School’s in for summer

Stuart Higgins, principal of Saint Michael’s College, weighs up the pros and cons of running a summer school

Many schools utilise their facilities in the summer by renting out their premises to other organisations, primarily English-language schools. Far fewer run their own language courses. There are many advantages, however – and some disadvantages, of course – to running your own summer school.

Saint Michael’s College, a small international school on the borders of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire, has been running its own summer schools for over 20 years. These started with about 400 student-weeks in 1994 and this year reached almost 1,500 student-weeks.

So what are the pros and cons of running your own summer school?

The main advantages include: 

By using one’s own facilities, of course, all the income accrues to the school. In 2014 at Saint Michael’s, this was close to £1million. It is largely the surplus made on the summer school which has funded the school’s expansion programme. 

As the organisation running the summer school, the school has much more control over the course content, structure and behaviour of the pupils. 

In summer 2014 Saint Michael’s had over 500 individual pupils at its summer school. Each year a handful of these decide to apply for academic year programmes. If group leaders, who are usually agents or teachers, enjoy the course, when they return home they will often recommend the school to parents and potential students as well.

Adam Smallwood, the Saint Michael’s summer school centre manager, comments: “I began working on the summer school six years ago in a sports and social role and was instantly amazed by the diversity of the students. Although I grew up in the same sleepy rural county as Saint Michael’s, I had no idea that these vibrant international environments existed so deep in the countryside. In terms of building a reputation and expanding a school’s brand internationally, a good summer school can create hundreds of satisfied customers over a very short period of time. This in turn generates and sustains interest in the school year-round, and over time can lead to growth in academic year figures.” 

There is an enormous amount of satisfaction in seeing happy, smiling children on campus throughout the summer. One of three 10-year-old Russian girls attending the summer school at Saint Michael’s last year said: “Today I’ve learnt a lot of English, then went to the safari park and saw animals I’ve never seen before. Now we have a lovely barbeque with a bouncy castle. This is the best day of my life!” 

The main disadvantages of running your own summer course include: 

Time consuming
A good summer school (one which runs smoothly and includes excellent teaching and an exciting and varied sports and social programme) takes a huge amount of planning and organisation. The first planning meeting for summer 2015 at Saint Michael’s took place in September 2014. There are a great many things to think about in order to have a successful summer school. 

British Council accreditation
Most reputable educational agents will only send students to a school which is accredited for its English language provision by the British Council. The accreditation scheme is an excellent guarantee of minimum standards, but it does require a lot of time and effort for schools to become accredited. 

Logistical issues
When can the facilities be used (the whole of July is the most popular time for summer courses)? Other important things to think about include: staff holidays; time for refurbishment of facilities; who is in charge of the course (do you appoint a temporary member of staff who may be new to your school or an existing member of staff who knows and understands how the school operates?); recruitment of temporary staff etc. 

Visa issues
It is important to have someone within the school who deals with child visitor visas. 

Running your own summer school is hard work and time-consuming, but the benefits – the extra income and the satisfaction of running your own successful course – far outweigh the negatives. 


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