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Is hibernation the answer to a Covid Christmas?

Melanie Butler tries to sort out what’s going on with school closures.

Dominion School of English, at over 50 years old possibly one of the oldest schools in New Zealand, has closed its doors, another victim of the pandemic. We first heard about it this from the New Zealand Herald. It is awful news, it is very sad, and the industry should grieve such a loss.

Unfortunately, the article also wrongly reported at least two other schools had closed in Auckland: EC and EF – but this turns out to be untrue in both cases.

We only know that its untrue because we contacted the brilliant Kim Renner at English New Zealand who told us that EC had applied for and been granted official status as ‘inactive’ – or been put into ‘hibernation’ as the press have dubbed it. But since “historically, providers have been able to maintain registration for up to a year if they are not delivering any courses,” a number of other schools, including EF, are not currently teaching but are not in official hibernation.

So, don’t believe everything you read in the press.

To be fair to my fellow hacks, in the midst of a global pandemic where schools have been ordered to open and close their doors like cuckoo clocks, it’s astonishingly difficult to find out what is actually going on.

In the UK and Malta, for example, the only way you know that a school has closed is when they disappear from the accreditation lists. But even then they can suddenly appear again, as seems to have happened with Maltalingua and, in the UK, with BLC Bristol. We reported them closed, but they aren’t any more – what else can we say?

In the US, we have had to resort to Google maps to see which schools are still open. Google showed the Florida school of one chain as ‘permanently closed’ but their East Coast branch as ‘opening at 9 am” though it no longer appeared on the chain’s website. When we asked the CEO about it, he did not reply, but when we again googled the East Coast school it miraculously appeared as a red balloon on a google map of London, England. It must have walked a long way!

And as for the recent local news report of 23 unnamed language schools closing in Vancouver, we haven’t been able to track down a single one.

No wonder the Gazette is inundated with e-mails from agents demanding to know if a certain school is in trouble. (Answer: if it is in the UK, check for free at Companies House where all companies’ financial information is available. If it isn’t in the UK, we’re not going to pay to find out for you.) Also, see our updated list of UK school closures and changes to legal status.

And no wonder that staff teaching online from their bathrooms in a desperate attempt to save their school howl when we publish the fact that the company is in liquidation. It is a fact, but it’s equally a fact that the school is still accredited.

It increasingly feels as if the New Zealand government is absolutely spot on – the only answer is to give schools the right to go into official ‘hibernation,’ to hold onto their licenses and their accreditation and stop paying their dues. But only on the condition that they stop pretending that their school in Ottawa, Otago or Onslow Square is still open and still able to accept students when they have been booted out of the building by an equally desperate landlord and anyway the border is closed for Christmas.

Bring on hibernation. Show us all to the bear cave. We need some rest.

Image courtesy of 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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