Junior summer programmes were what started the EFL industry in Malta many years ago,” begins Alex Fenech, Sales and Marketing Director at Clubclass English Language School. And although academic provision at the school is mainly geared towards adults summer vacationers account for approximately eight per cent of all bookings at the school the sheer pull of summer language programmes dictates it should not be left out of any school portfolio. “We have been offering these programmes for about eight years, and being one of the most popular programmes in Malta we couldn’t really run a language school without offering it,” he exclaims.
Clubclass offers JuniorSkool (for 10-to-13 year olds) and TeenSkool (for 14-to-16 year olds) which combine exciting social activities with 15 hours of general English per week. Students enjoy luxury four star hotel accommodation located in the north of the island and benefit from 24-hour supervision and a host of campus facilities including a private sandy beach, tennis courts, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a multisport games pitch.
Summer vacation programmes have been the mainstay of business since 1958, relates James Crimp, General Manager of STS Language Schools and STS Student Travel Schools, an agency and language school operation based in Sweden. Placing students in one of 26 summer centres around the globe, Crimp relays that summer vacation courses account for 40 per cent of all bookings. Organising language courses for more than 50 years, he emphasises the importance of listening to client demand and adapting programming accordingly. “Each year we have to develop more and more specific summer vacation courses for young people,” he says.
Almir Krupic, Sales Manager at did deutsch-institut in Germany points out how summer programming helped shaped business back when the school first launched. He explains, “did started in 1970 and only offered summer vacation courses…in the beginning we only offered accommodation in families later on there was a trend to have accommodation in residences or on campus, which we picked up on.” The school is currently making provisions for its first intake of summer students at its new Potsdam summer centre which includes homestay accommodation. “Many parents still believe in the concept of sending their kids to stay with German hosts,” he relates. The school has also expanded outside of Germany and will begin offering a summer course in the Austrian capital of Vienna from June this year. Krupic notes that as a residential language course students can expect a ‘school trip’ type atmosphere where young learners can enjoy a little independence.
UK-based Bucksmore Education is another provider with a long and illustrious background in the summer vacation market. Beginning as the summer school operation of Buckswood Grange School in 1979, it helped cater for international boarders that wanted to stay on and improve their English over the summer holidays. Buckswood Summer Programmes soon expanded opening several more centres at multiple sites, and became independent of Buckswood Grange in 1999. It was subsequently acquired by the ISIS Group in 2003 and changed its name to Bucksmore in 2008 to disassociate itself from its previous business partnership. Matthew Tighe, Operations Manager for Bucksmore Summer Programmes, explains that it was at around this time the school realised the full potential of the high-end summer market. “Suddenly, instead of offering just one English language course we had several different courses across many locations. In 2013 we will run 11 courses across eight locations including five Oxbridge colleges,” says Tighe. Course options include Bucky Adventure (combining adventure sports with language tuition), Bucksmore Oxford/Cambridge (an intensive city centre English programme based in Oxford or Cambridge) and Bucksmore Young Leaders.
New to the game
The addition of a junior study vacation programme was an integral part of strategic planning at St John’s University (STJ) in the USA, according to Bernadette Lavin. “STJ established the programme to expand its leadership role in the ESL market and further its presence in the international market,” she says. Enrolments for its summer provision have tripled since its inception in 2010 and, to date, summer vacation business at the university constitutes approximately 40 per cent of revenue generated during the summer. “It is a major line of business with all the focus and support needed to make it a successful, high quality programme,” remarks Lavin.
Oscars International in Edinburgh, Oxfordshire and Glasgow is a brand new junior vacation programme provider and will welcome its first cohort of students this summer. “We felt there was room in the junior/summer vacation course industry for a further operator to enter the market offering high quality, value-for-money courses in key popular destinations,” describes Managing Director Andrew Fisher. More providers equal greater competition however, and activities and programmes need to be attractive to appeal to newer audiences, explains Fisher. Oscars’ new Edinburgh facility, based in a beautiful 700 year old abbey, is capitalising on the increased interest in Scottish culture and customs. Available to individuals and groups, its language and culture programme celebrates all things Scottish from poet Robert Burns to traditional offal dish, haggis, from Scottish piping to craft and jewellery making. “The response to the course has been very positive,” enthuses Fisher.
The success of their summer programme in the north of England prompted IH Newcastle to open a second summer school facility in Edinburgh just three years ago. Demand has subsequently led to the school relocating to bigger premises, just outside Edinburgh for this year’s summer peak. Upgraded site facilities include an indoor heated swimming pool, football pitches, tennis courts, gym, music room and theatre. Jennifer Huntley-Revely, Head of Student Services, notes, “I am so excited about using Strathallan this year. We had a great course in 2012 for the students, but being able to offer even more on our campus will mean so many more opportunities for the students to have fun and get involved in a range of different activities.”
