The junior market maintained its buoyancy throughout 2014, despite some tough external factors and changes in traditional markets. Schools have worked hard to innovate and develop their programmes to offer good value for money, and Georgina Deacon discovers that study options for juniors are more varied and exciting than ever before.
Despite many schools reporting a decrease in bookings from countries still suffering under the European economic crisis, on the whole, business in the junior industry increased for many in 2014. New markets played a key role in this, as well as a shift in traditional source countries. Demands from parents have also changed; value for money is more important than ever before. Schools have redesigned and added to their junior programmes accordingly with a view to continue improving throughout 2015.
Due to their tweaks, ILSC reported a 50 per cent increase in their bookings in the past year, according to Linda Chung, Director of Marketing, who adds, “We’ve made a very conscious decision to focus more of our programme development and marketing efforts in the junior area in order to respond to the changing demands of the market.”
As the largest UK provider of ski trips for schools, Inspiring Learning had “large increases from surprising areas”, says Thom Jones, although he states that they experienced a decline from Western Europe. “Inspiring Learning has taken on a lot of new international staff and opened an office in Shanghai, so there has been excellent growth and real vigour, but the markets are changing too and demanding something new, both in terms of academic ‘currency’ and experiences.”
In Germany, Almir Krupic at did deutsch-institut relates that Germany’s economic situation is appealing for parents who wish to prepare their children for an international career. “Most of the children start their English education earlier, so a second or third foreign language is becoming important,” he says.
The Italian PON funding scheme expanded in 2014 which lead to an increase in the school group market at Malaca Instituto in Spain, relates Bob Burger at the school. “The summer course market is slightly down,” he notes, anticipating that improvements in world economic conditions, as well as “recognition among parents of the importance of Spanish as a career-enhancing language for their kids”, will aid growth in the summer course market in 2015.
Gaps in the market
Adding new residential centres to the portfolio has made way for a 100 per cent increase in junior bookings at Oscars International in the UK, according to Andrew Fisher. “Bookings have doubled over the past 12 months, partly as the Oscars brand has become more widely known. We have opened two further all-year round centres one in London and one in Northampton. We have also opened further summer centres in Salisbury, Bath and London, leading to a large rise in interest for 2015,” Fisher enthuses. “The junior market as a whole is increasing from across the world.”
Another school opening new UK centres is Target English International, as Catherine Lanyon at the school says that their junior numbers in 2014 increased across all their markets. “For 2015, we have added some fantastic new centres to our portfolio including London Zone 1, Edinburgh city centre with superb new accommodation and the newly-developed campus at Hertfordshire University.”
Luke Haywood at Varsity International, offering their engaging programmes in the UK to juniors aged between four and 14, believes that global economic confidence is returning, which has led to their increase in junior bookings. From summer 2015, they will run a new residential programme in Oxford, where overseas students can integrate and practise their English with British children. “We noticed a gap and need in the market for this,” says Haywood. “By bringing British children onsite to enjoy some of the activities together, international students are presented with an unrivalled opportunity to practise their English and make new friends.”
Due to strong business growth, some schools have made the leap into other language areas. Lexis English will be offering junior programmes at their Seoul, Korea, and new Kobe, Japan, schools in 2015. Ian Pratt, Managing Director, explains, “In the case of Korea, this has been entirely market-driven we were forced to turn down a huge number of requests over July and August 2014 in the 14-to-16 years age bracket. There’s a very strong interest in studying Korean in this younger age group, particularly from Europe and parts of Asia.”
At MB Scambi Culturali in Italy, David Bresquar, Managing Director, says that their intake of Italian students is dropping, while international students are on the rise. “Our mix is now 60 per cent overseas students,” states Bresquar. The school is 100 per cent junior focused and teaches both Italian and English, and there is a tendency now for the overseas students to study English in Italy. “Typically, students are in love with Italy but not necessarily with Italian. They have usually attended several camps in the UK, Canada and Ireland already, but they are ready to live the Italian experience in Venice by breathing in the magical atmosphere of the canals and eating ‘authentic’ pizza.”
Trends in recruitment markets, as reported by schools, affected the junior sector in 2014. Still struggling from the European economic crisis is Western Europe, and in particular, Spain. “The number of bookings coming from Spain decreased, but that is not surprising given their economic difficulties,” says Jonathan Quinn at Centre of English Studies in Ireland and the UK, adding that new markets showing potential for the UK are China and South America, with the latter also showing an increase in Ireland. Spanish students are also down in the USA, reports Brian Mauk at TLA The Language Academy in Florida, USA. “Unfortunately, the Spanish market hasn’t recovered yet and interest for US junior courses is still low, mostly due to the cost of airfares,” he states.
