Business Practices in Language Schools

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An English Language School’s key goals, strategies and objectives should provide the fundamental planning and operational tool for the development and continuous improvement of the school.

The business practices that a school chooses to follow will set the boundaries and dynamics of development. This is why it is very important that managers understand the complex nature of this market. In doing so they must establish an organizational structure that creates the best possible environment for both staff and students to develop their capabilities to the fullest.

The underlying reason why any organization (with the exception of non-profitable ones) goes into business is to generate profits. In the English Language School business, managers must balance profitability with educational value. This is to say, profits must be maximized while excelling in product value and quality. In such a sensitive market, schools cannot just focus on cost cutting to become profitable. Managers must concentrate on efficiency and the marketing value proposition in order to optimize resources and performance.

This article’s purpose is to show the reader how to structure and utilize business resources that can help increase a school’s efficiency, and so its profits.

Management Structures:

The organizational structure that a school follows depends greatly on its size. A small school will have a very much centralized decision making structure, while larger schools are more decentralized. It is common to find roll-overlapping in smaller schools, as resources are scarcer and staff take on a series of rolls. This is neither a weakness nor a problem when the number of students is limited. However as a school grows, its organizational structure must extend to become as efficient as possible.

The larger the school the greater the number of staff in each department resulting in tasks being outsourced.

The optimum number of staff in each department depends on each and every single school. However, managers must always remember that under-staffing is just as detrimental as over-staffing.

Marketing Department:

Any organization which wishes to be successful in the 21st century must follow a marketing oriented strategy. This means, finding out what are the consumers needs first, and then matching them to the schools capabilities. The reasoning behind the marketing concept is that although a school may offer excellent products, if learners are not interested in them and do not want them, the school will make no profits.

Marketing Research

In an English Language School research is extremely important in order to determine key factors such as:

• Market size

• Potential Demand

• Potential Profitability

• Product characteristics that potential customers would prefer

• Who the competitors are and what their position in the market is

Market research must be carried out constantly in order to attract new learners as well as to maintain the current learner’s loyalty to the school. However, a strong argument against marketing research is the fact that it may become very costly. Schools should always remember that without research it is very hard to obtain a clear image of the schools positioning and value in the learner’s mind. So although outsourcing research can be costly, some forms of research are inexpensive and can be conducted internally. For example start and end of term surveys in the form of multiple choice questionnaires can obtain information on learner’s perceptions and their experience.

Advertising and Communications

It is through Advertising that a school can create brand awareness, product awareness and can place the full offering to the target markets. The target markets are not always the learners per se, but parents who wish to enroll their children as well. Through Advertising the schools must communicate its achievements and successes in order to gain students and retain the loyalty among existing ones.

Effective advertising can be achieved by determining who the target market is, and so conveying a message that they would not only understand but be attracted to. This may sound simple, but believe me when I say it is not. Outsourcing advertising is usually the best alternative for all schools who can afford it. Smaller schools usually resort to simple leaflets and word of mouth, which must by no means must be underestimated. Outsourced or not, the Marketing, Advertising and Communications functions must be synergistic and congruent with all the other marketing activities.

Sales and Promotions

It is recommended that this activity is not undertaken by the school teachers, as it happens in many cases. The reason for this being, that it is very confusing for a learner to discuss financial aspects with his/her teacher. However it is recommended that teachers endorse the part of the sale in which academics are discussed. Sales staff must be fully trained, and must have deep knowledge of all the products (courses) on offer.

The school may use as promotional tools not only in-house Attendance Certificates, but also International exam preparation courses such as Oxford and Cambridge ESOL, IELTS, TOEFL and others. The Internet is a magnificent tool for sales and promotions as web-sites let interested consumers have a good look at the school’s offerings and have an inside look at its infrastructure and atmosphere without actually visiting the school. So the Sales and Promotions team must always work closely with the ICT department in ensuring that the school web site is clear, has reliable information, is up to date, and keeps a record of all interested visitors.

Public Relations

Public relations activities are designed to generate goodwill and to create a positive image of the school and its courses. The PR function is to ensure that members of the school’s community are aware of the events, achievements and future developments of the school. Keeping in touch with ex-students and exposing their achievements is a typical PR strategy.

In general, the marketing activities are meant to generate a positive brand recognition that carries the value and benefits of the school’s offerings to the target market. The Marketing Manager must ensure that all marketing activities are coordinated to maximize their effect on student enrolment.

