Only 52 per cent of British-Council-inspected language centres are traditional language schools, Gazette analysis reveals (see page ix), and over half of such are now members of chains. The classic language-school model, privately owned or run by an educational charity, offers courses for over-16s all year round and runs junior programmes in the summer and, increasingly, for closed groups year-round. This has come under increasing pressure in recent years, as UK enrolments have fallen and the proportion of over-16s choosing to study in the country has fallen to around 50 per cent of the market.
Despite the increasing market share taken by summer school specialists and state-sector players in the further and higher education sector, long-established language schools still dominate the EL Gazette rankings published here, coming in just below boarding schools as the top-scoring sector based on British Council inspection reports, but the failure of Colchester English Study Centre (CESC), a historic name which went into administration this summer, shows they are not immune from market woes. Buyers are said to be interested in CESC and its separately accredited summer school operation.
Overall, though, the stand-alone language school scores less well on average than the average chain school, though they are likely to be both cheaper and more prone to collapse, with at least three gone this year. But even among the chains it is well-established schools that dominate the rankings: Eurocentres, Bell, St Giles, EF and Kaplan – the latter being a relative newcomer in the UK although it has long been a major player in the US. One of the newer contenders, British Study Centres, has recently been sold to the Irish-based venture capitalists behind the Real Experience Group, and will be merged with the newish chain of language schools made up of old favourites like Hampstead School of English, which it recently acquired from travel giant Tui. Only three of the schools in the nine-strong group are currently EL Gazette Centres of Excellence, and one, British Study Centres Summer Schools, has never been accredited by the British Council.
Some chains have responded to adverse market conditions by increasing their commission to agents, up to 50 per cent of fee income according to some industry insiders. This can result in falling quality standards as money available for hiring teachers and securing facilities is hit.