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Edinburgh can still rise now

Six British Council accredited private language schools are currently operating in Edinburgh, down from 14 at the beginning of 2020, making the Scottish capital the worst hit of any of the major UK EFL destinations. Along with the local BC accredited FE college and a summer operation run by the city’s most famous boarding school, however, the surviving language centres look to benefit from a larger share of a traditionally strong, if seasonal, market.  

Jenny McLay, a director of the small, family-run Alba School of English in the vibrant, diverse area of Newington, ascribes its survival to their local student market. “Our local students stuck by us,” she told the Gazette. “And they helped us hit the ground running at the end of each lockdown.”

Across the UK, schools like hers, which have a mix of language travel students and local enrolments, have proved much more likely to survive the pandemic. 

Indeed, many schools entirely reliant on language travel were in trouble before the arrival of covid, Gazette research at Companies House suggests. In a random sample of 40 language travel non-chain schools, 30% reported liabilities exceeding their total assets every year between 2016 and 2019. 

Jenny also ascribes her school’s survival to the relatively small size of her premises.  Edinburgh Council’s refusal to waive business rates took its toll on schools, such as the well-loved Mackenzie School of English, which had much bigger buildings and thus much higher commercial property taxes. 

Again, this pattern has been repeated across the UK, with more schools closing in places like Oxford, where the rates weren’t lifted compared to others, like Cambridge, where they removed the tax.   

Edinburgh has seen one advantage to the savage covid cull: an ample supply of teachers. But at Alba there was no need to go looking for them: “All our old teachers have come back,” Jenny reports, an example, perhaps, of the sense of belonging offered by family-run operations.

As in the rest of Britain, a Director of Studies (DoS) is harder to find. Indeed, as the November issue of the Gazette reported, some 40% of all UK job ads were for Dosses. With her own DoS leaving in spring, Jenny has an interesting solution. “I’m thinking of a Dip teacher working overseas who wants to come home to a secure job in a small and friendly school,” she says. “We’re happy to help with relocation costs,” she added. 

In Scotland, they love a ‘homecoming’.

To find out more about the DOS position at Alba English School, take a look at https://www.albaenglish.co.uk/work-us or email the current school director, Chris, at chris@albaenglish.co.uk. 

Image courtesy of Pixabay
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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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