Stakeholders spoke with MPs about issues they are facing, such as not receiving business rates relief despite seeing significant drops in student numbers.
“The lifting of restrictions today isn’t going to make any difference to the plight facing the industry”
Speaking with The PIE News during the protest, English UK said that 56 of its members had closed – about 14% of the organisation’s membership pre-pandemic.
More language schools are now hanging in the balance, with some facing court action over not being able to pay business rates from the previous year.
“Today is Freedom Day and all businesses and restrictions on businesses have been lifted. But it’s not Freedom Day for English language students,” said Jodie Gray, chief executive of English UK, on July 19.
“It’s not Freedom Day for UK English language teaching providers. And the lifting of restrictions today isn’t going to make any difference to the plight facing the industry.
“We’re still in crisis 14, 15 months on from when we originally requested language schools to close face-to-face teaching last March. Things haven’t got better, they’ve just got worse,” she said.
Gray explained that students still can’t come to the UK and that there is “chaos at the borders”, and confusion about who can and can’t enter the country.
She said that UK ELT’s main source markets are amber list countries or red list countries and the lack of quarantine exceptions for students vaccinated overseas means that classrooms remain empty.
“The main thing that we’ve been campaigning for and continue to campaign for is around business rates relief.
“Most of our language teacher providers pay high business rates because they are in city centre locations in large buildings and they have received no rates relief.”
While some 18 local authorities across the country have granted relief to language schools, Gray said that the majority had not.
“Some schools are now facing court action because they’ve been unable to pay the rates relief from the previous tax year and they don’t know what to do.
“Paying these bills will literally put them under. So that’s where we are and that’s why we’ve come out today,” Gray added.
Jean-Louis Martine, director and owner of London House School of English, told The PIE that his business had lost £900,000 each year for two years running.
“We focus basically on junior stays, so we’d normally have about 3,500 student weeks a year and between this year and last year, we’ve had 192 student weeks. So that is really a significant loss of student numbers,” he said.
“The government support has been rather modest, to say the least, for language schools”
Martine told The PIE that out of the 40 staff his business would normally have, they’re now down to four – a 90% reduction of staff.
“In reality, I don’t think we could go through another summer. The government support has been rather modest, to say the least, for language schools,” he said.
“I think the reason is that we’ve not been officially closed. However, with the borders closed, it’s really impossible to actually bring students in…
“It’s not very appealing to say, right, come and instead of doing a language course with us in England, going to a disco, doing karaoke, seeing the Houses of Parliament, going on the London Eye, visiting Cambridge and replace that with an online course, it’s just not going to happen,” he added.
MP for Wimbledon Stephen Hammond came to speak with stakeholders and told The PIE that the sector had experienced a “pretty desperate 15 months”.
“It’s been one of the sectors which hasn’t got the power of a number of other sectors, but actually is really important to the UK’s international reputation and actually makes quite a big impact on local economies around the country as well,” he said.
Hammond noted that a lot of people come to the UK to study, learn English and then have an experience of the country.
“Actually the sort of experience you get at an English run English language school, quite often lodging with English families for a while is a uniquely different perspective to anything else you’d get. It would be a great shame if we lost that,” he said.