The importance of location
“We use the best of what the location has to offer,” observes Sarah Gallagher, International Marketing Manager at UK-based language school, Lila*. Offering clientele two very different summer options, students can either choose to immerse themselves in the history and culture of Liverpool at their main city centre or enjoy the great outdoors at their brand new summer venue in rural Shropshire. The new site will host 80 students each week and, in keeping with its countryside surrounds, students can learn all about bushcrafts, develop survival skills and in the evenings share campfire stories with fellow campers. Popular young learner activities, such as karaoke and discos, are also incorporated into the social programme, enthuses Gallagher.
English Language Center (ELC) in the USA is another operator where location has influenced activity scheduling. Their new summer campus programme at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), which is within touching distance of many local beaches, can include surfing lessons in place of afternoon activities, says Marketing Director, Vanessa Navarro. At UCSB, ELC also offers kayaking tours every Saturday, making the most of Santa Barbara’s beautiful harbour. The summer programme at UCSB is specifically designed for young learners aged between 11 and 13 years old, and is available for the first time this summer.
This year, ELC also added a junior summer course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Students are given the opportunity to study at state-of-the-art facilities and live right in the heart of Boston, and, according to Navarro, the social calendar has a strong emphasis on science and technology, in keeping with its prestigious university host.
Meanwhile in France, the Teenage Summer Programme that is offered by International House Nice consists of daily afternoon activities and two full-day excursions that capitalise on the school’s location on the south east coast of France; beach volleyball, swimming and excursions to Monaco, Antibes and Cannes, are some that William Rubinstein, Director at the school, outlines. He adds that while language learning is at the heart of any study abroad programme, operators must appreciate that students are on vacation too.
Developing courses or activity packages with a difference can be half the fun, and providers have been pulling out all the stops in this regard. “Bell has extended its range of products in response to market demand and this increasing choice of programmes is also a contributing factor to the rise in student numbers at Bell over the years,” observes Tony Anderson, Director of Sales and Marketing at Bell. This year Bell has added three new summer courses: Focus Expert, which combines language tuition with an area of specialisation i.e. fashion or filmmaking; Young Performers, for budding thespians and International Study Preparation, ideal for those looking to make the leap from language student to full-time school, college or university student.
Students attending a summer programme at Plus, which operates 17 centres in the UK, two in Ireland and seven in the USA, can expect an array of eclectic activities, including cheerleading and circus juggling, that are all part of the school’s Academy Programme, vouches Operations Director Lisa Fitzgerald. Additions to leisure programming at Kings Summer in the UK and USA include street dance, mountain biking, kite surfing and even sumo wrestling!
Kings summer portfolio caters for students aged 13 and over and student residences are available in all locations. Alongside its pre-existing Vacation Course, which is a combination of English language lessons and a programme bursting with optional sports and activities, including a weekly excursion, Kings has also developed a Vacation Extra Course. Students undertaking the ‘extra’ programme benefit from full board accommodation and a more comprehensive range of activities and excursions, says Danielle Watts, Director of Kings Summer Division.
Summer vacation provision has been given a professional sports edge at Twin Group, which runs seven summer schools in the UK and one in the USA. In 2012 the organisation began working in partnership with Surrey Heat, a professional Premier League basketball team, to provide basketball training and English language tuition at its Guildford summer centre. “This is following requests from agents and fits nicely into the other Twin courses, which are English plus football (with Tottenham Hotspur Foundation) and English plus tennis,” notes Joe Solomon, Business Development Director at Twin. English plus football coaching is available at Twin’s Saffron Walden, Guildford and two London summer centres.
Having a differential
According to Lisa Fiala, Director of Global Marketing and Programs at Northwest School in the USA, a college-preparatory day and boarding school in Seattle, their integrated programming, which sees international students play and learn alongside American students, helps set them apart from other summer school operations. This year’s summer camp carries a strong cultural component complementing an engaging and challenging curriculum. “For instance, we’ll be offering Capoeira Angola (Brazilian martial art/dance), African drum and dance, Flamenco and Tahitian dance, which are all being taught by people who perform or teach in the community,” details Fiala. Several other classes focussing on the environment and sustainability will also be available as study options, such as marine biology, agriculture and forestry.
The focus for Twin is running small, individual summer centres rather than one large-scale operation, asserts Solomon. This way the summer experience is likely to be a far more personal one. He notes, “The Twin summer centres suit individuals or smaller groups with care and supervision a top priority. This creates great feedback from students, leaders and the staff.” Twin Group plans to add to its portfolio of summer schools over the next two years, adds Solomon.
While a majority of operators focus on students learning in a group environment, one-to-one or two-to-one tuition in a teacher’s home is an alternative for those seeking intensive and immersion learning. InTuition Languages in the UK has always offered courses to young learners, explains Norman Renshaw, and over the last four years there has been a spike in the number of students requesting to study expressly during the summer. “I think as junior summer programmes become more sophisticated the market has been looking at new courses, and the idea of a full immersion in a host family with tuition too holds a lot of appeal for parents,” he says. Another differential, adds Renshaw, is mixing nationalities in two-to-one programmes, for example, placing a 15-year-old Spanish girl with a 15-year-old Italian girl in the same teacher’s home. “This way [students] are guaranteed a child of a similar age and also two-to-one works well with young learners,” he relates.