Finance Department:

An English Language School must ensure that it has sufficient financial resources to support its overall strategic objectives as well as its tactical goals. It should also ensure that the school has a comfortable liquidity ratio, meaning that there are no negative cash flows. The finance department is also then responsible for monitoring and guarding the inflows and outflows of cash, the credit provided and the debts obtained.

In terms of credit, the Finance department must ensure that fees are paid timely and that bad debt is reduced to a minimum. Many schools adopt a “cash up front” policy, although it may not always work. Credit records must always be obtained before providing credit to anyone.

The Finance Department is also responsible for determining and forecasting costs for every term. These costs are the basis on which fee structures are developed for each course. When developing fees, the Finance Department must set realistic enrollment targets that are congruent with the facilities available and the optimum teaching class sizes.

In the case of schools that are privately owned by a small number of partners, pressures on performance are not as high as for schools owned by large numbers of shareholders. The Finance Department must not only follow cost cutting strategies to improve performance, but should focus on efficiency. In education, quality must never be compromised.

An English Language School should attempt to establish financial policies and standards to provide a systematic approach to financial resource management, and evaluation of performance and accountability by:

• Maintaining and regularly reviewing the following financial policies:

– Accounting Manuals

– Accounting Policies

– Budgeting Procedures and Guidelines

– Corporate Manual

• Yearly analysis on audited financial statements

• Ensuring the contents of all financial policies are communicated to relevant members of the staff.

It is common in small schools, where decision making is centralized, for accounting services to be outsourced. In such cases the financial decisions would be taken by the CEO.

Information Communication Technology:

The importance of this department is sometimes undermined, but doing so can be strongly detrimental for the success of the business. An English language school must understand the importance of keeping up with the technological changes of the market, both inside and outside the classroom.

The ICT department can ensure that the school has the appropriate technological infrastructure by implementing an ongoing system for assessing the school’s technological needs. This department is also responsible for generating a budget that obtains approved funding from school fees.

This department is responsible for implementing security programmes on all:

• database access

• document recovery

• document backup

• web page access

An English Language School should attempt to design and develop a universal platform which allows interfacing of all existing and new computer-based systems by:

• Maintaining standard specifications of hardware, software, networking and communication equipment.

• Practicing standard operating procedures throughout the school.

As discussed earlier, it is essential for the school that the ICT department provides constant support to all other departments and their needs. In order to do that, all members of staff must have a certain level of technological and ICT skills. In house or outsourced training must be provided in order to constantly improve the general level of ICT skills throughout the school.

ICT is an ever developing arena, so when necessary ICT services must be outsourced in order to keep up with change. It is also important that the school benchmarks the levels of ICT used by other school nationally and internationally to ensure its success.

Human Resources:

An English Language School should attempt to attract and select a suitable, highly qualified and competent workforce, through effective human resource planning, innovative recruitment programmes and appropriate selection techniques by:

• Identifying annual manpower recruitment needs:

-identifying sources of recruitment

-recruiting appropriately qualified staff

-reviewing remuneration packages to ensure competitiveness with similar employers.

Through effective line management, and a system of recognition, rewards and incentives, together with career and growth opportunities the school should be able to retain a high percentage of its workforce.

The HR department is responsible for:

• Ensuring that all staff share an awareness that the core business of the school is teaching and learning.

• Encouraging greater staff stability.

• Providing for career advancement of all staff in ways that are consistent with their own professional needs of the school.

An English Language School should attempt to provide opportunities for staff to participate in relevant training and development programmes so as to continually enhance staff expertise. This can be achieved by providing appropriate training for academic and non academic staff, as well as by encouraging teachers to upgrade their qualifications. A way of doing so is by maintaining and improving the Professional Review and Development Programme.

The HR department is also responsible for nurturing a supportive and productive work environment that fosters teamwork and promotes optimum benefits to the individual and the organization. The organizing of events that foster better relations among staff can help in ensuring a harmonious working environment. Providing an attractive and physical environment which allows staff to work effectively is also an important responsibility for thus department.

Academic Department:

The Director of Studies should attempt to recruit teachers of the highest quality in terms of academic and professional qualifications and who possesses the qualities of an ideal teacher by:

• Ensuring that individual teachers’ qualifications and professional experiences are relevant.

• Providing a salary and benefits package which attracts teachers of the highest caliber.

• Ensuring that the recruitment and induction programme is conducted to the highest professional standards.

Under the supervision of the Director of Studies the department is divided into 3 different areas (that will depend largely on the courses offered by the school). Each area has a designated coordinator i.e. Business English Coordinator, Young Learners Coordinator and Adult Learners Coordinator. Each coordinator is responsible for the running and organization of their designated arenas.

