||We discover that kids are getting more and more demanding,” observes Matthias Waltner of Direkt Sprachreisen in Germany, signalling that the pressure is still on for schools in the established market of summer vacation language programmes. “Expectations are very high, especially in terms of quality of facilities, catering and activity programmes,” he continues. “This should be a real challenge, as many schools will be forced to upgrade their services considerably.”
Waltner’s comments suggest that he has found some schools’ provision to be lacking in some of these areas and certainly, catering is not an aspect that many schools pointed out when interviewed for this article. However, many schools underline their continued attention to product quality, diversity and welfare. For example, Alex Lanczet at NSTS in Malta states, “We continually look at development in line with changing market trends. In 2008, we will be opening another NSTS residence since we foresee the need to invest in accommodation as a result of projected growth.”
Many educators underline their commitment to evolving the range of extra-curricular actvities on offer a particularly important consideration for schools that enjoy repeat bookings from the same clients year on year. At Ceran Lingua International, which has teaching centres in Belgium, the UK, Spain and France, Christian Schillings says that repeat bookings account for more than 26 per cent of enrolments. “We continually adapt our activities in line with the interests of juniors,” she says, noting French boxing, Latin dance and T-shirt painting are all current activities on offer. “We have also introduced optional private lessons which are quite successful,” she adds.
This brings up an interesting point in terms of summer programme development. While many agencies underline an emphasis from clients on activities available (among other factors), some also point to consideration from clients and their parents for a more rigourous academic standard. Waltner says, “A lot of programmes do offer a lot of activities but the actual language course is of comparably low quality. We notice that parents are getting more and more demanding in terms of the academic part of the programme.”
Lanczet in Malta claims that NSTS has offered programmes since 1963 and so has had time to finetune its product offering. He claims that the school has the balance right between academic quality and an interesting leisure programme. “We offer enjoyable English courses and our dynamic communicative teaching methods place students in the centre of the classroom, using role-play, language games and favourite tunes,” he explains.
At Iria Flavia in Santiago de Compostela in Spain, students use the Internet and create newspapers in their lessons. Bettonville says that Ceran clients get to organise a project, as a group, to enhance language skills, such as staging a fashion show. And Langues Sans Frontières in Montpellier, France, also employs an active approach to language learning. Andrew Kinselle explains that students get to go out of the classroom and question real French people before returning to class to present their findings.
In the UK, Vincent Ianucchi of Bloomsbury International is keen to underline the way the learning syllabus ties in with the excursions offered. “Bloomsbury International has a new summer vacation programme, London Life, for 2008,” he says. “It has a unique structure with a syllabus linking the daily communication skills and general English lessons to the excursions which each have a language activity.”
Raj Aluri, President of Agape English Language Institute for Internationals, USA in Columbia, South Carolina, agrees that better classroom achievement may be gained via challenging extra-curricular activities. “The teaching staff [here] are talking through ways to make class time more effective for a cultural/language programme,” he explains. “This may include more outside activities for enrichment learning. The staff looked at last year’s student evaluation papers and are researching new, more energetic weekly activities.”
Finally, David Walker at the Ardmore Group in the UK explains that they have developed teaching materials “to better satisfy the mainly two-week summer course market” in the form of workbooks that are printed and can be taken home by the client, satisfying Mum and Dad in the process! “When asked what they did in lessons, students do not say much, more interested in the friends they made, places they visited and fun they had,” he says. “These teaching materials, when discovered under the dirty laundry, help parents to see how much work their children have done.”
The range of activities on offer for summer vacation programme clients often the main draw for the students is very wide indeed, with obvious specialities according to location. For example, at Mount Maunganui Language Centre in New Zealand, Geoff Butler says, “At the moment our focus is to add more uniquely New Zealand [activity] options, such as Maori culture activities.”
Also in New Zealand, Taupo Language and Outdoor Education Centre in Taupo offers many adventure-themed activities that New Zealand is known for, such as bungy jumping, jet boating, rafting and wake boarding. “Tongariro Crossing (mountain walk), Huka Jet and Bungy jumping are all popular summer [December March] activities,” says Mary-Rose Blackley at the school. “Northern hemisphere students want to enjoy a New Zealand summer [in their wintertime] and the associated sports available.”
