How lockdown has transformed adult learning

For the last five years the Berkshire School of English has been delivering face-to-face adult English courses in Newbury, Lambourn, Thatcham and Calcot.  Brexit hit us hard with a loss of around 60% of our business.  This was mainly due to migrant workers who stopped coming to the UK for a gap year and who had historically studied with us for around a year before returning to their home countries.

Monday 9 March 2020 will forever be etched in my mind.  The news was full of stories about the Coronavirus and one of my teachers called in sick with symptoms.  I remember thinking that this was not just a simple case of finding a cover teacher.  My teacher had been in contact with me and other members of our school.  The implications were unthinkable.  Notwithstanding, I had to face them and so I took the extremely difficult decision there and then to close my school for the foreseeable future, one week before the official lockdown.

I remember getting home and sitting at my desk, shell-shocked.  I had just closed my school.  No students, no income.  I took a piece of paper, and in capital letters, I wrote ‘EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED, AND NOTHING WILL BE THE SAME AGAIN’.  That was my starting point and the beginning of a new chapter for the Berkshire School of English.

Ironically, when I founded the school in 2015, I wrote these words ‘about-me’ on our website, they are still there today:  “I love information technology and believe that location should not restrict access to learning. I strongly believe that online learning will become just as popular, if not more so than face-to-face learning in the very near future and for that reason we will continue to develop our online learning provision.” I couldn’t have known that 5 years later the school would transition to doing just that, completely.   I honestly believe that the pandemic has changed adult classroom learning for the foreseeable future and possibly forever. 

So, five months later I am delighted to say that The Berkshire School of English is very much open for learning! We are now a fully integrated online school. Even those with the lowest level of English are joining us for motivating, weekly topic-based lessons, face-to-face with our incredible teachers. We offer a fusion of traditional teaching with today’s new virtual learning expectations.  Technology allows us to reach a world-wide community and continue to bring learners the very best of everything we do through real ‘live’ online learning. 

In July, we received the fantastic news that we have been granted funding from two local authorities.   This will provide online English/ESOL and Digital Skills, free of charge, to eligible residents of West Berkshire and Reading.  This is especially good news for our vulnerable learners and those with a BAMER background who are at a much higher risk of catching the virus.  It also means that learners previously geographically excluded from our courses, can now attend them.  For learners who are unsure of this way of studying, we welcome friends/family members or key workers to sit alongside them (social distancing permitting) during the lessons until they feel able to do this on their own.

Becoming a virtual school has been a monumental transition for us. The BSE team have been incredible in embracing the changes and making this happen, I am so proud of them.  The best moment was when I dropped into a virtual lesson with three newly arrived refugee families who had little English; I could see them all smiling and participating in their lesson either on their phones or laptops.  I knew then that we had made the right decision.

None of us know what the future will bring, but I do know that The Berkshire School of English will continue to do what we do best, to inspire, empower and enable people to enrich their lives through English communication.

Clare Middleton
Berkshire School of English


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