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Disappearing schools cause confusion

The figures tell the story. In January 2020, the Gazette database listed 478 British Council accredited language schools. Today it contains just 401.

Two more are due to go shortly: Eurocentres Cambridge is scheduled to close this month, while its sister school in Brighton is set to merge with the local Stafford House and will trade under that name until the end of this year, according to Stephan Roussounis, managing director of the Bayswater College Group, which now owns both schools.

The changes at Eurocentres will bring the number of centres on our database down to 399. However, this also includes 13 centres accredited since February 2020. So the number of centres that have closed, merged or opted out of the scheme in the past two years stands at 92. In other words, 19% of all the centres on the British Council website before the pandemic hit are no longer listed.

By no means have all 92 ceased trading, though.

For some centres, like the seven universities which have left the scheme, EFL accreditation is an optional extra and opting out an easy way to save money. For others, such as the long-established Victoria School of English, which now operates exclusively online, the British Council imprimatur may seem less relevant.

Many have closed. English UK, the association of British Council accredited schools, currently lists only 36 member schools which have informed the association that they have closed for good (see englishuk.com/member- centre-closures).

However, the list, which is not dated, contains some information contradicted by other data, either elsewhere on the English UK site or on one or both of the British Council web pages.

For example, OISE Cambridge, which merged with sister school Regent Cambridge in 2020, is listed as permanently closed. However, OISE Cambridge is the name listed in the directory of English UK members and it’s also listed on both the British A-Z directory of accredited schools and on its list of summary statements. Effectively, it is Regent Cambridge, which no longer exists.

In another example, Liverpool School of English is listed as permanently closed by English UK, but Liverpool School of English Summer Centres appears on the British Council’s Summary Statements (February 2022, version 2) and a report for the year-round school has re- appeared on the British Council’s A-Z web page of accredited schools. To confuse matters further, if you search under Liverpool on the English UK website, an entry for the year- round school turns up.

It would be good news indeed if Liverpool School of English, a Gazette Centre of Excellence, does re-emerge, but how can we possibly know which information source to believe?

And how on earth is any language travel agent, let alone a student or their parents, supposed to know if a language school is operating or is accredited to do so when the official information provided both by the British Council and English UK is so contradictory and confusing?

The Gazette counts a school as accredited only when it appears on the British Council list of summary statements, but just because it’s accredited doesn’t mean it’s currently trading.

Some are hibernating schools: they have a website which makes it clear they are temporarily closed, they have continued to submit accounts to Companies House and are listed as accredited. They may have no building and only a skeleton staff, but choose to retain accreditation so they can re-open as and when they feel the situation permits.

Some are zombie schools: in hibernation, but showing signs of financial difficulties.

Mayfair School of English, whose owner company was TMSOE in September 2020, is currently trading under another company, Mayfair Junior English, with the liquidator’s approval, but remains temporarily closed.

Sprachcaffe Brighton, whose building – according to the local press – was sold in 2020, is listed on its website as temporarily closed. Neither its owner, SCIH Ltd or sister companies, Languages Plus and Languages Plus London, have submitted accounts for any year after 2018.

Most mysterious of all is St George’s Business and English Language Centre in Hastings, which seems to have disappeared entirely. Though its owner company, St George’s England, posted accounts for 2020, the link to its website from the British Council is dead, it has disappeared from Google maps and the phone number given on its English UK membership listing has been disconnected. Its only digital presence is its Facebook page, where the last posting is dated 2018.

For the sake of agents and students who depend on English UK and the British Council’s information when choosing a course, maybe these institutions should do a little more than just continue to list any accredited centre that pays their dues. Perhaps they could check, for example, that the school still actually exists.

Image courtesy of PHOTO SHUTTERSTOCK
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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