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EL Young learners: Mystery of the ‘missing middle’

Melanie Butler reveals an unusual profile of inspection results for the 162 UK language centres specialising in courses for young learners

The British Council reports of 162 UK language centres catering for young learners reveal an unusual profile of inspection results. Compared to the results for the accredited sector as a whole, young learner centres have a higher percentage with accreditation under review, a higher level of negative results, but also a larger number scoring seven or more areas of strength.

We selected the sample by first excluding centres which did not enrol students aged under sixteen, which means there are no universities or further education colleges in the group. We also excluded schools which cater mainly for adults and only run closed groups of under-16s year round or have less than three young learner summer centres (the latter would trigger a separate inspection under British Council rules). We were left with specialist private language schools and private-sector summer school specialists, both the small family operators and the large multi-chains and boarding schools.

If you compare the two charts on the page, you can see how different the profile of young learner centres is to the wider sample. While 0 is by far the most common result for language centres as a whole, the mode score for young learners’ centres is 3, though the mean average score is lower at 3.2 than the 3.75 scored by the whole population. The young learners’ specialists have a higher rate of negative results and of schools whose accreditation is under review. On the other hand it has a higher proportion of centres awarded seven areas of strength or higher on inspection, helped here by the strong results of the boarding schools.

Most striking is the lack of centres scoring six areas of strength. This phenomenon, which we call the missing middle, can be also be seen in a less dramatic form in the results for the whole sector. In terms of the young learners’ centres, however, we are looking at two separate clusters – those in the top 20 per cent of schools and the rest. In reality though there is a third cluster – those in negative territory or under review. This is a segment of the market where it pays dividends to check the report before you choose a centre for a child.