Over two decades, Liverpool School of English has taught English to more than 50,000 students from 80 countries and has faced the biggest challenge in its history during the pandemic. Tony McDonough reports
Liverpool’s pre-pandemic visitor economy was worth more than £3bn a year and among the unsung heroes of that success has been Liverpool School of English.
Based in Mount Pleasant for the past 23 years, the school was teaching English to more than 5,000 overseas students a year from more than 80 countries around the world, prior to the COVID-19 crisis.
Once the pandemic hit in March last year a combination of lockdowns and severe restrictions on international travel sent those numbers plummeting. The company fell through the gap of the various strands of Government support for businesses and has had to battle through the toughest period in its history without external help.
But, thanks to the vaccine rollout, COVID restrictions in the UK are gradually being eased and May is likely to see a significant loosening of restrictions on international travel, a change that is being enthusiastically welcomed by Saeed Adam, head of business development at the Liverpool School of English.
“The pandemic has been really hard for us,” he told LBN. “Due to lockdowns, travels bans and border restrictions, most of our students disappeared overnight. In May and June we started offering online lessons to students across the world.
“But it has still been very tough for us. We have still had bills to pay, a full-time staff of around 70 people, running costs for our building. We weren’t eligible at all for the first round of Government rates relief. Eventually the Government allowed councils more discretion but we still didn’t meet the criteria.
“Councils down south interpreted the rules differently and many of our competitors down there did get support. And while we spoke to Liverpool City Council and they were supportive of us, we still didn’t meet the criteria.”
Those overheads also included membership fees for various trade bodies the Liverpool School of English is a member of. In normal times representatives from the school would travel to events and trade fairs around the world, selling not just the school, but also the city.
Saeed explained: “Prior to the pandemic we visited 28 different countries around the world, to trade fairs, to exhibitions with bodies such as UKTI and the British Council. I would say 60% of the time we were selling Liverpool as a destination.
“English language schools for people from overseas is worth £1.4bn every year to the UK economy. Liverpool School of English alone has brought more than 50,000 people to the city over the past two decades or so.
“If you go back 10 years, Liverpool wasn’t in the top 20 destinations for foreign students looking to learn English. Now it is around sixth or seventh. Capital of Culture really helped in 2008 as as Liverpool FC and The Beatles. Students from Japan and Brazil particularly like coming for The Beatles.”
According to Saeed, most students fit into three categories. By far the biggest cohort is university students already studying in the city who need to learn English to complete their studies. Second is people, mainly from Europe, who are looking to improve their job prospects. Leisure travellers who just want to speak English better also come to the school.
It also offers the OET qualification, an English language test designed specifically for the many healthcare professionals coming to work in the NHS from overseas. And the school is accredited by The British Council, English UK, ISI, and PTE.
Liverpool School of English’s staff numbers can double or triple in the summer months, which are a peak time for people to visit the city. At such times the school also uses space at the City of Liverpool College when it is closed to its usual students in the summer break.
“We also welcome a lot of representatives of foreign embassies to the school,” added Saeed. “We show them what we do and we show them how fantastic Liverpool is as a city and how safe it is for people to visit.
“In April we re-started our physical lessons and already we are seeing growing demand from people overseas to come to Liverpool. We are still also doing the online classes and we deliver them across different time zones to accommodate students in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America.
“There is a group of French students who have been isolating here and they are coming to the school to start their courses in the next few days. Obviously we are still waiting to see what restrictions on international travel will be lifted in the coming weeks.
“With a bit of luck we will have a very busy summer. The number of emails we are getting shows people from all over the world can’t wait to come to Liverpool. We bring a lot of money into this city and we are very optimistic going forward.”