In Canada, King George International College in Toronto runs a summer camp in a small town called King City and offers many sporting activities including a canoe trip, baseball and a three-day camping adventure, “where students will learn about nature and try different adventure activities such as caving and mountain biking”, says Barbara Godt at the school.
In South Africa, Gavin Eyre at LAL Cape Town lists activity options such as bead making, drumming and safari being developed. In Ireland, Liz Hurley at Pace Institute notes, “Each year, we expand and alter the afternoon activities to improve them”. These include cultural excursions to museums and art galleries and weekly excursions to places of interest such as Kilkenny Castle.
Natalie Dawe at Bell Educational Trust in the UK says that a range of sports and activities that introduce British culture and life are available for their clients. At the new Bell Bedgebury International School, catering for juniors, there is “an onsite riding centre, assault course and lakes for water sports, [so] our junior pathways programme is already proving really popular,” she says.
Safety is another important consideration in the summer vacation market, particularly as many clients are under 16, and all schools are mindful of the need to offer exciting activities while also placing welfare first in the list of priorities. At Bury Language School in Suffolk in the UK, Ben Logan makes an interesting point about activities offered, suggesting that students can still enjoy “less adventurous” options if staff take the right approach.
“Adventure is possible without endangering the students,” he says, adding, “The enthusiasm of staff is a contributing factor to make the less adventurous activities appeal.” He says that all their excursions and activities have been carefully planned and risk assessments carried out.
Some schools offer activities in coordination with adventure tour operators. “We only work with professional, licensed operators and we audit them for safety and compliance with regulations,” reports Butler.
Other operators point out that they only accept those over 16 years of age to limit their responsibility. This is the case at Bloomsbury International in the UK and at the Spanish Institute of Puebla in Mexico, for example. Jane Lewis in Mexico says, “We do not accept children under 16 unless they are accompanied by an adult, and 16 and 17 year olds are placed in a host family that has a child their age so they will have a Mum here in Puebla who knows how to protect [them].”
Safety at a student’s chosen accommodation is as much of a concern as the safety of activities and excursions provided. Many emphasise the careful vetting of host families. At AIS St Helens in Auckland, New Zealand, Anatole Bogatski, Director of Student Services and Market Development, says, “AIS St Helens arranges guardian homestays for younger students. These are fully police checked and vetted by our accommodation staff.”
Teresa Barile at Rennert Bilingual in New York, NY, USA, notes that their residence halls are also set up with safety in mind. “Our minimum age for courses is 17 and all student residence halls have security in place,” she says. “All of Rennert’s activities are teacher-led and students receive a comprehensive orientation on their first day of class, including common sense safety tips.”
At the Ardmore Group, where, Walker points out, they have 24 years of experience dealing with clients of all ages, the staff are aware of what the greatest dangers are. “We have a great deal of practical experience to draw on,” says Walker. “The biggest danger is from roads, so we are very careful when on trips and each child has their own student ID card with numbers that can be called at any time, night or day.” He adds, “We take our responsibilities very seriously and the famous Ardmore red shirts will never be far away [from students].”
In Malta, Lanczet observes that supervision is crucial, but schools also have to get the balance right between keeping a close eye on students and allowing them to enjoy themselves and feel unrestrained. “We place great emphasis on supervision because we care for our students,” he says, explaining that all under-18 year olds have to follow rules and regulations “without exception”. He continues, “We have an effective system in place that allows us to exercise control without being regimental in our approach and thus maintain the fun element for our students.”
James Rogers, Director of Severnvale Academy in Shrewsbury, UK, makes another interesting observation that the best way to ensure client welfare is to keep them busy (and monitored) most of the time. “We provide our own buses to and from the academy,” he says. “We provide a very full activity programme to avoid too much free time, hence most time out of homestay is ‘controlled’.”
City or campus location?
At Ceran Lingua International, Bettonville notes that a number of welfare procedures are in place, including an overall staff ratio of one per four clients (one of the highest noted). She adds, “Our summer schools are located in a safe environment away from big city centres.”
