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  1. #1
    DaveArms is offline Newbie
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    Post The business side: traditional language school model; and going forward.

    Good evening all. I am a long time forum reader, and have found the tips and general discussion very helpful in terms of bringing new ideas and methodologies into my classroom(s).

    My apologies is this is not the correct forum for my thread.

    A brief background; I have recently arrived home from Madrid, where I had been teaching English for a little over two years. I originally went for a 2 month contract, covering for a friend (ESL teacher) who was on sick leave, but the city had me hooked and I kept finding reasons to stick around. :-)

    As I moved around from contract to contract; teaching differing age groups, levels and career-types (civil servants and army types at their locations, but also classes in the language schools) I was given a taste of the business side of this ESL industry.

    The contracts were all for private language schools, all highly accredited and focused on the B2B (business to business) market - where we were introduced as 'communication consultants', 'executive trainers' and 'business coaches', instead of 'teachers' - but no different in practice to any ESL teacher delivering business English.

    Now; onto my question.

    Is there any scope for a new look at the traditional language school model, one that might attract and retain more students?
    I ask, as the majority of schools that I have seen have worked as a conveyor-belt system.


    • Student(s) enter; either through their company or off the street.
    • They are handed a level test; 15 mins (written) and sent away to complete it.
    • A teacher enters to assess their level based on grammar and a short conversation.
    • The initial level is usually badly assessed; leaving the student to be moved around 2-3 classes in.
    • They are then sent in to the sales person, 'sold' on the benefits of English.
    • Then back to the receptionist and shown the prices and timetables; with incentives to sign-up 'now' for an immediate discount, or 'recommend a friend' for x Euro off the course.
    • Based on their level and/or needs they will select a group or one-to-one option; and they book their first class.
    • The groups vary based on general English, exam preparation or Business English.
    • Depending on the school; they may be offered an online course to compliment their lessons.
    • Once they have completed their course or block of classes; they are offered a discount to sign up again; and usually 20% (or less) will do so. (Big problem with retention).
    • And repeat.


    From a teaching perspective this model seems to work; levels, small groups, correct attention to students needs etc but from a business perspective it has many flaws.

    Have any schools tried a different model to the one outlined above; or is this seen as the norm and set to continue?
    I have a few ideas myself, but would love to hear some opinions before this post becomes an essay. :)

  2. #2
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: The business side: traditional language school model; and going forward.

    As a business plan, the conveyor-belt system works as long as it can attract a ready supply of students. Your fourth point, which strikes me as the most important, is more pedagogical than business IMO. I think that the problem here is the assessment, but the advantage to a business of basing it around a written test is that it can be done every year with a transient staff. However, it clearly has shortcomings- there's more to language and life than a multiple choice grammar test- interviewing students and spending some time getting to know what they're after is important and placing them in a level based on whether they got the present perfect question right or wrong is a very crude tool.

  3. #3
    DaveArms is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: The business side: traditional language school model; and going forward.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    ... there's more to language and life than a multiple choice grammar test- interviewing students and spending some time getting to know what they're after is important and placing them in a level based on whether they got the present perfect question right or wrong is a very crude tool.
    Oh, absolutely. It's hard to do with 10 or so grammar questions; you have to factor in nerves and a knowledge of learning styles. It's really an extension of the public school model of language learning. But we won't get into that here .

    I've been talking to schools in Dublin - a few directors were kind enough to allow me shadow them for a few days last week - and it seems to be the same system of enrollment and testing; all schools giving an initial level based on the CEFR framework, after 10 grammar questions and 5 minutes of conversation.

    It makes sense from a business/admin point of view:


    • valuable teacher's time not wasted; 5 - 10 mins max.
    • no special 'training' required; as we assume a native speaker and/or TEFL holder can give a fair guess.
    • it introduces the potential student to the teaching staff in the first instance


    But; I'm still brainstorming a better system.
    With a fair balance between good, honest teaching practice and a way of profiting from it.

    I'll keep this updated.

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