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EL Asia Pacific: Best Buys In The British Isles?

Melanie Butler checks out the top private language schools which cost less than £12.50 an hour

Most students coming to Britain are on a budget – and what they want is more ‘bang for their buck’. Much as they would like to sign up for a three-week residential course at Harrow School or a summer school at ICL, most of them simply cannot afford it. The fact that students put price first has become very clear since we launched our consumer website www.el-go.com, which ranks language schools both on quality, based on British Council reports, and price. 

Our search analytics show that the first thing most students enter is a price point: they normally tick the lowest two price bands. They then tick the highest quality band. If this doesn’t give them the course they need, or if it is not in the location they want, they tick each lower quality band in turn until they get a selection. They are willing to look at lower-quality schools, but not higher-priced ones.

Within the private sector there is a great variation in price per hour, and price has no clear correlation with quality, at least as measured by British Council inspection results. While the further education colleges almost always cost below average, and most university language centres are bang on the average at £12.50–16 an hour including extras, they rarely offer short courses in the summer. So where should short-stay students look for great-value schools?  First of all we have to define value. In this article we have defined it as a course which costs below £12.50 an hour including extras. Any school with a quality score above mean average, based on the summary statement given by the inspectors, and a price of less than £12.50 per hour appears on the list. Any school which charges £10 an hour or less and scores above the mode average also appears on the list. Every British Council-accredited school we could find that met these criteria is listed near the map. 

Because students care about location as well as price, all the schools that meet the criteria are listed in rank order in the region in which they appear on the map. Some regions have more good-value schools than others. There are only two accredited private language schools in Northern Ireland, for example – and they both make it into our list. The number varies from region to region, as you can see from the map. In Scotland the good-value schools are clustered in the two main cities: Edinburgh and Glasgow. In the north of England, it is the smaller cities that you should head for, while London has the highest number of good-value schools.

In terms of chain schools, two names stand out: CES, which has four of its six schools on the map, and Language Studies International, with three out of four. Both Skola schools for adults also make the grade. Members of the International House affiliate scheme, one of the biggest consumer brands internationally, also do well, with three out of six UK affiliates making it in. The chains don’t have it their own way. Well-established family-owned schools also do well – both the Lake School of English, which is joint second in Britain on our rankings, and Language Specialists International in Portsmouth, which scores one point lower on inspection, make it in at under £12.50 per hour.




 1. Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is the UK’s hidden jewel: green and safe with breathtaking scenery. Unlike the Republic of Ireland to the south, the country has very few private language schools. All of them are to be found either in the capital, Belfast, or the cultural centre of Derry (or Londonderry as the English call it), where Foyle International Language School is based. If you enjoy live music, friendly people and romantic scenery but prefer to go where there are few foreign students, this could be the place for you.

International House Belfast
Foyle International Language School, Derry

2: Scotland:

Scotland makes up 30 per cent of the land mass of Great Britain but has only 10 per cent of the population. Even when you are in one of its two major cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, you are near the wide open countryside for which the country is famous. Or you may prefer to stay in town, either in vibrant, friendly Glasgow – the largest city in Britain outside London – or the capital Edinburgh, known as the Athens of the North for its classical beauty. Three EL Gazette Scottish Centres of Excellence make it into our list of best buys: ECS and CES in Edinburgh and Live Languages in Glasgow.

ECS Scotland, Edinburgh
CES Edinburgh
Live Language, Glasgow
Edinburgh Language Academy

3. North of England

The north of England is growing in popularity with language students, but school prices have been going up too. So if you are looking for a best buy choose the lesser-known cities of Newcastle, the best party city in the country and home to our Centre of Excellence International House Newcastle, or Liverpool, perhaps the friendliest of the new EFL destinations. Two destination popular with British tourists also boast Centres of Excellence at very reasonable prices, Scarborough International in the delightful seaside town of that name and the CES school in the exclusive spa town of Harrogate.

International House Newcastle
Scarborough International
LILA, Liverpool
CES Harrogate

4. Central England:

Central England spreads west from London to Bristol, and north to the borders of Yorkshire. The main ELT centre is the famous university town of Oxford, home to our top best-buy school in the UK, the Lake School of English, which is ranked joint second-best school in the country, based on its British Council inspection reports, and CES Oxford in a delightful village just outside the city, which scores in the top 20 per cent. Those who like the idea of studying in a picturesque country town should consider the typically English town of Cirencester in the beautiful Cotswold Hills. Further north, you can choose to study in Nottingham, which though a major student city has only handful of language schools.

