English UK invited its members and other language school representatives to County Hall in London, for one of its first face-face events since February 2020.
Jodie Gray, chief executive of English UK, stressed that the theme of the day was innovation and reflection.
“After 18 months speaking solely to a screen, you have to grasp the chance to interact with your fellow members,” Gray said in her welcome to delegates.
On the state of play in the industry, Gray said, “We’ve seen a reset of our industry, and with the changes in the international traffic system coming in October, the light at the end of this long, dark tunnel seems to be burning just that little bit brighter.”
Head of digital marketing consultancy firm Disquiet Dog, Richard Bradford, gave the plenary speech.
Delegates heard his seven key points to so-called “marketing glory”, which ranged from incorporating environmental sustainability and jumping on the “Google bandwagon” to the simple yet effective point of knowing one’s target demographic.
“While we’ve been sitting at home buying things on Amazon and ASOS, our expectations have gone through the roof… the standards have gone up while we’ve all been away.”
There was also a session on English UK’s English with confidence campaign, created with the British Council and the Department for International Trade, telling member schools about the campaign’s aim to boost the sector’s recovery from Covid-19.
”We’ve seen a reset of our industry… the light at the end of this long, dark tunnel seems to be burning just that little bit brighter”
As agencies, schools and associations emerge from the pandemic, the sessions at the conference strived not only to focus on the market after Covid, but the yet-to-be-seen impact of Brexit.
Bonard’s Patrik Pavlacic summarised his company’s report on Europe as a source market during a panel. One takeaway was the need to diversify schools’ courses, offering more pathways and extracurricular activities.
“Learning English itself is no longer the hope for students,” Pavlacic explained. “It has to be tied to something else, a higher purpose.”
Panelist Jane Dancaster from the Wimbledon School of English touched upon the issues facing the Hungarian Foreign Language Learning Programme, which begins in summer 2022.
“The issue is most students from Hungary have had either the Sputnik vaccine, or the Chinese vaccine… this is particularly affecting mobility in central and Eastern Europe,” Dancaster said.
The two vaccines will not be recognised by the UK under new government rules in October.
Tregarran Percival of UK Language Courses, also on the panel, said, “[The scheme] is being funded for the next few years, but there’s this idea that it might be a catalyst and create demand for more junior courses.”
Other highlights at the conference included students from SpeakUp London and Wimbledon School of English joining CEO Farhan Quraishi and principal Fiona Dunlop for an interactive session with delegates, allowing them to directly hear student concerns.
Sustainability was also a talking point at the conference, as ELT Footprint UK held a session on how member schools could lower their carbon footprint and appeal to younger, more climate-savvy students without greenwashing.
Flavilla Fongang, a brand strategist and founder of 3 Colours Rule, closed out the conference with a plenary on neuromarketing, informing delegates on the delicate nuances of neurological signals, visuals and communications to market their language schools.
Speaking with The PIE News, Gray reflected on the conference and what lies ahead.
“There has been an incredible level of engagement in the work of the association by its members,” Gray said.
“The way that this sector has pulled together, shared information, worked in partnership and supported each other is incredible.
“Collaboration is really something we want to take forward, where members are learning from each other and working together.”