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How To Set Up a Language School

Tips and pointers on starting, equipping and promoting an ESL school
By Lucy Pollard

The aim of this article is to give you pointers and ideas about which issues you should be considering. You might find that the article provides you with as many questions as it does answers! This is a good sign as it gets you thinking about your specific situation and will remind you of aspects you had possibly forgotten. I wish you luck with any project you start.

LOCATION

Things to consider here include choosing an area that is close to or easily accessible to your target market. Do you prefer to base the school close to your competition? Or do you prefer an area that doesn't have a language school yet? Also consider public transport facilities. If you want to work with young learners, parents also need facilities for dropping off and picking up children.

LAYOUT OF ROOMS

Consider how many students you will have in each class and plan the space needed in classrooms. You might decide to target business clients which means some of your classes will be taught in their company. The advantage for you is that less room is needed on your premises. Also consider how much room you need for teachers and resources. Admin staff need a work area, too. Furthermore, you need a reception area for receiving clients and giving them information.

RESOURCE ROOM FOR STUDENTS

Do you want to have a self-access centre for students to learn independently? (Also known as a multi-media centre). This can be a good selling point for the school. Busy clients might appreciate the opportunity to drop-by and study at times other than those set out for them in the traditional classroom setting. Teachers can be timetabled to oversee the centre which can be seen as a bit of "downtime" for them. You might decide that it can function without the presence of a teacher which makes it more economical. However, you'll need somebody nearby to solve technical difficulties.

WHICH CLIENT GROUP TO TARGET

What kind of teaching will you focus on? Do you want to be specialised in teaching business clients? Do you focus on exam preparation? Or is your focus children and teenagers? Remember the additional considerations when teaching children e.g. security in the building and supervision at all times for the younger ones. The type of work you do also contributes to your corporate image, you can start thinking about this now.

HOW TO FIND YOUR CLIENTS

Think about where and how to advertise. How can you get your school known? The choice of publicity space will depend on your target market and the country you are in. What specialised press exists for your target market? Do you also want to contact Human Resource managers and/or training managers in large companies? Does the local Chamber of Commerce (or similar organisation) have a list of companies that you can target?

MARKETING

This is covered more fully in the article Marketing Your Language Program 101 by Sarah Elaine Eaton.

RESOURCES AND EQUIPMENT

Teachers usually need access to a photocopier and a computer. You need to decide how much to invest in these items and whether it would be easier to rent them. If the equipment is rented, you might get quicker after-sales service. So look into this area. Also contact large computer manufacturers directly and ask whether they are willing to give you computers at a reduced price. Explaining who your target clientele is might help you get computers at discounted price. The advantage to the supplier being that your students become familiar with the computer brand and therefore would be more likely to purchase one at a later date.

As for books, you need to decide whether you give the course book out to students. If so, this is factored into your course fees. The advantage here is that all students will have the book at the same time, making it easier for teachers. Alternatively, you can ask students to buy their coursebooks.

As supplementary resources, I suggest that at the very least you need a book that covers each of the skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) for each level. Grammar reference books and books that develop vocabulary and pronunciation are needed, too. Remember to buy cassettes and CD Roms to accompany coursebooks. Check with publishers and bookshops, they sometimes give discounts to schools.

If you decide to teach Young Learners, you'll need other resources such as card, scissors, glue etc. A large quantity of toys, eg puppets, plastic fruit and veg will also come in useful. Story books and activity books will also be needed with YLs.

HOW TO FIND YOUR TEACHERS

You'll need to consider where to advertise and what experience and qualifications you consider desirable. I've written two articles on recruiting teachers; these are available at Tefl.net.

ADMIN AND SUPPORT STAFF

You need to consider the job description of admin and support staff. What exactly will you expect them to do? Do you need staff who speak English? Or is the local language sufficient? What about cleaning staff - will you employ them directly or will you outsource this work? You'll also need to consider where to advertise for your admin and support staff and the same tips for recruiting teachers apply here.

DRAWING UP CONTRACTS

You'll need to consider the legal aspects of work contracts in your country. I can't go into all the details here as labour law changes according to the country. If you are unsure about any aspect, get professional, legal advice. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Aspects to consider in the contract include: are you offering full-time, part-time or hourly-paid work? Is a trial period necessary before the contract is confirmed? What salary are you offering and what exactly is paid for, e.g. are planning and travel time paid and if so are they paid at the same rate as teaching? Will you pay for attendance at staff meetings?

Also consider what provisions you need to make for paying into pension schemes, health benefits, holidays and possibly luncheon vouchers.

LEGAL ASPECTS

You need to consider certain legal aspects of being an employer and providing a service. Your building will be used by the public so consider health and safety. This should be considered at the beginning, not later. It can be more costly to put something right once it is in place. Public use of the building also raises issues about insurance.

As for employees, you need to consider equal pay, maternity leave and the right to return to work. Think about issues concerning the termination of contracts. This may seem strange when you are about to recruit; but it's better to know how to end a contract before you enter into it.

Legal concerns vary from country to country. Get legal advice on any subject you are unsure about.

COMPETITION

You need to think about your competitors and how to position yourself in relation to them. What is the added advantage of studying with you rather than a competitor? This is your selling point. Gathering information about other schools helps you fine tune which products you offer and helps you find a niche in the market.

FEES

Issues to consider here include: will individuals be charged the same rate as companies? Will evening classes be the same price as mid-morning classes? How will prices vary according to whether it's a group class or a one-to-one class?

You need to cover your costs, so factor in teachers' salaries, overheads such as rent and electricity. Also consider the cost of materials (books and handouts) and admin salaries.

ACCOUNTS, BOOK KEEPING AND FINANCIAL ASPECTS

These are essential aspects and ones that differ from country to country. You need to understand the systems in your country and where necessary get advice. You need to find out about tax benefits and about anything you can write-off against your taxes. You also need budgets for different areas, e.g. training, resources.

BUSINESS PLAN

It's wise to have a medium-term development plan. Think about your objectives over the next 3 or 5 years. You might need to produce such a plan in order to get a bank loan. It will act as proof that you have thought out your project thoroughly. It's also beneficial to you as it will keep you focused on your priorities.

LEVELS AND TESTS

You need to decide what sort of test to use for placing your students in classes and consider how students pass from one level to the next. Also, what is your policy on repeating a level? If you're working in Europe, you need to think about the work being done by the Council of Europe to standardise language testing across the various member states.

STORING INFORMATION

You need a way to store information on your students. Essentials include name, address, contact telephone number (useful in case a class needs to be cancelled and a number for a parent is essential when teaching YLs). You also need a record of the entrance test score. Useful info includes profession, age and known illnesses (e.g. epilepsy, essential if teaching children). Remember that the information you store will be covered by a data protection law and deal with it accordingly.

The information provided in this article is intended for guidance only. We can only provide general information as contexts vary from country to country. Situations also vary according to the individuals concerned. Tefl.net cannot be held responsible for any decisions you make based on the information provided here. It is your responsibility to gather information about your particular situation.

© Lucy Pollard 2004
Lucy Pollard has worked as a teacher, teacher trainer and Director of Studies for over 15 years. Her teaching experience is very varied: adults, English for specific purposes and English for academic purposes, as well as teenagers and young children. She has worked with multi-lingual classes in the UK and in various European countries. Lucy is available for teacher training and staff training in Western Europe, and further afield. Please contact lucy@tefl.net if you are interested.

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