Lake School of English, Oxford
CES Oxford
Cotswold International Language School
Nottingham Academy

5. Wales:

Wales is the safest of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom. Everyone speaks English but over 20 per cent also speak Welsh. Welsh people are good at teaching languages because they are good at learning them. The main EFL centre is the capital, Cardiff, voted one of the best cities in the UK for students to live, but many people go to Wales for the mountains and the luxuriant green countryside which surrounds small friendly towns like Llangollen, home of Mulberry English School, the only Centre of Excellence here. Wales is the fastest-growing EFL destination in Britain.

Mulberry School of English, Llangollen
WE Bridge Academy, Cardiff
Capital School of English, Cardiff

6. East of England:

The east of England lies directly north and east of London on a flat fertile plain. The bread basket of England, as it is sometimes called, is made up of six counties: Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. There are surprisingly few language schools in the region, although there are a few in historic cities such as St Albans, which is half an hour from London. The main centre for language schools is the ancient university town of Cambridge. Most language schools are within walking distance of the medieval centre of Cambridge, though everybody in Cambridge rides a bike. Some schools are clustered just to the north, including Studio Cambridge, which is an EL Gazette Centre of Excellence. Others are just to the north of the centre, close to the new university of Anglia Ruskin.

Studio Cambridge
Language Studies International Cambridge
Central Language School, Cambridge
St Albans School of English

7. South-West England:

South-West England is made up of four counties: Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. Bristol, close to Wales, is the historic capital of the region and is a major university city with a large media industry and a small but growing number of language schools. Bristol is unique in that half of all its language schools are Centres of Excellence, including International House Bristol. The EFL capital of the region, however, is Bournemouth in Dorset – a lively student town with twelve kilometres of sandy beach, and home to schools such as MLS College and ETC International. Devon’s capital, Exeter, is another university town, and seaside resorts Torquay, Brixham and Paignton offer the safest host families in the country, with everyone checked by the local social services.

International House Bristol
Devon School of English, Paignton
ETC International, Bournemouth
MLS International, Bournemouth
SKOLA, English in Exeter
Capital School of English, Bournemouth
Bristol Language Centre
Bristol Language College

8. South-East England:

The south-east of England is the most prosperous area of the country outside London. It stretches from the south of the estuary of the river Thames to the New Forest National Park just east of Bournemouth. It is famous for its coastal resorts as well as historic inland towns such as Winchester, the ancient capital of England. Many people live in this area and travel to work in London, which is within an hour by train from most south-eastern towns. It has good international transport links including ferry ports, the Eurotunnel and two airports, London’s Gatwick in the north-east of the region and Southampton to the south-west.

Most of the language schools in the area are on the coast. Brighton is perhaps the best-known centre for language schools, including Loxdale English Centre. Known as ‘London by the sea’ it is a fun university town and a lively seaside resort. A few miles away is the quiet and very safe resort of Worthing, home of a CES school. Just beyond Worthing is the historic naval base of Portsmouth, the only city in Britain set on an island. It has an affordable standard of living and a growing number of language schools, including the second-best-value school in Britain, Language Specialists International. Just west of Portsmouth lies its sister port, Southampton, another university city, which is famous as a centre for luxury cruises.

LSI Portsmouth
Portsmouth Language College
CES Worthing
Loxdale English Centre, Brighton
Lewis School of English, Southampton
Winchester Language College
Southampton Language College


9. London:

London is a little smaller than Singapore, but has nearly twice the population. There are more good-value schools in London than in any other city in the UK. And they are spread all over the city. The main location for language schools is now in the central university area between Bloomsbury and Holborn, where Language Studies International’s central London school is found. There are also bargains galore in Bayswater, Soho and Edgware Road, all minutes from the main shopping centre. But, as Londoners will always tell you, this is a city of villages, with each part of the British capital having its own character. Just a short bus ride from the centre are residential areas that were once country villages, like Hampstead – home to Language Studies International. They still have village greens, quaint shops and a community feel. Others were bustling small towns, like Camden, home to TTI and a mecca for students, and leafy Harrow. Others, like Greenwich, are historic towns in their own right. London may have a reputation as expensive and dangerous but its host families are cheaper than those in Beijing and it has a lower level of violent crime than Amsterdam and Dublin.

Language Studies International, Hampstead (1 on map)
Language Studies International, London Central (2)
TTI Camden (3)
KKCL, Harrow (4)
Twin London, Greenwich (5)
LSC Stanton, Bayswater (6)
Clubclass, Holborn (7)
The English Studio, Holborn (8)
SKOLA English in London, Soho (9)
Edgware Academy, West End (10)