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Can language schools compete in rush to CLIL?

The two largest markets for UK ELT are moving away from general English summer courses and towards academic courses in English. The growth of CLIL in local state schools has fueled the shift, language schools were warned at a recent seminar on the key Italian and Spanish markets.

“Our students are no longer interested in ‘fun’ summer courses,” Stefania Bresquar, from GEO International in Padua, told an audience of English UK members, at the recent event, which was organised and sponsored by LanguageCert.

Bresquar, representing Italian agent association IALCA, emphasised the rising language levels in Italy, the UK’s largest ELT market. Clients were increasingly looking for academicyear programmes in secondary schools, and summer courses covering academic subjects in English, she said. Academic standards were key. “Physics must be taught by someone who knows about physics,” she warned.

The Spanish market is following the same trajectory, according to Rafael Rivas of Interway, head of the agents’ association ASEPROCE. Academic-year programmes, particularly in the US, now represent a major share of agency business, while demand for traditional junior summer courses is declining.

The market change comes as no surprise to the UK’s international education sector. Lowrie Coupland of St Clare’s, Oxford, told us they had been aware of a, “considerable shift away from traditional language courses for some time,” and it was not limited to Europe.

The market for CLIL courses is an easy fit for international education specialists like St Clare’s, which runs an international boarding school, an adult language school and an international college offering pre-university pathways and undergraduate year abroad programmes.

UK universities have been quick to move into the 16+ summer market. A range of big names, such as Exeter, Warwick and King’s College London now offer ‘pre-university courses’ – open to native and non-native speakers alike. They are, however, highly selective, and a B2 level of English is a must.

Non-selective ‘pre-university’ programmes run by private sector companies have been enrolling students from America and Asia for some years. EFL summer school operators are moving into this niche, but struggle to enroll native speakers. The failure of the British Council, thus far, to accredit academic courses presents an additional major problem, as it leaves the under-16 market largely in the hands of boarding schools who have years of experience in delivering academic subjects through the medium of English.

Boarding schools also have summer schools of all types and for all ages. For example, starting at age seven, children can attend an academic course at Bishopstrow College; and at age 10 they can choose Maths, Economics or Science at Concord College.

Private language schools may now have to change their business model, and their accreditation choice, to compete.

Image courtesy of St Clare's Oxford
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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