Junior language programmes are a growth market for many destinations and our own annual language school survey statistics show that numbers of junior students have increased by 61 per cent globally between 2010 and 2015. Language schools specialising in this sector are having to become more proactive in order to cater for demands for 'something different' and today's programmes are likely to include an extensive range of outdoor activities, football skills tuition by a professional football club or in-depth academic instruction in a subject such as science or computing, as well as classroom-based language tuition.
Liverpool School of English www.lse.uk.net in the UK is one provider that is currently expanding its range of junior offerings in response to demand from students. Maria McDonnell, Director, says, "We have offered junior language courses here in Liverpool since 1999. We have responded to the growing demand for English plus courses with the introduction of English plus Football, as well as an exciting English plus Science programme. So many schools offer standard English and activity courses these days and we find that this is simply no longer enough to capture the imagination of our clients."
Recent statistics (see StudyTravel Magazine, July 2016, page 5) on the UK's English language teaching industry reveal that the junior market accounted for 49 per cent of overall business for language schools in 2015, up from 30 per cent in 2011. In a market that has seen a downturn in student numbers recently, many language providers in the UK are looking at ways to develop their junior programmes in the face of increasing competition in this sector.
Karen Russell at Kingswood www.kingswood.co.uk in the UK says that they specialise in offering junior programmes that take the learning environment outside of the classroom. She believes that they "focus on developing and strengthening a student's life skills, such as social, emotional and personal, to better aid them in their professional development in future careers and in networking in social situations". As this type of education is strongly supported by the British government's current education strategy, Karen says that the programmes offer a "true British educational experience" and as such are very popular. "We have seen an increase in demand for these types of courses recently and I feel this is because agents, parents and schools are looking for different programmes and more educational benefits," she says.
In Australia, Ben Mack, Director of Recruitment & Marketing at Browns English Language School www.browns.edu.au, says that there is currently an increase in global demand for junior student programmes in Australia. "We have been offering junior programmes for over 10 years now and our work in this area initially started due to demand from the Japanese market to send their under-18 students to the Gold Coast over their summer holiday break," says Ben. The school has recently opened a new campus dedicated to teenage and pre-teen students and Ben says it has a growing reputation for junior student specialisation in Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
The school has also developed new programmes to meet demand, including "a year-round high school preparation programme pathwaying into Queensland's government and independent schools, along with school uniforms, junior development programmes, extra-curricular activity programmes, and with physical facilities in our new campus, which includes recreational computer games facilities", relates Ben, who adds that the largest nationalities for junior programmes are Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
Demand for more academic programmes within the junior sector is something that is also noted by agents who work with juniors and their parents (see pull out boxes). At F+U Academy of Languages www.fuu-languages.com in Germany, Katja Tenkoul says that the popularity of junior programmes in Germany has increased in line with the country's reputation as offering a high-quality, inexpensive education. "This is certainly an incentive for many parents to send their children to German classes as early as possible, so they can study there later on," she says, adding that their largest student markets are Italy, Russia, Spain, France, Germany, China, USA and Poland.
Tobias Langenstein from another German provider Humboldt-Institut www.humboldt-institut.org agrees and reveals that the school's junior academic pathway option has seen good growth in recent years. "A few years ago, we started with 10 students and now have almost 200 long-term students that will be admitted to one of 30 German boarding schools with whom we cooperate after those students have succesfully completed their German course," he says.
Programmes that cater for families and very young students are also becoming more popular. Marie Duvert from BMA Biarritz French Language School www.bma-biarritz-school.com in France says that demand for their BMA babies course for children aged between four-and-10 years has been growing in the six years that it has been offered. "We decided to open workshops for children as Biarritz has an enormous influx of tourists in the summer and is a popular holiday destination for people from all over the world," she says. "The children spend three hours practising French."
In line with the trend of children travelling to learn a language at a younger age, Hannah Lindsay from St Giles www.stgiles.co.uk, which offers junior programmes in the UK, Canada and USA, says that family language programmes are a growing part of the sector. "Over the past few years it has become one of our fastest growing programmes across the group," she says. "The demand has been so strong that we have opened up lots of new family locations, which has led to us being able to offer courses in London, Brighton, San Francisco and New York in 2017."
