Staff redundancies at Kent School of English in Broadstairs as impact of covid continues to hit language industry

Kent School of English

The impact of covid, particularly on foreign travel, has resulted in a Broadstairs language school making significant job cuts.

Kent School of English, based in Granville Road, would normally be teaching hundreds of foreign students but the pandemic meant cancellations began early in the year and now bookings are non-existent for 2020.

The school closed in the second week of March and remains closed although bookings are being taken for 2021.

The closure and cessation of business means the majority of staff, between 70 and 80, have been made redundant.

Principal Andy Flaig said: “We were looking forward to a very busy year as usual, but as soon as it became apparent that Covid-19 was spreading from China to mainland Europe we began to get cancellations from France, Spain and Italy.

“Our students arrive in groups, so each cancellation was for 30 or 40 students. On February 23, the Italian government issued an order to the effect that school groups could not travel abroad. We took the decision to close in the second week of March and have been closed since then.

“We have now had to make most of our staff – around 70 or 80 people- redundant because of the complete cessation of business. This has been very difficult  – many members of the KSE team had been with the school for a long time.

“It’s very sad for us to part company with them and of course it’s hard for people who have to look for alternative work at the moment.

“Our aim all along has been to survive and be in a position to re-open in 2021. We are still very much hoping – and expecting – to do that.”

Hit to the Thanet economy

The impact is not confined to the staff now looking for new jobs. It also affects some 300 KSE host families and means a huge reduction of income to the local economy, particularly for food businesses.

The issue will be one that affects other language school sites. Broadstairs English Centre reduced staff hours in February and moved back many bookings.

The centre, which has 10 dormitories at its St Peters Park Road base, said the immediate effects of the outbreak were ‘undeniable’ but directors had short and long term plans to protect staff jobs, homestay providers and contractors.

BEC had hoped to continue flourishing during the second half of this year but with ongoing restrictions this is likely to have changed. BEC has been asked for comment on the current situation.

English language teaching has been as doubly hit by the virus. It was one of the first industries to be affected, with travel from two major markets, Italy and China, closed down even before the World Health Organisation declared a pandemic, and it will be one of the last to be able to take the steps to recovery as some travel restrictions continue.

The industry cannot turn to the domestic markets and there is little room for diversifying.

Thanet contains a considerable number of language schools and a large percentage of students using these services stay with Thanet families or as paying guests.

In 2013 language schools turnover in Thanet was an estimated £19.7 million with approximately £6.3 million paid to an estimated 2,800 host families in the district.

Students total spend in Thanet was an estimated £33.6 million and language schools created around 1,000 jobs.

A survey, carried out by The South West Research Company Ltd. on behalf of Thanet council, estimated that 43,000 trips to Thanet are made annually by overseas students, accounting for 495,000 visitor nights.

Nationally, an average year sees half a million students arrive in the UK with an estimated value to the economy of £1.4 billion, supporting 34,000 jobs.

Online courses and hopes for 2021

KSE has launched online courses for this year and hopes to work with groups who would normally have brought their students to Broadstairs. A small number of staff are retained and working on the online offering.

Mr Flaig says confidence will need to be restored when students are able to come back to KSE, adding: “Host families will need to be comfortable accepting students into their homes; teachers will be confident that they are protected in the classroom and, of course, students’ parents will have to feel that their kids can travel safely.”

Hilderstone College English Studies Centre, in St Peters Road, has announced it aims to reopen for face to face courses from September 7.

Broadstairs Independent district councillor Ruth Bailey said: “It is incredibly sad to hear of the redundancies at KSE and my thoughts are with the staff – many of whom I know personally.

“The foreign language students bring so much income to our town and the wider area by supporting local businesses, they also provide additional income for local host families.

“It is scandalous that language schools seem to have fallen through the cracks when it comes to Government support during this Covid crisis. Whereas other businesses qualified for business rate relief this help, for some reason, was not extended to language schools. I know that the KSE is trying to adapt to this new normal by providing online learning and I wish them the best of luck for the future.”

Language schools did qualify for the job retention scheme and some councils, including Folkestone and Canterbury, did grant English Language Centres business rate relief.

The industry body English UK has lobbied Parliament for more aid and launched a petition for all councils to provide language centres with business rate relief.

Find the petition here