However, the country’s peak body for English language providers English UK highlighted that local authorities still decline to grant “business rates relief unless language schools are specifically listed as being eligible”.
In a parliamentary debate tabled by Conor Burns, member for parliament for Bournemouth West, Paul Scully, parliamentary under-secretary for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, was asked if more could be done by central government to support the country’s English language providers.
English language schools are not eligible for the government’s restart grant scheme, launched on April 1, and, as a result of not being required to close in the closed businesses lockdown payment scheme, missed out on grants, Scully admitted.
“English language schools were not mandated to close in the regulations, as it was believed that these types of businesses, along with other education providers, could access online markets,” he explained.
“The position for English language schools is that although they have not been required by law to close, their trade has been affected by the restrictions. I encourage the sector to explore, with the relevant local authorities, whether English language schools are eligible for a Covid-19 business grant from the additional restriction grant scheme, at the local authorities’ discretion,” he said.
Since November 2020, more than £2 billion has been allocated to local authorities who have the “discretion to use the funding to support businesses as they see fit”.
“It is for local authorities… to make sure that the discretionary support is proportionate and tailored to the local circumstances”
“Crucially, it is for local authorities, which know their local economies better than we in central government do, to make sure that the discretionary support that they put in place is proportionate and tailored to the local circumstances,” he said.
The government had allocated an additional £425 million to local authorities, if they had used up their original allocation, Scully continued.
“I call on local authorities to use that extra allocation either to give more money to the businesses covered by their local policies or… to look into expanding their local policies to encompass businesses that continue to fall between the cracks.”
The sector should also make use of other government business support offer, such as the job support scheme, running until June 2021, and various loan and finance-guarantee schemes, he added.
“We’ve already seen 13%, that is over 50 businesses, 50 educational centres, close during the pandemic and that is a very serious and regretable situation. But sadly, one that, if we don’t do something, will get worse in the coming months,” Burns warned. As of April 13, English UK has seen more than 30 of its members close during the pandemic.
“There are ELT centres with red notices from their local authorities on their desks right now demanding tens and hundreds of thousands of pounds that they do not have as a direct result of Covid-19,” Jodie Gray, English UK chief executive, told The PIE.
“Local authorities are refusing to use their discretion and grant business rates relief unless language schools are specifically listed as being eligible in the MHCLG guidance. Full rates relief is vital if centres are to survive to see the resumption of international travel.”
MP for Totnes Anthony Mangnall noted that one of the two ELT schools in his constituency had closed during the pandemic.
“We might try to make it easier for people to set up English language schools because yes we have lost [schools] but actually being able to set up English language schools when normality does return would be a very strong way to fulfil all the points that [Burns] has made in his speech,” he added.
“We are not the only place that you can come to learn English – we might be the best, but we are not the only one,” Burns continued.
Competitors benefit from accessible visa applications, in-country visa extensions, part time work rights, while the UK sends “a very negative message internationally and confuses our offer to the wider world” by including international students in net migration figures, he suggested.
“Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US and Ireland are all competing for students in this market. There’ll be lost of things that they are doing to make life easier for those seeking to come and study and learn in those countries.”
Extending the business rates relief to schools, waiving visa requirements for school groups under the List of Travellers scheme, and offering limited rights to work for students who are in the UK could help the sector, he proposed.
While English UK welcomed the BEIS minister’s offer of further dialogue on support for the sector, it is “disappointed that the key issue raised by Mr Burns – our continuing exclusion from business rates relief – was not addressed directly”, it said.
“The minister also mentioned that schools were not required to close as they can continue to offer training online. This is confused thinking,” Gray added.
“Language schools exist in the UK to provide a learning and leisure experience in an English-speaking environment. This is why language schools need larger than average premises in central locations, and with little or no income for the past 12 months are disproportionately affected by the lack of business rates relief.”