Other developments in the junior sector, according to Hannah, are increased demand for English plus options - including English plus University Studies and English plus Performing Arts - as well as a new programme starting in 2017. "We will run our 'Explorer Tours' for the first time; a fantastic chance for our students to take a one-week tour around the north of the UK, taking in sights such as York and Edinburgh," she says.
The opportunity to mix with local children while on a junior camp is a new selling point identified by ILSC Education Group www.ilsc.com, a global provider that has offered junior language programmes for over 16 years. "In 2017, we'll be introducing an activities programme provided by UBC Camps so our students will connect with local Canadian youth in their afternoon activities," says Andrew Goulding, Director of Junior Programs.
Other recent developments from ILSC include the ESL-High School Bridge programme introduced in 2015 in Vancouver and Toronto, which supports and prepares international students intending to go on to a high school term or terms in Canada, and new family programmes available in Vancouver and San Francisco. Andrew adds, "As the junior sector matures in North America, many young clients are seeking an experience that brings more than the traditional combination of language lessons and activities.
As a response to this, we have been focusing on collaboration with domestic camp programme providers that allow our students to experience specialised propgramming with domestic students."
The junior sector brings with it a number of unique challenges, not least of which is safeguarding. Many providers in this market offer and encourage their junior students to stay in residential accommodation as this offers them a greater ability to provide 24-hour supervision. Deirdre Rochford at the Irish College of English www.iceireland.com in Ireland says that their junior summer camp in Malahide, Dublin, is gaining in popularity as agents and parents view it is a safe destination. "Malahide itself is an ideal location and sells very well," she says. "Our biggest nationalities are the traditional markets of Spain, Italy and France, but we see an increasing number of Russian, Chinese and Eastern European clients each year." Deirdre adds that the school will offer residential accommodation at Glenstal Abbey, a local boarding school, from 2017, which should increase bookings further.
Catering for a range of cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds can also be a challenge when providing courses for this age group, and many providers find that having a diverse range of multicultural staff members can be helpful. Katja says that they find that introducing cultural activities helps address some of the issues. "For example, we had Chinese calligraphy and yoga classes this year," she says.
The increased focus on safety also means that agents have a greater role to play in this sector. Tobias at Humboldt says, "Competent counseling and guidance through agents plays an important role in the booking process." Andrew at ILSC agrees that using agents to book their course can add an extra layer of confidence for parents. "Many parents appreciate third-party support and expertise when sending their children overseas," he says. "The support of having someone local involved in the process of selecting a quality provider provides a lot of comfort." firstname.lastname@example.org
How has demand for junior language programmes changed for your agency's clients in recent years?
Gerald Soubeyran, Effective Linguistique, France
"The global trend is to see a decrease of group travel, while the individuals business is increasing. Today's parents are the ex-teenagers of the '80s and they have done the 'language holiday in a group of French kids'. From our point of view, it is crucial for summer operators to offer increased value for money, more results-driven courses. Innovation pays. It is a longer process and while it may be satisfying in the short term to stick to a basic-but-profitable offer, it is not, I believe, [long-term] viable." www.effective-linguistique.com
Catherine Visan, Camp Experts, France
"The USA is growing as a destination for juniors. They want to be totally immersed in an activity camp and US school children are on holidays for the whole of July whereas UK school students break up later. A sector that is developing for us is short-term courses in boarding schools in the UK. Courses can last from three weeks to three months. This is new in France and is popular." www.campexperts.com
Miguel Amigo, STEP Language Services, Spain
"The number of junior students travelling overseas from Spain has obviously decreased since a peak at around 2009/2010. The effect of the economic crisis that began in those years was very clear. We in STEP, based in Bilbao, send mostly Basque students and have not suffered too much from this, but agencies in Madrid, for instance, have seen decreases of over 40 per cent in some years." www.steptravel.net