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Are the chains under strain?

A recent flurry of British Council Inspections has shown a drop in results for some chain-owned operations. Could this be due to the pandemic?

Most striking are the results for EC, for some years our most consistently excellent chain. In the recent inspections of its five UK schools, only one, Manchester, retained its Centre of Excellence ranking, the other four scoring between two and five strengths, just below the industry average.

CEO Andrew Mangion, agrees the pandemic have affected the outcome.  “We remain focused on rebuilding and coming back stronger than ever after the pandemic,” he told the Gazette, adding: “We’ll continue to work tirelessly to provide the best possible education ….”

Indeed, Education, or Teaching and Learning as it is termed by inspectors, remains consistently good at EC, according to their reports. The areas where their schools, which only enrol over 16s, lost points were in risk assessment and safeguarding. Other areas were average.

Covid has hit chain-owned centres hard. Previously they accounted for 35 per cent of all UK privately-owned operations. Now the number is just over thirty percent.

Another chain which has seen its scores drop is Eurocentres was also a Covid victim. Rescued out of administration by Bayswater College, the brand name is no longer used in the UK. Only one of the merged operations, London. has been re-inspected, scoring four strengths. The remaining Eurocentres schools, Bournemouth and Brighton, await reinspection. Both Bayswater Liverpool and Bayswater Summer however have been inspected and a Need for Improvement in safeguarding, but not Areas of Strength, were noted for both.  Bayswater co-founder, James Herbertson, also cites Covid.

“During the pandemic we managed to prevent a large number of schools from closing down forever,” he told us proudly. “Like most of the industry our focus was on survival, and to make sure we could deliver courses as the market returned….”

Mergers and acquisitions often lead to temporary drops in quality – as Kaplan found when building its UK group. Now our best-performing large chain, it has two centres with recent inspection reports – both improved their scores. Stafford House and King’s Education have also seen scores go up.

What all these five chains have in common is they opted for full inspections which award both strengths and weaknesses. Other providers have chosen the new compliance inspections where no new strengths can be awarded but the old ones are retained. Needs for Improvement can be given but the downside risk is lower.

Three EF schools have undergone Compliance inspections since 2020: Bristol, Brighton and London. All received a Need for Improvement in Publicity reducing their overall score by one.

You cannot improve your score on a Compliance inspection, but you can make it worse.

Image courtesy of Library
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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