Melanie Butler finds a school where everyone can help learners to learn
UK language schools put ‘the student experience’ at the top of their agenda. Broadstairs English Centre (BEC) has a different vision. Their aim is to create ‘one continuous learning experience, to which every member of staff and every homestay provider contributes.’
This year, the British Council’s inspectors found “ample evidence” that they have achieved their aim. They awarded BEC 14 areas of strength out of a possible 15, making it not only the highest-ranking year-round young learner specialist, but the only centre specialising in year-round school trips ever to become an EL Gazette Centre of Excellence.
We asked principal Chris McDermott why they set out to create a school which is not just learner-centred, but learning-centred?
According to Chris, “It is paramount that every opportunity for learning is taken: in class, on activities and in the home… everyone is on board to make this a unique childhood experience that can influence studies, careers and ambitions.”
Chris and Alex, the school directors and owners, previously taught EFL, following on from their parents, Chris and Vivienne, who were both teacher-trainers. Their mother, Vivienne, now runs the excursion programme for the group leaders who accompany children to the school.
Group leaders are not only offered a free private excursion, but also some free classes, which can include language practice, methodology and new ideas for lessons.
The training doesn’t stop with group leaders. The inspectors note that, “Activity leaders have been trained to give and elicit information from students during excursions, which helps students to develop their language skills.”
Then there are the host families. “BEC has developed a unique training programme for homestay hosts,” write the inspectors, “which introduces them to basic teaching techniques that facilitate conversation with their students in the home.”
But how do you teach host families to help students learn? Chris explains. “By highlighting the importance of techniques like allowing students enough time to answer questions, asking open questions, and being aware of idiomatic language.”
Even the teachers are continuously learning: weekly teachers’ meetings and CPD, peer observations, training days. The school funds the Trinity diploma and, along with both Assistant Directors of Studies, seven of the teachers have either completed it or are enrolled on the course. The Accommodation Manager not only has a diploma in Student Services Management, she is also a qualified state-school teacher.
A school that offers wraparound learning. It’s a simple idea. Focus on the learning, isn’t that the whole point of education?