Schools in for summer

International summer schools are major enterprises and the director of Felsted’s, Daniel Emmerson, explains what it takes to run one successfully

Back in 2013, Felsted was deep in the planning stages of a hugely significant anniversary. The following year it would celebrate its 450th birthday with an array of events and celebrations, given the seal of royal approval by a visit to the school from Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. Deep into the preparations for this monumental year in the school’s history, senior leadership at the school also found themselves looking to the future – what kind of a school would Felsted be as it prepared for its 500th anniversary in 50 years’ time? 

With a dramatic increase in the use of technology in the education sector and a decreasing gap between Felsted village and the rest of the world, the answer clearly pointed to new initiatives overseas. Felsted was successfully providing the International Baccalaureate Diploma in its sixth form alongside A-levels and was an active global member of the Round Square network of schools around the world; the international student body was thriving, and the school’s outlook was already decidedly global.

A tentative pilot summer school programme was proposed, designed mainly to make use of Felsted’s glorious 90-acre campus in the north Essex countryside, complete with sports, arts and boarding houses. A handful of pupils were recruited for the fledgling summer school through existing agent relationships – mainly prospective Felsted international students who saw the summer school as a ‘try before you buy’ opportunity. All went well – the students took part enthusiastically in a timetable of lessons and activities, cultural visits to London and Cambridge, and revelled in the school’s grounds and facilities. 

While the educational value to the students is by far the most important driver, the financial contribution of the summer school to Felsted’s finances cannot be underestimated

Market research showed that there was clearly a demand for a full-scale international summer school at Felsted and the school had what it took to provide one – apart from someone to lead it, which is where I came in.

With a background in international summer school education, I immediately saw the potential at Felsted. I was excited by the prospect of establishing a ‘fourth term’ for Felsted, one which would share the school’s facilities and expertise with young people of all nationalities, bringing them together and giving them a cultural and educational experience they would remember forever.

However, this did require a significant shift in the school’s operations and a re-think in how we worked with our international agents. It would have a great impact on the operating practices of a number of the school’s non-teaching departments – catering, domestic services, ICT, finance, compliance, marketing and HR soon found themselves with another entire student population to support.

Of course, on top of the recruitment of our target 500 summer school students and the logistics of looking after them while they were with us, there was the question of what to teach them. A part-time member of staff and I imagined a programme where every child, whether aged eight or 17, would have an enriching opportunity to develop their language skills, extend their cultural awareness, extend their academic interests and make new friends from around the world.

Felsted’s International Summer School

The launch

In the busy few months leading up to our launch in 2014, we wrote and collated all the documentation for the lessons, activities, trips and events that would form the programme, employed dedicated summer school staff and recruited 17 students from five different countries. The summer school was a hit! Although a small and manageable start, it meant that, school operational changes could happen gradually and, abroad, our recruitment agents could see that we were in the process of developing a unique opportunity, giving them the confidence to offer the Felsted International Summer School to their clients and begin to recruit students to our programme in future.

In the summer of 2015, more summer school students filled the Felsted campus and each year after that, numbers increased.

In 2019 we ran our largest Felsted International Summer School so far, welcoming 543 students from 28 countries around the world for six full weeks spanning July and August.

Twenty-six former Felsted pupils were trained and engaged to deliver the programme, part of a 102-strong staff involved in the running of the summer school.

While the educational value to the students is by far the most important driver, the financial contribution of the summer school to Felsted’s finances cannot be underestimated. Over the course of the 2019 edition, 20 attendees sat entrance assessments and were recruited as full boarders to the school, bringing significant future fee revenue, while fees for the summer school itself generated a turnover of £1.3m.

But there is no time to rest on our laurels. Needless to say, such an enterprise takes a full year to plan and prepare. Every student and staff member every year needs to be recruited from scratch. For this reason, I spend the majority of my time overseas, working with our recruitment partners, in addition to working with my Round Square colleague in transforming Felsted from a participating member of Round Square and the Global Education Benchmark Group to an active and engaged member school that provides opportunities for students across this incredibly broad network.

Through the International Summer School, Felsted is also able to fully demonstrate a public benefit, while providing educational and co-curricular opportunities for British students to the value of an additional £70,000.

The work involved in making this happen is well beyond that of a single person and, in addition to the operational departments recognised above for their enormous contribution, I now have a full-time team of three who work exclusively on our summer school operation, plus an enterprise manager, who works on our third-party hires, courses and public benefit initiatives. Being able to grow this team organically has been crucial, as we have been able to increase the creativity of new initiatives as a dedicated and determined unit.

Moving forward

As we continue to develop the programme each year and work towards new creative objectives, our core aims are at the forefront of our planning. We remain committed to Felsted’s now 455-year tradition in all that we do, which means that we are able to move into new overseas markets confidently with an offering that reflects the educational principles of our institution. We have every faith that our International Summer School will remain at the forefront of experiential learning initiatives and cross-cultural collaboration. 

Admittedly, there is still a long way for us to go and more lessons to be learnt. Every year for the past five, I have addressed a new staff body, who I entrust to deliver the quality programme that our overseas partners and our students expect and deserve. Although a large proportion of our staff have worked at the school before, either as term-time staff or as repeating members of summer school staff, the combination of familiar faces and new recruits brings a change in the dynamic and it is crucial to manage that while ensuring a universally high level of safeguarding, compliance, child protection, pastoral care and academic provision.

A challenging and hugely rewarding undertaking, but essential, as Felsted commits to continue to provide and develop one of the most successful and diverse international summer schools the UK has to offer to the world.

Daniel Emmerson

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