When you’re looking around for a school where you can part with your hard earned cash (or your parents’ hard earned cash) one of the first things you will discover is that some schools are much more expensive than others. Surely, you’d think, there must be some connection between price and quality? Well, in some cases this may be the case but in other cases it just has no clear relationship. In traditional economics there is an idea that if price goes up the demand for something goes down – and the degree this happens can vary quite a lot – for example most people won’t eat or drink more if food is cheap – (although they might drink more alcohol) but they might well buy more clothes or CDs of the price drops. The way this is described technically is how ‘elastic’ the demand is. But what the relationship between price and quality is, is much more complicated. For example no one suspects a cheap flight on Ryan air – which may cost £1 is any less safe than a similar flight from BA which might cost £300 – even if it is less comfortable. There are other safeguards to guarantee certain minimum standards of safety. But, the price of a hotel will pretty much always guarantee something – unless of course there’s a special offer! So it is not at all straightforward.
If you consider a language school – there is a minimum standard you can expect to find - this would be an accreditation by the British Council. This will guarantee teachers have certain qualifications, classrooms have only so many students in them, there are books and enough staff to provide a good service. To understand what happens next you really have to understand how a school works. Probably 30-35% of the total costs goes on teachers, the same on other staff, 20-25% on rent or premises costs and the rest on everything else! This means that if a school is very cheap it is either paying staff a small amount, in very cheap premises, doesn’t have enough staff, or has very big classes! There is really no other place to save any money. So you can find a sort of minimum – and when you find schools offering courses for £500 a year you have to draw your own conclusions. At the other end of the scale expensive schools may be paying their staff more, or may have beautiful premises or facilities or may just be making huge profits. You also have to consider competition – for example in London with dozens of schools the competition may itself force the prices down.
So, what should you look for. I’d suggest that you will not necessarily learn more in the more expensive schools. Once you understand that, if it was me and my money then I’d visit a few – or talk to them and look at their websites and if possible talk to other students. There’s no harm in sending emails asking questions and seeing how long it takes to get an answer or whether the answer is personal and useful. I’d also talk to some agents who sell different schools if I wasn’t in England – after all it’s their business to recommend schools that students are going to be happy with. Personally I’d be looking for a school which offered good value for money but which was not too cheap. I’d want to know whether there were good computer and internet facilities and what the average class size was. I’d also want to know what the school policy was on limiting particular nationalities so I didn’t end up in a school full of people speaking the same language.
Price would just be one of the factors in me deciding where to go!