Rain or shine the future of the summer vacation sector
Providers see real value in the summer vacation language teaching market, and with good reason. “Summer junior programmes are very important to this industry,” attests Patricia Mullen, Executive Director of IH Newcastle and IH Edinburgh in the UK. “In the current economic climate that we live in we have seen a decline in adult numbers, but we’ve noticed that people are choosing to invest in their child’s education and, as a result, our junior numbers are growing,” she attests.
James Crimp, General Manager of STS Language Schools and STS Student Travel Schools in Sweden, agrees, adding that parents today are more confident about sending their young to study abroad and children are more assured than ever about travelling independently. As a consequence the demographic of potential student clients is growing all the time, he says. “Clients are willing to travel at a younger age to more exotic destinations,” he says.
More recently there has also been a change in the average length of stay pattern, adds Crimp, with parents and students opting for shorter vacation courses owing perhaps to economic constraints. “Due to the global financial situation we can see that southern Europe is now selling shorter summer courses than previously. Most of our courses are for three weeks but now more two-week or even 10-day courses are becoming more popular,” says Crimp.
While robust, the summer vacation market is not entirely immune from the challenges other sectors of the study abroad market face. Solomon laments that the UK summer market is becoming increasingly expensive. “This may open the door to other English-speaking countries more than ever before,” he says. “The now notorious visa difficulties getting into the UK is also a negative blot on the landscape, especially for nationalities like Russian and Turkish,” he adds.
Crimp echoes Solomon’s musings concerning ill-conceived visa legislation but cites other pitfalls. “The biggest challenge I can see is through local legislative changes around the world in relation to visa applications, child welfare and employment laws (which are generally welcomed but are sometimes ill-conceived) and local governmental infrastructures that are supposed to be in place to assist you in implementing these laws are inadequate, and stop the flow of persons that wish to participate on summer vacation courses.”
As the summer vacation sector expands, operators must ensure they stay ahead of the pack. Matthew Tighe, Operations Manager for Bucksmore Summer Programmes in the UK, asserts that larger, more established summer schools will need to think up more imaginative ways to generate business, and possibly even look to provide ‘off-season’ alternatives to cater to the burgeoning Asian markets. He explains, “Markets like Thailand and China have their main summer holidays in [the northern hemisphere’s] winter and their school systems often do not match our own system in the UK.”
What’s your name and where do you come from?
While students are there to learn and take part in fun activities, they are also there to make international friends, so a good summer programme should strive for diversity on campus to help encourage young learners to communicate in a language other than their own.
“In 2011, Bell Summer programmes welcomed students from 65 different nationalities with the top 10 nationalities coming from EU countries such as Italy, Spain, Germany and France,” notes Bell’s Tony Anderson in the UK. In 2012 Chinese and Japanese student numbers increased, while Italy was the school’s most consistent performer, he adds. Recession within the Eurozone may affect EU student numbers going forward, however. “Young learner products have always been popular with our European neighbours due to their proximity to the UK,” relates Anderson. “The recession in the region has had an impact, notably in Spain,” he adds.
Nadine Baladi, Director of ILSC San Francisco in the USA, agrees and notes a downturn in Spanish enrolments last year. However, “We anticipate Spanish students will participate in larger numbers in 2013,” she says. On an individual bookings basis, Germany, Japan, Korea, Colombia and Venezuela have been good feeder markets at the San Francisco branch. ILSC’s Youth Programme, a homestay-based programme that caters to demand for a 24/7 language and cultural experience, is available at all ILSC’s North American locations, but is particularly popular at its San Francisco and Montreal campuses.
Over the last 10 years there has been a definite shift in nationality mix within the summer vacation market, attests Andrew Fisher, Managing Director of Oscars International in the UK. And he predicts that numbers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) a group of former Soviet Republics China and Latin America are primed to burst.
Indeed, owing to booming economies, the summer camp at Northwest School in the USA has had increased interest of late from China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, notes Director of Global Marketing and Programs, Lisa Fiala. “I don’t think trends will alter too much in 2013, but I have heard that the Eastern Europe market is growing so perhaps we’ll see more students from these countries,” she adds.
According to Lisa Fitzgerald, Operations Director at Plus in the UK, Ireland and USA, South American and Middle Eastern students are on their radar at present. While students from Russia, Kazakhstan and South America will help counter a drop in traditional European source markets this season at Kings Summer, documents Danielle Watts, Director of Kings Summer Division in the UK and USA.
Meanwhile, the Junior Study Vacation programme at St John’s University (STJ) in the USA has enjoyed consistent interest from European countries since its inception in 2010, notes Bernadette Lavin. However, awareness in Asia and South America has been growing, she adds.