Not all schools are witnessing a decline from Spain. At ISI Dublin, Peter Hutchinson says that they have experienced an increase in bookings from Spanish students travelling outside of the summer, “taking advantage of the very affordable school group packages which we offer from September to June”, he says. “Parents want value for money and a real return on investment.”
Mauk at TLA The Language Academy reports that the school has seen “heightened interest” from Brazil, Chile and Ukraine. In fact, the USA is not the only country to see a rise in bookings from Ukraine, and also Russia. While British providers have witnessed a decline in bookings from these traditional source countries, mainly due to visa issues and a very low ruble rate against the British pound, Irish schools report that these markets are very much on the up.
Mary Delaney at Atlantic Language Galway and Dublin says that she has seen an increase in bookings from Russia and Ukraine, while Graham Meadows at Cavendish School says that they are particularly targeting the Russian junior market. At ISI Dublin, Hutchinson reports that he hopes to crack the Russian junior market in 2015. “I hope that this year, junior students from Russia and Turkey, both major sources for the UK, finally start to realise what an attractive destination Ireland is and start coming here in significant numbers.” He adds that new short-stay markets for groups and individuals include China, Brazil and Mexico.
At Target English International, Lanyon asserts that they have actually had an increase in their Russian student numbers, although she admits there have been some problems. “Talking to agents, the Russian junior market was quite badly affected this summer by visa problems due to the change in the visa issuing company, and also by the exchange rate.”
Across the globe in Australia, Pratt says that Lexis saw an increase from almost all nationalities in 2014, but mostly from Western Europe. “Anecdotally from agents, there is a growing acceptance for having teens travel to ‘long haul’ destinations such as Australia, and this certainly seems to be the case on the ground,” says Pratt. “Many of our European juniors have already studied a summer or two in the UK or in the USA, and are looking for a more adventurous destination this time round.”
An ongoing trend within the junior industry is that, on average, students continue to get younger. “Parents are looking to expose their children to international education opportunities sooner in order to give them an extra edge,” believes Chung at ILSC. “We feel that today’s parents are also more likely to have been exposed to international education opportunities themselves, and want to pass on those experiences to their children.”
At St Giles International, which offers junior courses in various locations in the UK, USA and Canada, a new centre for eight-to-12-year-olds has been opened in Canterbury, UK, to meet with demand from younger students. Hannah Lindsay at the school explains, “This seems to be a growing niche market, which some nationalities have bought into early, such as the Russians, Chinese and the Swiss, but which other nationalities still show a hesitancy towards.” St Giles also offers a Family Stay programme, which was expanded in 2014, allowing parents the opportunity to travel with their children, learn English, and spend time together taking part in social activities.
A similar trend has occurred at LSI, offering junior programmes in the UK, USA and Canada, according to Sahinde Pala. “We have noticed that we are getting requests for younger and younger students to come, as part of their family group,” she relates. “We are fortunate to have the capacity and facilities to offer junior and adult programmes onsite in various schools, allowing for families to travel and study together in different programmes.” Pala notes that LSI offers junior courses at nine different locations and a Family Programme at a tenth (LSI Brighton).
With a focus on “fun, educational, family-orientated programmes”, Alissa Olgun, CEO at California ESL, says that they have also witnessed “an increase in a much younger age group”. She continues, “It used to be that most students were 14 or 15 years and over. Now we have students as young as nine years.” Bucking this trend is IH Dublin, as Aoife Govern reports, “We have noticed an increase in demand from students in the age bracket 16-to-18 years who do not wish to take part in a junior programme and we have developed a new Young Adult programme during June, July and August at our city centre campus.” In addition to this, IH Dublin launched a new digital programme in summer 2014 where students can create an e-portfolio of their best work.
Variety is the spice of education
With this developing trend of modern, younger learners comes a need to create a variety of Plus programmes and extra-curricular activities in order to entice students and create real value for money. “Parents are increasingly interested in offering an educational experience to their children,” says Helen Watts at Alpine French School in the French Alps, “hence our Option+ addition to our standard programme so that students and parents can select the parts of our package they want to do more of from private French lessons to adventure activities.” With leisure activities and excursions, as well as language classes, Watts adds that all their programmes are strictly controlled by the French government, adding a safety element.
