In almost three decades of providing language training on the local market, our school has accomplished continuous growth year after year. It has positioned itself as the leader in the region, implemented quality assurance, was awarded several national awards as a sustainable business, received many Erasmus grants and two EU grants from the Regional Development funding programs and became an official Cambridge Assessment English Exam Centre. Most importantly, we have attained a stable student population that ensures our sustainability both as a small business and respectable education institution.
The basis for such a business model is, of course, quality in the provided service. The quality of language learning is not an abstract idea, but clearly defined set of standards that has been perfected through various organizations such as EAQUALS or affiliations such as International House. These standards have also been assimilated by many national organizations such as Chambers of Commerce.
Quality standards in language learning became even easier to define after the definition of Common European Framework of Reference for Languages by the Council of Europe and its official recognition in 2001. CEFR clearly defines learning goals and outcomes for each level of competence, and despite the long list of quality standards set forth by different organizations, quality in language learning (and any other education sector for that matter) is actually really simple: if a student has achieved learning goals and outcomes while studying at your institution, you have provided a quality service.
While quality remains the basis of a sustainable business model, at the same time it is very hard to advertise. Describing the concept of learning goals and outcomes to your potential clients (students) is more difficult than one would imagine. In most societies, people rarely look beyond the course fee, which presents a difficulty for quality schools, because despite the common marketing phrases of low- cost schools, quality DOES cost. A lot! Fair teacher salaries, continuous professional development (CPD), development of new educational programs, lesson preparations, “added value” activities – these are just some examples of high cost bearers for schools that need to reflect in course fees.
And while CPD remains one of the highest costs for a quality educational institution, it is also the most beneficial one. Education, like any other sector, is an evolving profession. Our views on teaching and learning have changed rapidly in the past few decades, and the only way to retain quality is by adapting to the Informational Era. It often requires being innovative as well – unless you innovate, you are stagnating, and if you stagnate for a while, you will soon start sinking.
CPD is the only activity that ensures (as the name itself suggests) continuous improvements of education providers (teachers). That is why the second largest expense in our business (right after payroll) is, in fact, continuous professional development of our teachers.
There are many ways to ensure proper CPD for your teachers. While structured courses are the most obvious choice (and very effective for that matter), they are not the only CPD model. Defining your school’s needs and development goals is the basis of CPD, and there are many methods (such as Communities of Practice) that your team can use to tackle this issue. CPD is worth very little without good dissemination, so regular workshops and training sessions during your staff meetings are just as important as training itself. Strategic partnerships are often even more effective – most of our development has been initiated or achieved through good communication and idea sharing with our partnering schools and organizations. Our focus on partnership has been our basis for both KA1 and KA2 Erasmus projects, and has also led to ADRIES – yearly international conference for language schools designed for networking and professional development of both teaching and management staff.
Finally, the best marketing for your school will always be your students, and their referral through one channel or another. And while they may not necessarily understand the concept of learning goals and outcomes, they will definitely know whether they were happy with the course or not. There is no point in denying that this happiness depends primarily on teachers, and whether they have done a good job or not. Therefore, investing in CPD of your teachers is smartest possible investment for your business, and your strongest marketing tool at the same time.