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‘Communal crystal ball gazing is very useful’

RICHARDDAY

Richard Day, owner of English in Chester, talks about how language schools have been working together to raise standards and tackle upcoming challenges in the UK market.

Tell us a bit about who you are and your role at the language school English in Chester.
I am the owner and current director of marketing. Over my 41 years at the school I have worked in and led all departments. I handed over the role of principal to Nigel Paramor 10 years ago. Nigel is in charge of running the school and this leaves me with time to represent the school nationally, regionally and internationally and focus on developing the business.

English in Chester belongs to The English Network (TEN). What does the group aim to do?
TEN is a network of ten like-minded independent schools, all based in England. Each school has been operating for many years and the owners, directors and managers have also been in post for a long time and are familiar faces in the industry. Our schools differ in size and location but are similar in many respects.

We meet regularly to share ideas and benchmark ourselves against other members of the network. Schools of the same type often have similar problems, and we believe in sharing our experiences in the search for continuous improvement.
Our admin staff, our academic managers and our marketing teams meet annually to learn from each other. We want people to visit our schools and regularly run familiarisation trips. We also run occasional in-country events to raise the profile of the network. Together, we can also do some very cost-effective work. For example, we recently received the UK government’s GREAT Challenge funding for an exploration of the Indonesian market.

How much freedom do the schools have to do their own thing within the group?
Each member school is entirely free to ‘do their own thing’. The network is built on consensus, sharing experiences and trust. Members are independent and set their own goals. We often find, for example, that we have a similar management issue or response to specific market conditions. In these cases we can work together to find an appropriate way forward. Sharing experiences is very valuable and we learn a lot from each other.

What are the benefits to the schools of being in a looser network rather than a chain of schools – both for the staff and the schools overall?
So often in a small/medium-sized business you wonder if you are on the right track. Within the network we are not alone. It is great to have someone to bounce ideas off.
It is also great to have ten minds sharing experiences in their particular area of operation, ranging from social programmes to academic management. The pool of expertise we can call upon is considerable.

TEN has six schools in the top ten and eight in the top twenty of the EL Gazette UK Language Centre Rankings (see rankings supplement). That takes some doing – how do you manage to achieve that level of consistency?
Our individual members have always focused on quality. This is something that is very important for me as an owner and manager. We are regularly faced with balancing commercial against educational considerations and I am pleased to say that the commercial aspect usually takes second place. On a practical level, the network enables us to exchange views on responses to new circumstances affecting our industry.

What are TEN’s future plans?
At the moment we are confronting change and the market of the future. We are individually looking at our products and our services and are fine-tuning them to ensure that we remain in business for years to come.
As we are all the same ‘type’ of school, some communal crystal ball gazing is very useful. We also want to explore new income streams together. We have a lot of experience and expertise within our membership and we feel that this can be corralled effectively to tackle larger and more prestigious projects.