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What’s in a name?


Melanie Butler reveals how consistent British chains schools are by analysing their inspections results brand by brand.

‘The number on one rule of branding is brand consistency’. This marketing slogan does not just apply to the look of the product but to its quality. When I go into a McDonald’s I know what kind of hamburger I am going to get. If I order a burger in a Hilton hotel I expect something very different.

Language schools chains are in the brand business. And with very few exceptions they are aiming to be the Hilton, not McDonald’s.

In the last five years, their results from the British Council inspections have shown their quality is improving: the mean average score of brand schools is 6, compared to 4.4. for UK language schools overall. Only one chain, Embassy, has seen its average score drop over time.

But how consistent is the quality across a chain? Using scores on British Council reports, we can monitor consistency statistically by calculating their standard deviation – which tells us how much the quality varies.

The standard deviation for UK language schools is 2 points either way from their average score. Three chains achieve that across all their schools: Eurocentres, which has the highest mean average at 12.5, high value CES with a mean average of 6.5 and Embassy whose four remaining UK schools have a mean score is 4.5, slap bang in the middle of the UK market. St Giles, which is back near the top with a nine point average after a wobble, is less consistent, largely because its Young Learners operation slightly underperforms the year-round schools. If you check out the table for the pencil icons – which represents junior operations – you will see this is typical of nearly all chains.

EC does brilliantly with three of its schools but its low-scoring Oxford school, a statistical outlier, drags down its average and its consistency.

Larger chains have a harder time squeezing their schools into one standard deviation, but should get them into a normal distribution – 4 points either from their average. Neither EF with a mean of 7.5, or Kaplan, with 7.9 make that.

This is partly because their top schools do so well, but with their lowest scoring schools up for re-inspection in the next 12 months, their consistency is likely to improve.

But the top large chain in the UK, both by mean average and consistency, is the new look British Study Centres. In the last 12 months this merger between the old English Experience group and British Study Centres, both notoriously inconsistent, has raised its mean score to 8.1.