This is a point made by a number of operators, however, agencies report that city locations remain popular with their clients. “Most want to stay close to a capital city,” relates Perrine Petit of Etudes Australie Consulting in France, while Nigel Britton of Thai Links International in Australia mainly dealing with the Thai market into Austraila agrees. In his case, Perth is favoured. Other agents mention that an ability to practise sports is requested, which can mean campuses with onsite facilities are preferred.
In terms of safety, city and campus-based or countryside-based locations both profess to offer well monitored provision, so a decision regarding the most appropriate programme can come down to parental preference or trust in an agent. Waltner says, “We believe that location is less important, more important is the quality of the school and the programme offered. Clients trust our recommendation and expertise.”
Campus-based facilities do offer something a little different for clients. At LAL Fort Lauderdale in the USA, Yvonne Hanis, Reservations Manager, says, “In summer 2008, our Young Learner programme is in a single location, Lynn University, Boca Raton. Located in beautifully landscaped grounds, a private university has a special attraction.” She explains that both classrooms and student accommodation are located within one building, “only steps away from two Olympic-size swimming pools, tennis courts, soccer fields and other sports facilities. Students have access to a large media centre for free Internet access, a beautiful library, book and on-campus gift store”.
With many language schools making use of university or private school buildings during the summer holidays, many such campus-based programmes are on offer from summer school operators and year-round schools that organise seasonal programmes in other locations. For example, Rennert Bilingual offers a university campus experience in Miami “with pool and barbecue parties”, says Barile, as well as a Vacation ‘n’ Learn programme in New York City with an extensive activities calendar.
A trend towards residential accommodation is one development that a number of agents point to in this sector. Antonia Valadas of Multiway agency in Portugal says clients prefer residences and like to be close to London in the UK if possible, in the case of his business. Petit in France believes more schools will offer on-campus accommodation in the future, while Catherine van Dale of Centre Easylangues, also in France, says many of her clients consider work experience as part of their summer vacation experience, and students often choose residential accommodation over host families.
Like Lanczet at NSTS in Malta, other educators also acknowledge that they have to provide more residential accommodation. (In the case of Malta, a big influx of Spanish students has also meant that all accommodation resources were stretched last year see News, LTM February 2008, page 6).
Sid Brown at St Brelade’s College in Jersey, one of the Channel Islands that are part of the UK, says his school has offered summer courses for nearly 30 years. “The courses started mainly for French teenagers who knew about Jersey and could get here easily,” he says. “We now have students from a much wider range of countries and recently started to offer residential accommodation.” He adds that the junior market has grown, as has a trend for families with younger children attending vacation courses.
At International House Nice in France, Director, William Rubinstein, acknowledges, “We now have a specific programme for teenagers in a residence.” Eyre at LAL Cape Town says his school is in the process of securing local school accommodation and facility options. In addition, “We have teamed up with a teenager resort [in Durban],” he explains, “that provides wonderful activities and accommodation options and the chance for our international visitors to mix with local teenagers.”
At Bell in the UK, Dawe also notes the provision of en suite facilities at some sites in response to feedback from students, agents and parents. In France, Kinselle does mention catering provision, the only school to do so: “One recent modification [to our programme] has been the evening meals for residential students,” he recounts. “These are now taken not in a school canteen but in a selection of local restaurants. This gives variety, whilst maintaining a high standard of quality meals, and corresponds more to the demands of the students and their parents.”
One further development that could be the beginning of a new trend, perhaps tied in with a global conciousness towards ethical travel, is an emphasis on environmental awareness from summer vacation providers. Eyre says LAL Cape Town is planning responsible tourism programmes recycling, interaction with local communities and LAL centre “greening” projects.
In New Zealand, Blackley relates that they have adopted new rules for getting to school from host families. “We have started to suggest students be more active and walk to school,” she says. “We used to say that if the homestay was more than 15 minutes walk [a family member] would drive the student, now we suggest the distance to be three kilometres. Taupo town is flat and not at all dangerous and walking beside the lake is a popular commuters’ choice.” She also details the introduction of a lot more “carbon reduction, organic, recycling, zero waste language terminology,” and here students can do their little bit for the environment; recycling bottles, plastics, paper and cans.
