Stick with the specialist schools says Melanie Butler
The demand for year-round courses for groups of young learners is growing across Europe, most strongly in Italy and Spain, but what kind of provision is best for them?
On average the best provision for young learners is found among the young learner specialists, judged by UK inspection results.
Young learner specialists are awarded an average of six strengths by British Council inspectors, while the national average across all provider types is five strengths.
However, just because a provider is good with adults, doesn’t mean they will also do well with young learners. In a study of British Council inspection reports, 24 UK providers whose young learner provision is inspected separately from their adult courses, we found that, on average, adult provision is awarded five more strengths than junior operations. This is a statistically significant difference.
Of course, these figures only refer to the UK – no other English-speaking country publishes inspection results. There are a number of reasons, however, why this is likely to be true throughout the English-speaking world: few English native speaker teachers are trained to teach under-16s, and until very recently very few year-round language schools in the English-speaking world offered young-learner courses outside the summer.
Now for the good news – ten per cent of all accredited language schools in the UK now have more juniors than adults year-round. We are seeing, at least in Britain, the rise and rise and rise of the year-round young learner specialists. These include not only the ten boarding schools who can take short stay groups, but also nearly forty private language schools.
Although most chains do better with adults, there are high-scoring chain schools, like St Giles Highgate and British Study Centres Edinburgh. There are also successful summer operators, like UKLC and Bell Young Learners, now offering courses year-round. Then there are the well-established, year-round specialists including Sidmouth International School and Globe English, both in Devon. This is also the region which boasts the largest number of young learner schools.
Not all young learner specialists excel. The ‘pop up’ schools which only open when a closed group books in can have problems finding good teachers. Schools in the main adult EFL destinations also seem to struggle. And schools new to accreditation often fall down on child protection. So always check the inspection reports.
But in the UK at least, the young learner specialists are on the rise.