Sunday, May 26, 2024

Down in Devon

Melanie Butler explores young learning in Devon

Devon offers the best quality of life in England, according to an analysis by wellness charity Happy City. According to the Evening Standard newspaper, high levels of physical activity, low unemployment and good local living conditions all helped this county in the south west of England grab the top spot.

It is also the ideal location for children’s holidays, as generations of English parents will tell you. Devon has a good climate, great beaches and one of the lowest crime rates in the country. This is picture-postcard England, right down to the famous cream teas.

Small wonder, then, that it has become the young learner capital of the UK. Of the twenty accredited language schools and summer schools in the county, 17 take young learners in the summer and exactly half welcome under-16s year-round.

Devon takes its duty of care to young international students very seriously, and it always has done. The two oldest EFL operations here were junior summer schools: Country Cousins, on the North Coast, was started in 1951; while Isca, the best family-run summer school in the UK, was founded in 1966. When two year-round schools opened here in the 1970s – Sidmouth International School and Globe English Centre – they took young learners year-round virtually from the beginning. They are both now EL Gazette Centres of Excellence, two of just five in the entire country.

When Jane and Darrell Dumenil of Sidmouth International opened its young learner courses for 8 to 13 year olds in 1983, they began to work with the local council on child protection.

The county developed strong support measures for international students, even vetting host families many years before the British Council introduced it is own safeguarding checks. The Devon authorities still work closely with the schools, and the Devon system works in tandem with the national regulations, making the county the safest place in the UK, and possibly the world, for young foreign students.

Because the region has always welcomed young learners, it has a well-developed infrastructure to support them – great host families, teachers experienced in dealing with this age group and activity and leisure programmes especially suited to the young.

Partly as a result, the average Devon language school scores above-average on its inspection reports, and a higher proportion than average appear in the EL Gazette rankings of the top 100 schools.

Over the years, the development of local airports has made the region directly accessible for many more students. According to Kevin McNally, managing director of Torquay International School, another local Centre of Excellence, students from long-haul destinations can also use the hub in Amsterdam and land directly in Bristol. This is just another reason that parents and agents should consider sending young learners to study in a part of England which one traditional song compares to Eden:

  • When Adam and Eve were dispossessed
  • Of the garden hard by Heaven,
  • They planted another one down in the west,
  • ‘Twas Devon, glorious Devon.
Image courtesy of Unsplash/Alysa Tarrant
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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