Whether being “green” will result in more bookings remains to be seen. As yet, agents are not reporting many requests for eco-friendly study programmes among their clientele. What is clear, however, is that agents are keeping their finger on the pulse of client requests and are contributing significantly to the sector’s overall development. Bev Harrison, Head of Language and Activity Programmes at Bell Educational Trust, says that bookings from Bell’s agencies have grown by 18 per cent over the last three years in this sector. “Agents play a hugely important role in helping to grow and develop our business,” she relates. “They are able to provide face-to-face counselling and advice on the range and detail of courses to their clients (see box, left).” She adds that with the increase in low-cost flights available, “agents are able to offer more inclusive packages”.
The nationality mix at a language school’s summer programme is a factor many agencies pointed out as important to their clients. Most schools profess to having a good mix of nationalities enrolling on their courses many said their global mix was diversifying but trends in enrolment often feature a majority of clients from countries quite close by.
At the Bell Educational Trust, Natalie Dawe is proud to reveal that 60 nationalities enrolled on their Young Learners programme last year. “Due to the ease of European travel, the nationality quotas that fill the quickest are Spanish, Italian and Russian,” she says.
“Our main nationalities are Spanish, French and Italian,” reports Liz Hurley at the Pace Institute in Bray, Ireland. Meanwhile in Mexico, the USA and Canada provide most clients, followed by Western Europe and Japan.
In South Africa, Western European markets remain important, as well as South America and countries like Korea, reports Gavin Eyre at LAL Cape Town. And even in the USA, Western Europe is still signalled as a good source region for student recruitment. “Due to the strength of the euro against the dollar, summertime brings us lots of students from Western Europe, particularly Spain, France and Italy,” relates Teresa Barile at Rennert Bilingual. Meanwhile, Raj Aluri at Agape English Language Institute for Internationals in the USA signals a more typical profile of Taiwanese, Korean and Japanese.
In New Zealand, the nationality mix is wide open and may depend on strong agency relationships in particular markets. One school flags Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and Chinese as the main nationality blend while others point to Pacific French, Swiss, Germans and Chileans as well as Japanese.
Agents and the summer season
Many schools acknowledge that agents are their most important source of student recruitment for the summer vacation market and while some schools indicate that their direct bookings are growing slowly, others paint a different picture of almost total recruitment happening via agencies.
At Iria Flavia in Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Ramón Clavijo says, “Traditionally, about 50 per cent of our students come through agents. There has been a slight increase in direct enrolments (about 54 per cent in the last two years) but we do not expect a significant change in the short-term.”
Other schools indicate much heavier reliance on agencies. “Agencies represent around 95 per cent of our summer junior bookings, and although this percentage may drop slightly in the future, I don’t think it will change significantly,” says Andrew Kinselle of LSF in Montpellier, France. “Parents require reassurance about where they are sending their children and so still prefer to be able to talk to someone locally who can give them all the guarantees they require.”
Like LSF, LAL Cape Town in South Africa and Pace Institute in Ireland rely on agencies for almost all their recruitment. Liz Hurley at Pace Institute says, “99 per cent is through agents except for some repeat business from families who have had other children at Pace.” Gavin Eyre at LAL Cape Town observes, “We do get enquiries from schools and colleges but steer them to reputable agencies.”
Even schools with a low reliance on agencies often note that agency bookings are increasing slowly and overall, agencies can be secure in the knowledge that they remain crucial to summer operators. At the Ardmore Group, David Walker says, “We only accept individuals [directly] where we have little or poor [agency] representation. We see this pattern as remaining for a long time we really value the work of the agent and see our role as partners.”
In New Zealand, Geoff Butler at Mount Maunganui Language Centre where 85 per cent of students are recruited by agencies says, “We prefer [agency bookings]. Students arrive well informed about the school.” And Jose Mendez at Centro de Idiomas Quorum in Nerja, Spain, concludes, “Students just don’t want to worry about the details.”