his week, we interview Nigel Paramor, Principal of English in Chester, about The English Network (TEN) group of independent English language schools in the UK.

Please tell us about the objectives and ethos of the TEN group

The English Network (TEN) is a good example of a successful collaboration between schools that share values and a similar customer service ethos. TEN is a group of established, experienced, independent English language schools that have a reputation in the market for quality and personal service. TEN members also work closely together to share good practice in all aspects of their provision, including marketing, welfare support and academic standards. TEN even runs its own annual conferences in these areas to promote the highest possible standards and a culture of continuous improvement. This enables the member schools to maintain their position as industry leaders. It also ensures that students and agents can continue to have total confidence in every aspect of the provision.

In a recent 'View from the desk of...' article, Kevin McNally wrote about the continuing value of independent schools, while other commentators have suggested further consolidation and takeovers are likely. What is your view on the future of independent schools? 

I read Kevin McNally’s review of the state of independent providers with great interest. As the Principal of one of them (English in Chester), I have to agree that there will be a significant section of the English language travel market that will want to work with the educational tour operator (ETO) who sends their clients to the smaller independent schools.  I am confident that personal service and high quality, which are often features of this sector of our industry, will continue to attract clients and ETOs alike. However, it is also important that schools work together too as there is no doubt that many of the chains in our industry have many advantages in economies of scale and sheer size. We hope to maintain our advantages of independence and close relationships with our ETOs and students, but also to gain from benchmarking ourselves against the best in the industry.

What has the TEN group been up to in the last year? 

We have been very busy! We have hosted two fam trips, we have run three conferences (marketing, administration and academic) for our staff to share ideas and good practice, and our key senior managers and owners have met regularly to discuss the next stages of our development as a group.

How was 2014 for member schools? And how are things shaping up for 2015? 

I think in general, 2014 was a good year for TEN schools. Most of us have seen growth in terms of student weeks, but also more importantly into new markets. This enables us to maintain the excellent nationality mix which is a key element of our offer. 2015 looks a more challenging proposition for the whole industry, with economic and political uncertainties likely to play a key role for everyone. However, we feel as a group that TEN puts us in a much stronger position to respond to these challenges and to seek new opportunities and partnerships.

What does the group have planned for the coming months? 

We have just held our annual marketing conference, and are planning the other conferences for later in 2015 (including the administrative conference which will be hosted by us in Chester this year). We are also planning our fifth anniversary celebrations. We hope to have a special event for ETOs and there will also be an exciting announcement about our future plans for collaboration! Watch this space!

Since TEN was established, was has been the response from agents? 

The response has been really positive. Many providers are keen to work with the best schools, and we are able to provide them with an interesting new package of schools which are amongst the best in the country, but which also guarantees the excellent customer service and close relationships that we are famous for. And we are only just beginning. I truly believe that TEN will be an important player in the English Language travel market for many years to come.

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