Pool of Talent

Catherine Gibson, Maria McDonnell and Kathy Gibson on the steps of the school.

Liverpool Lass Maria McDonnell Put Her City’s Soul in Her School

Liverpool is an international city with a rich cultural history and the heart of a village.” So says Maria McDonnell, Liverpool School of English, which she owns and runs with sister Kathy Gibson, reflecting their home city’s unique culture.

So how did they get into the language school business? In 1999, Maria decided to return home from her job teaching in Istanbul. Her students asked her to find them a summer school in Liverpool.

“They said they had always gone to the South Coast for their Summer School, Hastings, Eastbourne… and were looking for something different. They had heard a lot about Liverpool and asked me to find them a summer course.’’

Back home in Liverpool, Maria found that there were no language schools at all, while the universities only offered pre-university courses.

So, with her sister Kathy, she opened a school and arranged to rent university facilities for the summer. “We thought we would get 70 or 80 students, but we attracted almost 400.”

The school remains family run, with Maria’s niece Catherine Gibson being the Operations Director and as a team they are rooted in the city’s warm and welcoming culture. “We have been voted the UKs friendliest city by Condé Nast several years running.”

Indeed, British Council inspectors note how friendly the school’s homestay families are.

The inspectors also made special mention of the school’s buddy system for new employees.

“We developed the system to support the newcomer, and to recognise the experience and expertise of serving staff,” explains Maria, adding that, “For teachers, it encourages teachers to plan and work together. In other departments, it’s a really important source of information sharing and support.”

The school scored a strength in every single criteria of strategic and quality management, so what piece of advice would Maria give a school manager worried about their next inspection. “Think about the criteria, and the positive reason why the framework exists, what a valuable learning experience it can be for all staff.”

In Liverpool, city of football and the Beatles, it is all about the team.