Kelly Franklin writes
English language learners (ELLs) are the fastest-growing segment of students in US public schools, a fact not lost on lawmakers, who passed a rewriting of the fifty-year-old Education and Secondary Education Act in December 2015.
The last recording of That’s English, the world’s longest-running English language teaching TV series, has taken place in London 22 years after the very first programme was shot.
The series, which has been broadcast continuously on Spain’s TVE channel since 1994, combines travelogue, soap opera and comic sketches linked by a studio presenter, and is designed for students who are at levels A1 to C1 on the CEFR.
The final show was presented by Kieran Suchet and Samantha Mesagno, pictured above with Peter Walton of Highwood, which has produced the series since the beginning. The co-producer is Becky Mitchell.
That’s English forms part of the distance learning programme of the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas, Spain’s state language school chain, which enrols over 30,000 English language students every year in That’s English courses leading to an official certificate.
The first series, shot between 1993 and 1995, ran on Spanish television until 2011, and some episodes can still be found on YouTube. The second series, known as That’s English Nuevo, started production in 2010 and runs daily on Spain’s RTVE.
Courtesy EFS Television Production Ltd
Credit rating agencies Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s have changed their outlook on Study Group bonds to negative and affirmed their credit rating as B3/B-, or high risk. Moody’s senior analyst for Study Group, Pieter Rommens, also gave a negative outlook for the Study Group Corporate Family, citing weakened cash flow as a result of the acquisition of Endeavour Learning Group and a delay in fee payments from the Australian government.
The rating agencies’ judgements coincide with the failure of two Study-Group-owned colleges, Bellerbys London and Bellerbys Brighton, to meet all UK national minimum standards for boarding schools at inspection. Weaker trading in both Bellerbys and Embassy language schools was also noted by Moody’s, though overall trading remains healthy and student enrolments are up 19 per cent.
The Study Group bonds, or ‘senior secured notes’, were issued in 2013 by Study Group subsidiary Edu UK Bondco plc, which is listed on the Luxembourg stock exchange. Investors buy a tranche of Study Group debt, to a total amount of £205 million, and receive an annual interest payment, or yield, of 8.875 per cent, with the initial investment due to be repaid in full in 2018. The investment is described in the offering memorandum issued to potential investors as involving the ‘high degree of risk’ typical of high-yield bonds.
Concern from the agencies rating the bonds appears to be based on the worsening position of the company’s free cash flow, used to pay the interest, and the increase in the group’s debt compared to pre-tax earnings (Ebitda). Under a covenant with its banks, the company must reduce its leverage, or debt ratio, from 5.1 times debt to Ebitda to 4.05 by the end of 2016. Moody’s believes it is ‘now highly likely that the company will breach its covenants in June 2016’ but adds that it expects Study Group to be able to renegotiate the agreements with its banks. Sources close to Study Group confirm that the group is working with the banks to manage risks.
One risk noted in the group’s 2014 accounts is to its reputation if it fails to ‘appropriately supervise children in our care’. In 2014 three Bellerbys Colleges – London, Oxford and Cambridge – failed to meet the UK’s national minimum standards for boarding schools, although all subsequently passed on re-inspection.
In September 2015 the Independent Schools Inspectorate found that Bellerbys Brighton did not meet these standards, and judged the governance of the college to be unsatisfactory. Gordon Bull, general counsel for Study Group, commented, ‘Our recent Brighton ISI inspection highlighted a number of areas of excellence and good practice as well as areas where we need to improve; we’ve already put in place an action plan to address these.’
In June 2015 Bellerbys London also failed the national minimum boarding schools standards in an inspection by England’s school inspectorate, Ofsted. The inspectors noted, ‘A high turnover of staff … has resulted in weakness in provision for students’ welfare and safety.’
Study Group’s managing director James Pitman acknowledged that, despite passing an inspection in 2014, Bellerbys London had ‘fallen short in some areas. This was primarily due to senior leadership changes at the college, which could have been managed better. An updated welfare programme has since been introduced and we were pleased Ofsted noted our safeguarding, child protection and health and safety policies all meet best practice.’
Ofsted also found that Bellerbys London did not meet some educational standards, in particular judging the attainment at GCSE (national exams taken at sixteen by students in England) as ‘too low’. In 2014 31 per cent of Bellerbys London students achieved the national target of five GCSE at A*–C grades, compared with 63.8 per cent of students nationally.
James Pitman told the Gazette that shortcomings in educational provision were being addressed urgently but pointed out that ‘over half of this year’s Bellerbys London A level results were at A* and A grades and over 90 per cent of results were at A*–B, significantly above the national average. This is testament to the hard work of the academic staff and the excellent teaching practices at the college, and should not go unrecognised.’
Despite the best efforts of the Colombian government, it seems that English proficiency among young Colombians is not improving, writes Andrea Perez. Only one in ten Colombians speaks English well, according to EduMe website. The country is immersed in the Bilingual Colombia Programme, an English language initiative that President Manuel Santos launched in 2004 with the goal of all high school graduates reaching an intermediate level of English by 2025.