together a business plan and with colleagues piloted the idea in 2006, with ten students. It went so well that last year there were 60 students, all from the Gulf states, plus an adult course. This year there will also be a girls' course, with separate teachers and accommodation.

"We are the first and probably the only Muslim faith summer school," says Mr Baksh, but that is not the only unusual thing about ELAS. Activities include horseriding, climbing and camping, and there are usually eight excursions during a four-week course.

Each small group of students has its own mentor, who speaks English at all times and encourages them to do so. There are also security guards on the dormitory, as the students tend to keep later hours and need someone on duty all the time.

Religion is important. The five daily prayers are led by a resident imam, but sometimes larger groups will bring their own.

The students attend mosque on Friday, and the imam there often arranges activities which means they meet other young people from schools and colleges, where they can find out more about the lives of British Muslims.

Mr Baksh says the ELAS students are told that it is important to act as ambassadors for Islam when they are in the UK. "We tell them that whenever you are in this country it is going to impact on other Muslims. So be on your best behaviour."

After a couple of years of steady progress where the school concentrated on setting up and gaining accreditation rather than marketing itself, changes are about to happen. ELAS will start advertising properly and this summer is open to girls as well.

"I'll be interested to see how that develops. We will have separate accommodation and they won't learn together, but in a separate school nearby. Girls will have female teachers and the boys have male teachers.  The girls will do more appropriate adventure activities as some of the stuff may be difficult for them to do given the cultural background," says Mr Baksh.

He and his partners are also planning to start two year-round schools in London and Luton which will be offering separate tuition for men and women but are not aimed solely at Muslims. "We will try and capture that market, but there are also lots of reports which say students learn better that way," he says. 


Find out more about ELAS at

By Susan Young
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