Lindsay at St Giles nods towards a trend in which students want more niche special interest options and other add-ons. “We now have additional sports options such as surfing in San Diego or tennis in Canterbury. New for this year is our English and Performing Arts option.” Their other onsite activity options include drumming workshops, jewellery making and a helicopter ride over Niagara Falls.
However, it is not just value for money in activities that both parents and students want. Remco Weeda at Ceran Lingua International in Belgium relates that they want to meet the academic desires of a student by offering intensive language courses in complete immersion. He explains more, “Summer courses are short so utilisation of time is absolutely essential. Once students feel that their needs are met and that they are really learning, the value of the course is easily identified. The activities programmes, excursions and sports coaching then become a very welcome bonus.”
A similar move is being made over on the Sunshine Coast of Australia, where Lexis is opening a full-time High School Preparation course, a more academic option for summer. Pratt comments, “We will make the most of the teaching expertise that we’ve put together there to offer a ‘non-activity’ summer option for juniors.”
Schools are optimistic for the future of the junior industry as despite the trying external factors of late, the sector remains buoyant and growth continues. “We have to offer a better, bigger experience with tangible results,” comments Jones at Inspiring Learning. “The spectres of Ebola and terrorism loom large, but they have loomed before (foot and mouth, avian flu, etc.) and we, as an industry, have got through them, so all we can do is innovate and prepare.”
At MB Scambi Culturali, Bresquar says that there will always be a demand for quality courses and that providers should continue adding value to their programmes. “Also it is much easier to monitor if we are really delivering value as social media will tell us in a matter of days whether we have done a good job or not,” he adds.
Chung at ILSC believes that the market will continue to grow in 2015 and beyond. “In an increasingly globalised world, developing language skills and gaining international life experiences are the foundations of future success,” she says. “Parents are recognising this and making their children’s education a priority.”
Not everyone is as optimistic. Lindsay at St Giles thinks that 2015 is unpredictable “with the global economic picture looking very varied and changeable at the moment”. However, she adds, “Dealing with young learners is always a challenge due to the regulations that are in place, but our excellent team are very well equipped to deal with any challenges that may come their way.” firstname.lastname@example.org
Strong partnerships with agents are a key business tool when it comes to junior programmes. Peter Hutchinson at ISI Dublin in Ireland states that more than 90 per cent of junior bookings are made via their “incredible network” of agent partners. “Although we promote our programmes online, and engage in social media activities, we’re very much agent focussed and pride ourselves on the high standard of service we offer them,” he says. Sahinde Pala at LSI relates that they find that many junior students favour booking through agents and so their marketing efforts are concentrated towards this.
Remco Weeda at Belgium’s Ceran Lingua International describes their agent network as an “absolutely crucial part of our marketing” because of the connection they provide between them and the student. “This means they have both knowledge of the programmes and knowledge of the market,” Weeda states. “In our view, these are the people best equipped to match the right students with the right programmes.”
Meeting with agents and inviting them to the school is also a vital part of the partnership. “It is important that the agency/supplier partnership is strong and it really helps inviting our main agents over to the UK to see our centres and meet our centre managers,” says Andrew Fisher at Oscars International. “This makes sure their knowledge of our centres is clear and up-to-date, so that they can pass this knowledge on to their direct clients.” Jonathan Quinn at Centre of English Studies believes that visiting their agents every year helps “to decide on their possible numbers for the next season and to see how the summer went and what we can improve on”. He adds, “We constantly tweak the programmes to try and improve every year and our agents know we do this and, with their feedback, we try to improve year on year.”
Safety is an important factor when it comes to junior courses; the needs of a child are much greater than those of an adult and schools try and make the necessary steps to assure parents and agents that their programmes will nurture a child’s development. At ILSC, Linda Chung relates that they have kept in mind the goal of “meeting the unique needs of the junior demographic” throughout the recent development of their programmes. “We provide strong monitoring and oversights on junior student progress so that we can support them with any weak areas, and keep parents well informed of student progress this requires adding new academic counsellors to our team who are experienced in understanding the needs of young learners,” she says. “In addition, homestay families for juniors will be carefully selected to assure they are experienced with junior students and can offer them the added emotional support and care they need.”
A suitable host family is also essential, to act as a home away from home for a junior student, especially if they are making a big move. At Lexis in Australia, Ian Pratt believes that the quality of the areas in which the school campuses are located are perfect for juniors. “I can’t think of anywhere in Australia more attractive for this age group than Noosa, the Sunshine Coast and Byron Bay,” he states. “We also believe that the quality of homestay in a place like Noosa is far more suited to the needs of younger students than most cities can provide, as well as having the added attraction that students can get around on foot or by bike.”