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Hunting down the real deal

Melanie Butler plots quality against price, and discovers that you don’t need to break the bank to study at a good UK language school

It’s all very well for the Gazette to print a list of the top 10 per cent of schools based on British Council inspections, as some have written to point out, but a lot of students, or their parents, simply can’t afford them. What about the schools which offer good deals – above-average results at below-average prices?

We set out to find all the year-round language schools and FE colleges in the UK which scored above average in British Council inspections but cost less than £13.33 pounds an hour for course fees and extra charges, excluding accommodation. We based the calculations on a four-week general English course, excluding the unpopular afternoons-only option, for a minimum of fifteen classroom hours, excluding breaks. All the courses started on the same date and did not include a summer supplement.

We could only find 27 language schools and two FE colleges who met the criteria in a trawl of over 240 schools and colleges. To our surprise, over a third were in the top 10 per cent of school by British Council points. There may well be more out there, but if we couldn’t find the prices after an hour on the website and a call to the school, we gave up.

State further education colleges were particularly problematic. Many of them barely have a website, never mind prices, often just a single page saying something about courses with a link that doesn’t work, or a request to phone the admissions office during – of course – British working hours. Doing the research nearly drove three investigative journalists over the edge.

We also gave up on any school or college that insisted we register our name, phone or email before they would give us a price. There is no way a Japanese internet-savvy digital native on a budget is going to phone a language school in Canterbury to ask the cost of a course. Note to UK industry: if you want students to book direct, get a price calculator on your website.

What this list proves is that the best schools are not always the most expensive. Take the two centres ranked at the top of the list. One, Language Specialists International Portsmouth, is £11.55 an hour and one of the countries top ten private language schools. The other, Sussex Downs College, one of only two FEs we found that offers four-week courses year round, costs £10.78. While most Gazette centres of excellence are value for money, when you calculate the score against the price, these two are astonishing deals.

Once again the independent private language schools offer better deals than the chains, though affiliates of IH – not a chain but a network – do brilliantly with four out of six UK schools hitting the target. Bristol leads the way with ten points, followed by Aberdeen, also a centre of excellence. Belfast is the only Northern Irish school in the list, while Newcastle is the cheapest of the bunch at £11.11 an hour. Skola is the only chain to have schools in the list – English in London and English in Exeter – and the only other chain school mentioned is Isis Brighton.

The average cost for non-chain schools is around £11.50. Students looking for classes at under £10 for a sixty-minute hour have a choice of five nationally, but two of them are in Wales – centre of excellence Inlingua Cardiff at a bargain basement £8.80 an hour, and Celt in the top 35 per cent of schools nationally.

Unsurprisingly though, prices vary from place to place. Scotland has the same results as Wales – a centre of excellence in IH Aberdeen and a top 35 per cent school in Live Language – but the prices are higher. The English region that stands out for high quality at a reasonable price is Yorkshire with two centres of excellence – Melton at £12.50 ranked joint sixth in the list, and Scarborough International School of English, joint eighth at £11.86.

In the battle of the cities, Exeter has two schools including a centre of excellence, Exeter Academy. Bournemouth has two good deals, ETC International and Capital. In Brighton the best deal is Isis Brighton at just over £13. Cambridge boasts two good deals: Select English and Cambridge International College, part of the regional Further Education network. Oxford has nothing above national average in the price range. Jersey in the Channel Islands also deserves a mention, as its only language school, St Brelades, ranks in the top 35 per cent nationally and is £12.76 an hour.

Given its reputation as one of the world’s most expensive city, London looms surprisingly large, with two centres of excellence, Crest in the suburbs and Tti near the centre, coming in at around £13, and a cluster of four above-average schools in the West End at well below the average of around £16.50. They range in price from £9.16 at the Mayfair School of English to £12.50 at Malvern House.

There are plenty of schools in the UK that are value for money. They get great results in great locations and beautiful premises and they are definitely worth more than they cost. It’s just that they cost more than £13.30 an hour. The thirty or so schools listed here range from top of the range to just above average, and what they have in common is that they are all great deals.

Best deal schools:

LSI Portsmouth*

Sussex Downs College*

Crest, London*

Inlingua Cardiff*

IH Bristol*

Melton College York*

Exeter Academy*

Scarborough International School of English*

Tti

Capital, Bournemouth

Isis, Brighton

LILA, Liverpool

Portsmouth Language College

CELT, Cardiff

ETC International

Live Language, Glasgow

St Brelade’s, Jersey

Lewis School of English

Select Cambridge

Cambridge International

English in Exeter (Skola)

English in London (Skola)

IH Belfast

IH Newcastle

Malvern House, London

Mayfair School of English

Oxford House, London

* = School is in the UK top 10 per cent (Centres of Excellence)