IH London prides itself on its sense of community, a commitment to teachers and the quality of education it provides, its new management team tells El Gazette.
‘When you walk into this building, you get the sense of the scale of what happens here.’
Joseph Lowe, now chief executive of International House London, first came to the school as finance director two years ago. He had no experience of EFL, but had a background working for other educational charities, so the not-for-profit environment at IH was nothing new.
‘The ethos and the culture is what I have worked in for many years,’ Lowe said.
But it was a surprise to Greg Patton, the new sales and marketing director, however. Originally an investment banker, he switched into education after the crash.
His last job was with Bell.
‘The biggest shock for me coming from the commercial world, from banking, is that at IH, the most important thing isn’t profitability, it’s quality – it’s all about the quality of the education.
‘To achieve that, you need to focus on getting the right staff. You employ the right staff, you point them in the right direction and you empower them.’
The new director of education, Eleanor Maly, an old EFL hand new to the IH family, agrees. ‘When I was director of studies I was always very interested in any teacher with an IH Celta on their CV.
That was a selling point to me and that was always borne out in the teacher’s abilities. ‘It’s justifiably a very strong brand in English language teaching and of course in teacher training.’
‘IH London is big,’ chips in Greg, ‘not just in terms of the number of students we teach but also the number of teachers we train… One thing that really surprised me when I first got here is the sheer extent of the teacher training, the scale. We run something like 50 Celta courses a year.’ ‘Not to mention the other diplomas, the courses for foreign teachers, the course we run for foreign governments,’ adds Joseph. ‘But it’s also about how you treat your staff, and that is what we are emphasising a lot.
‘For example, a lot of staff used to complain that they were on 23-month contracts, which meant that they couldn’t gain employment rights, and we changed that. We discussed it with the board and we realised that we’re actually in favour of giving teachers more security.’
Eleanor is convinced that it is the quality of the teachers that has helped IH London gain fourteen out of fifteen points in its latest British Council inspection.
She says: ‘We don’t have a prescribed, top-down way of teaching; everything is tailored to the individual group of students, and lessons are designed based on the students’ needs.’
‘That approach isn’t something you can necessarily roll out in a large chain of schools because it’s difficult to guarantee you’re going to get the same high quality of tuition in every single classroom.
‘Whereas large chains tend to rely on prescribed methodologies or materials to standardise the quality, we focus more on creative, flexible ways to teach the individual student. To do that, you need to have a lot of faith in your teachers.
‘But at IH we can be confident in the ability of our teachers because we train them. In fact, most of our permanent teachers are teacher trainers.’
The emphasis on meeting student needs extends to sales and marketing. Shortly after a student arrives at the London school, the sales person whose client they are comes down to talk to them, to check how everything is going. IH sales people are part of the community; they work in the same building as the teachers and the students; they eat in the same café.
Since Greg arrived, he has set about recruiting salespeople with an IH background, bringing them home, you could say. ‘As the market becomes more mature and more commoditised and there are more big players, what we have is the sense of community,’ Greg says.
‘It’s a people place on many levels,’ agrees Eleanor. ‘We survey our staff each year to take the temperature of the organisation,’ explains Joseph, ‘and what came across last year so strongly was that the commitment of the staff to the organisation is unparalleled.
‘It must go back, I think, to the charity values on which we operate. Staff and students know this school is different because it is not just about a couple of people getting rich: it’s about the benefits we can bring to the community.’
Joseph Lowe is the CEO of International House London. Eleanor Maly is director of education and Greg Patton is director of sales and marketing at the central London school.
Picture: Greg Patton, Eleanor Maly and Joseph Lowe