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Home2019 IssuesIssue 467 - Nov 2019Standing the Test of Time

Standing the Test of Time

The London School of English is over 100 years old, principal Hauke Tallon tells Melanie Butler why its core values are key to its future

You don’t come from an EFL background so you probably weren’t aware of The London School of English, the oldest language school in the UK before you joined.

Actually, I was an EFL teacher in Japan at the beginning of the 90s. I really loved my time there – especially the cultural experience – but I came back to the UK to follow a more commercial career path.

Ten years later, I was thinking about taking my commercial skillset back into an industry I felt more passionate about and came across an advert for the sales and marketing role at The London School of English. I hadn’t heard the name before but after some research decided to apply and was invited to meet the owner, Timothy Blake. He was – and remains – a positive and inspirational voice in our industry and I knew instinctively that working here would be enjoyable with plenty to get stuck into and also plenty to build on.

And now?

The landscape has changed, and that pace of change is accelerating, which presents challenges, but also opportunities. We have to adapt our methods, while our core values remain the same and what drives us forward is a belief that there is still a market for what we do, even if we have to adapt to deliver that.

Yours is the first EFL organisation to have two centres achieve perfect scores on inspection: London and Canterbury. How important is consistency?

I suppose it is possible to get a reasonable number of strengths by treating the preparation and inspection as a game of strategy. However, in my experience the inspectors know when someone is papering over the cracks, so getting a very good score does require consistency.

Really, the focus shouldn’t be on the inspections at all but on running a business day-in, day-out that provides both clients and staff with a great experience.

Yes, you can tick the boxes, but to get all the staff aligned around your core values, share a mindset and pull in the same direction is something that happens over many years of building teams.

The rankings are dominated by the grand old schools. The London School of English is the oldest and possibly the grandest …

Actually, we think of ourselves as neither old nor grand; we are far more focused on what’s happening now and on the future. ‘Old and grand’ can quickly become ‘outdated and complacent’ and that would indicate a failure in our eyes.

As to the future what is the one element you must keep, and one thing you must change?

We must keep our core values – that’s essential because we accept that any business must change in order to stay relevant, but our core values are what drive us and keep us close as a team; from them we draw our sense of purpose.

“Our core values are what drive us and keep us close as a team; from 
them we draw our sense of purpose.”

As for what must change, we accept that any business must change in order to stay relevant, so there is much we are keeping a careful eye on and we do enjoy the challenge of innovation. Instinctively, I’d say our willingness to use alternative means of delivery shows this – not to replace our face-to-face provision, but to augment it. Using our own content and our own trainers for remote learning ensures that we can retain our quality and reputation rather than being reliant on the content of third parties.

What are the three things people should look for in a great language school?

Firstly, I don’t think that everyone needs to go to a school with a top BC score, but the latest inspection report is certainly something that people should look at as guidance, as it can tell them a lot about the institution they are about to commit their money to. A great school should do well in the areas that are important to the client and so be a good fit.

Secondly, I’d want to be looking for something that meets my needs, so I’d want someone to ask me about those and help me to identify the most suitable programme. That might not necessarily be the most expensive thing on the menu. I’d want to understand the rationale behind their recommendations.

Finally, I’d want to find some independent reviews. How our clients rate us is every bit as important as how the inspectors rate us. So, permit me to mention that we are globally the highest ranked language training provider on TrustPilot, with an average score of 4.8/5; I guess that means our clients agree with the British Council, which makes me just as happy as the inspection scores!

Images courtesy of LONDON SCHOOL OF ENGLISH and Library
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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