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Beyond Covid and Brexit

A reader suggests why else the UK’s ELT industry is declining

With reference to your news piece, ‘Brexit bashes UK language schools’, on the EL Gazette website, I read the original Guardian article last weekend and found it interesting that the two reasons given in the article for the drop in numbers attending UK language schools are Brexit and the pandemic.

Personally, I believe there’s another, more fundamental, reason, which is that the model the UK ELT industry operates for teenagers’ courses (in particular) has fallen behind the times. Teenagers the world over have far greater access to English input these days, both on a direct (through their education system) and indirect (through media of various types) level. The need to travel to the UK to learn and use English has been steadily diminishing since well before Brexit, and the ELT industry has not been proactive enough in its response. The last thing European high school students need or want to do in their holidays is have yet more of the same old English lessons, yet this is what most language schools in the UK still try to sell to them.

Certainly there are huge benefits to be had from the cultural and social experiences teenagers from overseas can have here in the UK during the summer, but I am well aware that many course providers in the UK – perhaps the majority – are reluctant to repackage their programmes to make much more of this side of their operations. “It’s because agents expect classroom- based, teacher-led tuition”, is the kind of response I’ve been hearing from people in the industry for years. This may be true, but if it is, then the industry has a duty to re-train its agents so that they in turn can re-train parents about novel, inspiring ways the sector can engage young students in language learning. This is exactly what I’ve spent much of the past five years or so doing in my capacity as principal of a school which relies heavily on junior business. Although it is a time- consuming process not without its frustrations, the pay-off is both real and valuable – in particular when our teenage students see at first hand how successfully using English in real-world contexts for purposeful communication is a highly rewarding formative experience, and at the same time begin to see English as a genuinely life-enhancing skill, rather than simply another school subject, as it were.

While our departure from the EU may not have done the UK ELT industry many favours, implying it is the main reason for declining numbers is disingenuous. More importantly, doing so also masks the key fact that our industry still offers enormous potential benefits, be these economic (for course providers and for the many stakeholders within the UK services sector) or educational (for young people desperately in need of the chance to put their classroom- gained knowledge to practical, active use). We would be wise to focus our attention on what we, as an industry, can do to realise this potential rather than allow ourselves to be distracted by what, to my mind, are secondary factors.

Best wishes,

Mark Lloyd

Mark Lloyd is Regional Principal for Kaplan International Languages Bath & Torquay. He has also worked as a DoS, trainer or teacher in many different countries, and has published several ELT course books and resource books.

Response

I could not agree more that the 40-year-old formula of 15 hours of classroom English lessons buttressed by activities and excursions is out of date. However, the main subject of both The Guardian article, and ours, was the European school-trip market, which is worth £2.5 billion a year, £I billion more than the entire accredited EFL industry.

Not all school trips involve an accredited language school and many may involve no language teaching at all. But they do involve the governments who pay for them and European governments are unwilling to force families to fork out for a passport for their child because post-Brexit Britain has chosen not to accept ID cards.

Instead, the kids are going to Malta and Ireland, both markets where the “15 hours of English and some fun stuff” routine still reigns supreme.

Outside the private language-school sector, there are plenty of UK summer schools offering English as an optional extra. Among the boarding school offerings are: Bishopstrow College (BC accredited), with a six-hours-a-day academic programme, including English; Windermere School (previously BC accredited), offering sailing courses with or without English; and Marlborough College (not BC accredited), where English is one of many options available to kids from the ages of 3 to 19 and their families.

Some UK language schools have gone into the market for summer study without the English, but agents remain sceptical. “I’m looking for a physics course taught by a proper physics teacher,“ as one Italian agent explained, “not an English language teacher.”
Melanie Butler
Editor-in-Chief, EL Gazette

Images courtesy of PHOTO BY SHUTTERSTOCK and Library
Mark Lloyd
Mark Lloyd
Mark Lloyd is Regional Principal for Kaplan International Languages Bath & Torquay. He has also worked as a DoS, trainer or teacher in many different countries, and has published several ELT course books and resource books.
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