Following the twin blows of Covid and Brexit, there are signs of renewed life in Edinburghâ€™s EFL scene. While several schools have closed for good in the last three years, those which have managed to survive are looking to 2023 with a degree of confidence. Some schools have re-emerged from a period of ‘hibernation’, while a number have recently expanded.
A top TEFL Destination
Alongside cities such as Oxford, London & Bournemouth, Edinburgh has long been a leading TEFL destination in the UK. Students are drawn to Edinburgh by the beauty and historical interest of the city and the high reputation of many of the English language schools. Many of these schools have, historically, been based in prime locations in and around Edinburgh’s New Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some students also come to Edinburgh to experience the cultural extravaganza that is the Edinburgh International Festival & Fringe, as well as the Hogmanay event at New Year.Â The students only discover the distinctly â€˜changeableâ€™ weather once they arrive!Â
The TEFL sector is a significant part of the UKâ€™s economy. According to English UK, the ELT industry was, prior to Covid, generating around Â£1.4bn income for the UK each year and supporting around 35,700 jobs. However, it often goes under the radar as most people in the UK have minimal interaction with it. They might only become aware of the size of the sector when visiting a tourist attraction. When there they might find themselves stuck behind a group of backpacked teenagers from an E.U. country! Prior to the pandemic, such groups swarmed around Edinburgh’s main tourist hotspots such as the Castle and the Royal Mile.Â
The entire TEFL sector in the UK has been badly affected by the twin blows of the pandemic and Brexit. Many schools have closed for good, while others have limped on, switching to online teaching during the depths of the pandemic. More than 50% of staff in the EFL sector were laid off during that period as student numbers fell by 79%. A substantial number of teachers left the sector for good. Others turned to online teaching in order to keep earning.Â
Operating schools during the pandemic posed many difficulties. Due to the need to maintain social distance, classes had to be limited in size. This severely dented income. Furthermore, it was difficult to maintain a ‘communicative’ classroom atmosphere in such circumstances. When wearing face coverings, it was difficult to practise key aspects of the language, such as pronunciation. This period of great uncertainty required schools and teachers to be very adaptable.
Among the Edinburgh schools to have shut include Mackenzie, Global, and Caledonian. Berlitz closed its physical premises on Frederick Street. The majority of schools are now looking ahead with greater optimism. A number are in the process of expanding.Â
Kaplan International Languages hopes to move from their present home in Albyn Place to new premises at 26 St Andrew Square. There they will have the capacity for 300 students and employing up to 34 staff. TLI (The Language Institute), previously on Palmerston Place, has had a peripatetic existence over the last few years. It is now on the verge of moving into new premises in Leith. CES retains its elegant premises in Edinburghâ€™s West End, close to both Princes Street and one of Edinburghâ€™s most beautiful spots, Dean Village and the Water of Leith. Simply English (near the Meadows, one of Edinburgh’s best parks) and ECS Scotland (in the heart of the New Town, near Charlotte Square), and Inlingua (in the West End) are other schools looking forward with greater optimism.
Alba English School in Causewayside is celebrating its 10th Anniversary. Since October 2022 the school has helped thousands of students improve their English, pass exams, and advance their careers. Many Alba â€˜graduatesâ€™ have subsequently settled in the city. Known for its quality teaching, affordability, and flexibility, the school has built a strong reputation in its first decade. As it reaches this milestone, Alba is going through a period of expansion as it seeks to adapt to a much changed business climate in the EFL (English as a Foreign Language) sector. Brexit and the pandemic have impacted the sector significantly with many schools closing. There are now some perceptible signs of a recovery.Â
Alba English School is currently expanding. Having been based in the second floor of the business centre at 86-92 Causewayside, Alba have now taken over use of the ground floor of the building. Originally a police station, the building is an interesting, labyrinthine place. It is still evident where the cells were located. Students might be motivated by them to complete their homework!!
Alba English offers a range of classes, from beginner (A1) to proficiency (C2) levels. General English is the focus in the mornings, followed by small afternoon classes tailored to studentsâ€™ individual needs (for example, business or aviation English).Â Evening classes focus on preparation for the major English language exams, such as FCE, CPE and IELTS (International English Language Testing System). Gaining a good IELTS score is a prerequisite for overseas students getting into a UK university. Hence the need for high quality preparation classes which focus on the language aspects of the exams as well as the strategies needed to optimise performance.Â
Alba is an independent and relatively small language school, unlike many of the large international chains. As a result of the expansion, there will be seven classrooms and a significantly increased amount of communal space. Over coffee, tea & biscuits, students from a variety of countries (and levels of English) are able to chat and learn about each othersâ€™ cultures. English language schools, at their best, can be great meeting points and promoters of cultural understanding. The school organises regular social events to further foster this sense of community.Â
Alba English’s Academic Manager Kip Webster believes Alba’s success has been driven by this sense of community. â€œOne thing I think the Alba has always been good at is the focus on employing very good teachers and being student focusedâ€. The school has been able to support students in the classroom and beyond, â€œwhether it’s a shoulder to cry on, CV help, general encouragement and supportâ€. In some cases, students’ stay at Alba may be their first experience living alone abroad.Â Using the third conditional accurately may not be the biggest challenge for students! One former student put it nicely in saying that, at Alba â€œI found here a second house when I moved to Edinburghâ€.Â
Alba & Kaplan’s recent expansion exemplifies a more optimistic vision for EFL in Edinburgh as we enter 2023. It may take some time for the number of students to approach those pre-pandemic, but there are sufficient signs to suggest that a revival is just getting started. Edinburgh’s EFL schools areÂ hoping to continue being a hub for international students interested in improving their English, starting a new career or discovering Scottish culture.Â