The Eternal Question!

You’re in a social setting, a friend’s party or a wedding reception perhaps, meeting new people and making small talk when the discussion moves on to what you do for a living. If you’re a doctor, teacher or lawyer, it seems a pretty straight-forward question to answer. If you run summer schools for a living as we have now done for many years, it is always met with the same response; ‘…….. OH, SO WHAT DO YOU DO THE REST OF THE YEAR?’

As I know only too well, in the world of running summer schools this is the Eternal Question and it’s not an easy one to answer particularly if the audience has never worked at, attended or sent their children to a summer school. To the initiated few, those who either work or have worked in a summer school or even the parents of children who have attended it still leaves some thinking ‘well surely that doesn’t take all year, does it?’

So, here to set the record straight is my account of what we actually do ‘the rest of the year’ at SBC. We view our year as September to August, starting with the round-up of one summer and finishing with the end of another summer.

Yes, contrary to popular belief, running a 5 week summer school is in fact a 52-weeks-of-the-year operation! Admittedly there is some down time right at the beginning of the cycle and September/October are our quieter months. Here we do lots of analysis of the summer that has just ended so that we can start putting into place any changes for the next year. New marketing materials and updates to existing publicity all has to be done within weeks of the previous summer, so all the decisions surrounding the summer school programmes and excursions have to be made and agreed upon. In the SBC Head Office, while we all have our separate roles and areas of responsibility, every member of the team has their input into what we do. It’s a very open place to work, ideas are generated and shared, explored together and implemented as a team.

By November and December we’re already taking bookings for the following summer, registering students and ensuring parents are well-informed about their children’s forthcoming English experience. In the run-up to Christmas we also put together our vital summer school materials; academic materials, handbooks and manuals all need updating year on year to ensure that every staff document or teaching tool is fresh, current and useful.

Of course there’ll be the inevitable SBC office Christmas party….. perhaps the less said about that the better!

January and February are busy months as the momentum in the booking cycle picks up and we start the huge task of recruitment. With 4 schools and approximately 100 staff, the recruitment operation has to be planned with military style precision! We now have a great core of returning staff who work for us year on year and so we build each summer school team from a solid base and recruit new team members who will compliment and add to the existing SBC ‘family’. Recruitment is paramount; the skills required to work in a summer school are varied yet specific. Above all, it comes down to the applicants’ characters and experience and we have a very thorough recruitment process to match these skills to the summer school teams.

March, April and May always fly by. We peel off our winter coats and woolly layers (of course while keeping an umbrella and raincoat nearby… it is the UK after all) as we get nearer the summer. Registering students and communicating regularly with parents takes up most of our day and places fill up on the courses. We keep a close eye on our nationality levels (60+ different nationalities in summer 2011), ensuring we have a good mix across all the schools and keeping a cap on nationality levels. We also manage the visa support process from this time, while still pushing forward with recruitment for the summer school teams.

By June we have taken multi-tasking to a whole new level! Finalising student bookings, recruitment, carrying out checks on our staff, checking payment of course fees, collecting travel information, confirming excursion bookings, confirming transport, checking visa applications, packing up stock….. it all comes together.

As soon as July 1st comes around, the adrenalin is well and truly pumping as we put the final preparations in place to open the summer schools and welcome our first students of the season. And as soon as the year-round boarding school students leave for the summer, we move in and set-up what are, in effect, four year-round schools that run for just 5 weeks.  It is great to see all the hard work pay off, to welcome back the friendly faces of returning students and to see the progress of our students both in their English language and their social development. When the final students have left to fly home towards the end of August, the nostalgia has already set in as we look back at all the photos, hear all the stories and read the lovely testimonials from students, staff and parents.

A celebratory end of summer party, perhaps a week’s holiday and then we’re off again….

So there it is, in a nutshell….the answer to the eternal summer school question. Next time someone asks me I’ll just redirect them here!

Cally, Director, Summer Boarding Courses.

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