The Academic department is one of the most important departments because its staff are responsible for creating and delivering the service (English language teaching) to the consumers. This is why an English language school should ensure that teachers constantly review and deliver the following:

• A broad and balanced curriculum which is subject to ongoing review and development.

• Information and advice concerning education, career opportunities and development.

• A love of learning and encouraging students to develop as responsible members of society.

• Recognizing that the acquisition of academic, personal, social, emotional and health skills and knowledge are central to realizing individual potential.

• Ensuring that academic policies are regularly reviewed and updated in relation to the needs of students.

• Recording, reporting and utilizing the results of assessment in order to set targets to enhance teaching and learning.

• Promoting parental links.

• Identifying and addressing the academic, personal and social needs of individual students.

• Providing challenging and open-ended tasks promoting independent and critical thinking.

• Supporting and praising individual effort and achievement to develop self-esteem and confidence.

Physical Infrastructure:

An English Language School must equip and maintain its campus facilities and amenities, ensuring that they are functional, aesthetic and provide conducive and safe environments for students and staff.

A capital expenditure budget must be set in order to have physical infrastructure development priorities and provide for maintenance and upgrading of physical resources.

It is fundamental that the school provides sufficient classroom and specialist accommodation appropriate to the age of the students to meet curricular requirements. The facilities must be sufficiently attractive to encourage interest and application from prospective entrants to the school. From a business perspective, effective maintenance must be followed to retain the capital value of the site, buildings and equipment.

An English Language School should attempt to systematically monitor standards and quality against established benchmarks and industry best practices. The constant review and use of new technology is vital for improving the functionality and efficiency of physical resources. It is also important that the school carries out its business in a socially responsible way. So it should attempt to promote good energy management and maintain a clean and healthy environment by:

• Providing sufficient, high quality and hygienic washroom facilities for both students and staff.

• Providing catering services which are hygienic give value for money and encourage healthy eating.

• Promoting efficient use of energy and minimize wastage.

• Providing an attractive and clean school environment.

An English Language School must comply with statutory and regulatory requirements including those relating to safety and health, environmental standards and other industry-related requirements. A good method of control is auditing. The school should attempt to audit space needs and usage on a regular basis for optimum use of physical resources and to ensure cost effectiveness in their upkeep and maintenance by:

• Carrying out a physical infrastructure condition audit.

• Determining the basis of carrying out an annual audit of the use of all school facilities.

Overview of Business Practices:

An English Language School should attempt to ensure that the management system is comprehensive and generates appropriate information in a timely manner for decision making by:

• Periodically reviewing the type of information that is required for efficient decision making and ensuring that the management information system can provide such information.

• Maintaining an information system which allows all required information to be easily stored and retrieved.

• Promoting links with other related agencies to set-up potential customer information.

• Establishing direct links with other schools and institutions to update knowledge of new management technologies.

An English Language School should attempt to continually streamline and update systems and processes to enhance effectiveness and efficiency through use of technology by:

• Developing a systematic process for good practice and management of change by fully utilizing ICT facilities.

• Establishing consistent quality processes and standardized frameworks throughout the system.

• Ensuring all implemented systems benefit the development of teaching and learning.

An English Language School should attempt to ensure that the system and processes implemented accord all customers the highest level of service, benchmarked against leading English Language education providers by:

• Establishing a quality system that focuses on student and community needs.

• Ensuring that the system implemented is an effective means for control and monitoring for effective corrective action.

• Establishing the feedback channel within the school for effective corrective action.

• Benchmarking with other English Language Schools and with English Language Teaching bodies.

An English Language School should attempt to establish internal and external communication processes which are capable of receiving, responding to and disseminating information in a timely manner by:

• Identifying areas of weakness and ways of improving the existing communication system.

• Implementing new communication technology facilities.

• Organizing events that help promote relationships between the different divisions.

An English Language School should attempt to enhance internal controls and audit mechanism to better manage risks and improve productivity by:

• Improving and streamlining the internal audit system.

• Establishing methodology for measurement and accountability based on real data for effective decision making.

An English Language School should ensure that the systems and processes incorporate adequate security features to protect intellectual property and maintain system integrity by:

• Conforming to national and international regulations on intellectual property rights.

It is here stated that no profit maximization strategies should be followed if their result is detrimental towards the quality of the courses. But where to draw the line between cost cutting and lowering service quality depends on the nature of each and every single school.

Source by Jason Geyser

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