As Language School Winds Up, Employees Left Wondering About Pay and Students About Fees

Roy Willoughby learnt that The English Studio – where he had worked for six years – was in liquidation though a colleague, who had learnt about it online.

“Shame on you that we should have learned this online, instead of being informed by managers,” says Willoughby, a retired RTÉ broadcaster and, until recently, an English language teacher.

The English Studio is housed in a now-shuttered angular corner building on Jervis Street in the city centre. It’s part of the Kinlay Group, owned by investors David Andrews and Michael Tunney show company filings from last year.

Workers got an inkling something was up when their wages didn’t hit their accounts on payday, which normally falls on the 27th of each month, says Willoughby. Staff still haven’t been paid and hundreds of students at the school were shocked by the closure too, he says.

Other language schools will have to teach those students now, under an agreement facilitated by the industry body, Marketing English in Ireland (MEI).

But those students who have paid, but have not yet arrived in Ireland, are not covered by that deal, says David O’Grady, CEO of MEI.

Andrews, one of the owners of the Kinlay Group blamed “the tsunami of effects related to the Covid-19 pandemic” for the closure of most of the companies in the group.

Paid in Advance

Members of Marketing English in Ireland (MEI), an industry body, have a deal in place that when language schools close unexpectedly, students enrolled in that school will transfer to others for their courses.

As The English Studio was a member of MEI, students already attending will be transferred for free to other schools in Ireland, says O’Grady, CEO of MEI.

There were 323 students in the English Studio when it closed, says O’Grady but many of them were coming close to the end of their courses when they have holidays, he says.

MEI is in the process of securing new schools for 172 students who need to be transferred, he said.

“Naturally, it is very upsetting when a good school goes out of business, leaving students and staff stranded,” says O’Grady. “ It was very bad treatment that English Studio staff who had worked during the month of March were not paid.”

In a time of crisis all efforts should have been made to ensure that staff were paid for the work they had done, he says.

But students not currently in Ireland – who have paid thousands upfront already – will not be protected under this agreement, says O’Grady. One student overseas said she doesn’t know what’s going to happen.

On 12 March, the Department of Education told schools to close, including English language schools.

On 17 March, Willoughby said that he and the majority of teachers at The English Studio were temporarily laid off due to the Covid-19 crisis.

They were told this was temporary and that normal classes would get up and running once the crisis ended, he says.

Photo by Lois Kapila

Willoughby says he was owed for three weeks’ teaching and is entitled to two weeks’ pay as notice, and holiday pay.

He expected all of that in his wages, he says. But like all the 31 workers in The English Studio, he got nothing, he says.

Some other staff were owed more, he says, as they’d kept teaching classes online even after the school closed.

Meanwhile, on 18 March, The English Studio sent around a promotional offer, promising a €580 discount for students already in Dublin to re-enrol for another six months, an email shows.

Willoughby says he believes that the manager of The English Studio in Dublin didn’t know anything about the upcoming liquidation.

That could be why they were still selling courses and doing promotional offers throughout March, he says.

The English Studio had lost its recognition from the Department of Justice late last year, says O’Grady of MEI. This held them back from selling to those students that required visas and was a significant blow to its business.

Andrews and Tunney did not respond to a series of questions about staff wages, and what would happen to students who had paid in advance but have not yet arrived in Ireland.

The Kinlay Group

A sister company of The English Studio, the student travel agency USIT has also gone into liquidation.

In a statement on the company website on 27 March, David Andrews, one of the owners of the Kinlay Group said that “only a short few weeks ago, both USIT and the English School were trading well and we had exciting plans for the future”.

But the impacts of the pandemic “have left us with no business whatsoever and no possibility of overcoming these challenges”, said Andrews’ statement.

According to O’Grady of MEI, The English Studio had 323 current students, who had paid deposits for their six-month courses in advance and 172 of those have a significant amount of time left, he says.

Andrews didn’t respond to queries as to how this fit with the suggestion it had been left with no business.

According to the USIT statement, Teach & Travel, an online business for teaching English based in Leeds and also part of the Kinlay Group, is unaffected and continues to trade normally.

Big Business

David Andrews, one of the owners of The English Studio, is also the owner of Lioncourt Investments, the company’s website says.

Lioncourt’s portfolio includes a property development company and part-ownership of Valeo Foods, which has a turnover of more than €900 million, and a bunch of well-known brands such as Chef, Bachelors, Odlums and Kelkin.

The other owner of The English Studio, Michael Tunney, also owns a large chain of language schools called British Study Centres – mostly in Britain but with one school in Mountjoy Street in Dublin.

According to accounts filed in the UK for 2018, Tunney and other investors put €3.9 million into British Study Centres that year to fund its development. Tunney didn’t respond to questions about whether any of those businesses will be impacted.

[CORRECTION: This article was updated at 08:36 on 8 April 2020 to reflect that Willoughby’s colleague learnt that The English Studio was in liquidation online, but not through a new article. We apologise for the error.]

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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