So you want to send your teenagers on a summer language course to improve their English. A summer language camp can give them better marks at school and get them more interested in the language generally. But there are hundreds of language schools. How do you find the right school for your children?
Here are 12 of the most important questions to ask if you are looking for a school in the UK.
Before you start to look at individual schools, it is a good idea to decide which areas of the UK are most suitable for your needs.
Is being in or near London important? There are many schools in London but very few residential homes in the centre. If you are looking at your child or children staying with an English family, they would almost certainly have quite a distance to travel to get to school in the mornings and back home again later. That journey would probably involve the underground train or buses and means leaving home earlier in the mornings. Are you happy for your children to use the underground or buses? Which areas would they be travelling from and to?
What about social activities in the evenings? Once your children have travelled home for their evening meal, is there even enough time for them to travel back to the school to join in the evening activities? Is it safe for them to travel home again afterwards?
Outside London there are plenty of cities and towns with language schools. There are the well-known places like Oxford, Cambridge, Bath or Brighton. They offer plenty to see and do, though they also get a lot of language students and tourists in the summer and can be crowded and expensive. There are lots of schools in other towns which may be less well-known but still have plenty to offer, from Scotland to the south-west of England, inland and in seaside towns. Looking at the websites of schools in such towns will give you an idea of what best suits your needs.
You don’t want your children to travel to England just to be with young people from your own country. Choosing a school which has international students means a lot more English is spoken, which results not just in better language results but in a much more enriching environment where students can make life-long new friends from all over the world.
What is the maximum number of students per class? As a general rule, the smaller the class, the more the students will learn. Some schools quote an average number of students per class, but this is often the average for the whole year and the number can be much higher in the main summer season.
What are the aims of the course? Is this what you are looking for? A course that prepares people for a specific examination is not necessarily going to help your child get better marks at his or her next test at school when he/she gets home.
Are there enough different levels that your children will be in a class of the right level? Can he or she change levels if they find the course is too difficult or easy?
This isn’t always as simple as it sounds. Some schools have lesson “hours” of only 50 or 45 minutes.
Are there lessons on five days each week? Some schools have a full-day excursion during the week, which in effect reduces the number of lessons by 20%.
Work out the total number of 60-minute hours per week for a proper comparison.
Most schools have lessons each weekday morning, which is when your child will be most attentive and receptive to learning. But check the days and times in the brochure or on the school’s website before you book as it is not always the case. There are schools which cut their costs by running lessons in shifts: students start early one day and then have late morning or afternoon lessons the next day. This is not an ideal learning environment. The times between classes at such schools can also be limited. If the same teachers teach the first and second shifts, the quality of those lessons is unlikely to be as high as at schools where there is just one block of lessons each day.
Quality lessons are essential if your children are to benefit from the experience of a summer language camp. But there is no legal requirement for teachers in language schools to hold qualifications for that job (see also point 11 below) and in the busy summer some schools sometimes employ unqualified people, so you should check that all the teachers are properly qualified to teach English as a foreign language.
Some schools offer residential accommodation, where all the students stay in a boarding school and have lessons and most of their activities at that school. Others offer accommodation with local families.
The residential accommodation option can be a good choice for young children as there are staff at the school to look after them on a 24/7 basis. The main disadvantages are that there is relatively little contact with British people but lots of contact with other foreign students whose native language is not English.
Staying with a local family provides much more contact with the English language and with British people and is generally a better option for teenagers. They speak and listen to English much more and get first-hand experience of the British way of life. Learning in such a practical environment is normally much more effective.
Have a look at the social programme that the school offers. Is it clear what your child will be doing? Are these activities that he/she wants to do? Can students choose their activities? Are the costs of all of the activities included in the price or do students have to pay extra to do them?
To make a fair comparison between schools, total up the cost of all the following for each school:
This final point is, perhaps, the most important of all.
You might be surprised to learn that anyone can set up a language school in the UK. They have to comply with laws and regulations, but there is no regulation about teacher qualifications or the quality of lessons, accommodation or the social programmes run by a school unless it belongs to an accrediting organisation.
In the UK the main accrediting organisation is the British Council. Any school which is accredited by the British Council must first pass a detailed inspection which looks at all aspects of the courses it runs. This includes ensuring that the accommodation is of a high enough standard, that the staff all have sufficient qualifications and training, that the course syllabus is of the right standard, that the programme of social activities is of the right standard, that all aspects of child protection and safety have been addressed and much more.
In addition, all accredited schools are members of English UK. English UK is a trade organisation which represents all accredited schools. It runs the Student Emergency Support Scheme, which ensures that if a member school goes out of business, its students are looked after by other member schools in the area and can continue their courses with them. This is an important point since quite a few schools have gone into liquidation over the past few years. If you book a course with an unaccredited school, you are not protected by this scheme.
For more details about British Council accreditation and a list of accredited schools, see https://www.britishcouncil.org/education/accreditation
It is important to check that a school is accredited by the British Council before you book a course with them. Look for the British Council logo …
Weymouth English Centre runs an English and Activities course each summer for teenagers aged between 13 and 17. Full details of the course can be found here.