Multum in parvo is an academic Latin tag, which roughly translated into a modern idiom means "Good things come in small packages". This is absolutely right for the Cambridge Academy of English (CAE), which last year celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of its establishment in Girton as an English-language teaching institution. It has not, however, become a huge languages production line like certain others, but has grown into a closely focused and highly successful specialist teaching centre which attracts able and well-qualified students from all over the world.
Located in one of Girton's best architectural buildings (the white-painted Old Rectory dates from the late eighteenth century), CAE has a mini-campus where the Cambridge Road meets the High Street. The administrative offices, seminar and common rooms are in the sympathetically adapted main house. But unseen from the main road, the site also contains a professional studies block in the renovated old stables, a modern teaching building, a self-access study centre including a library and multi-media suite, a refectory block, a student club, and a separate hall for larger meetings and gatherings, all surrounded by verdant gardens and a croquet lawn.
As an independent English Language Teaching (ELT) academy, CAE provides a variety of courses for a range of age groups. Its major course is for pre-university foreign students wishing to obtain the IELTS certificate of English Language proficiency or Cambridge University certificates, supplementing their own national qualifications, often in order to enter a British university. Such programmes can last up to a year, and are supported by a range of individually tailored learning initiatives of varying lengths to meet specific needs. All tie into the current government initiatives to encourage British universities to recruit more overseas students in competition with countries such as the US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Numbers on all these courses vary across the year, but typically range from 60 to 100 at any one time.
Equally important are language courses ("English with Confidence") for professionals, particularly in the legal and business spheres, where courses are tailored to individual capabilities and corporate/career needs of companies and their executives on international assignments. Such programmes typically last between a week and a month, and include professional contacts and discussions in Cambridge and London. Total numbers are restricted to 19 at any time, and the tutors have relevant professional qualifications in addition to their language teaching expertise.
Across the summer vacation, programmes include younger learners' residential courses ("England at its Best") located away from Girton at Moreton Hall near Bury St Edmunds for 9 to 13s, and at the Princess Helena College at Hitchin for 14 to 16s. Administering all these complex arrangements are Ann Stevenson (Registrar) and Sarah Overton (Admissions Officer) who are based in a calm and orderly office in Girton while dealing with students from across the world.
Where do students come from to CAE? The range is astonishing - over 75 countries in all. But the main sources are Europe (Italy, Spain, and Germany in particular), the Far East (Japan, Korea and Thailand) and Latin and South America (Brazil especially). Teaching groups at CAE are small (not exceeding 12), resulting in individual learning. Standards of quality are ensured by inspection and accreditation every four years by the British Council (in a similar way to OFSTED), and CAE is a member of English UK and other international professional bodies.
The philosophy of CAE is to promote language skills through a real appreciation of the British way of life and culture. "England is our classroom" is the watchword. And true to this belief, there is an extensive programme of social, sporting (including croquet) and recreational activities for students to enjoy. Weekend cultural excursions are organised to very British places as far away as Brighton and Edinburgh.
But central to CAE's philosophy is the Homestay programme. Almost all CAE students live in local homes, as guests and members of families - experiencing English food, conversation, television and all aspects of our way of life. In this way, understanding is deepened and friendships are created - some of which flourish over many years. Host families are all close to CAE, from Thornton Road in the deep south to Oakington High Street in the far north - all within walking distance. Between 70 and 120 families welcome CAE students at any one time, not only bringing the economic advantages of significant income, but also providing companionship, cultural diversity and intellectual stimulation for Girton's adults and children alike. The criteria for becoming a host family are strict, although luxury is not required. Against this background, there are numbers of families who welcome students over periods of many years with much satisfaction. The Accommodation Officer is a key person in the CAE's success, and this job has been very capably filled for the past 18 years by Lesley Tabor, who has become known in the process to countless Girton households and thousands of appreciative students across the world.
Apart from the Homestay programme which generates over £0.5 million annually for Girton households, CAE brings many economic and social benefits to Girton. Economically, as a business with an annual turnover well in excess of £1 million, it employs some 20 people full time and many other support personnel, especially in peak periods. Most staff are long-serving and live locally, and CAE makes a point of recruiting from local sources as far as possible for Girton-based jobs. Socially, integration on the part of students takes many forms, such as contacts with the churches, the Golf Club, the Barn Fitness Centre, the Pavilion, and musical and dramatic societies as well as youth groups.
Since 2003, the Principal has been Oakington resident John Barnett, a resourceful ELT professional who previously was Director of Professional Courses at CAE. With many years of experience in teaching English in France and Germany, he is only the third Principal in CAE's history. He emphasises that CAE's development has always been securely rooted in quality and a clear focus on defined groups of high calibre students. Rather than unrestrained expansion of numbers, he sees CAE's future as a medium-sized language academy with a stable mission in a fluctuating marketplace. He feels that much of its success relates to the holistic philosophy of "England is our classroom" and to its integration into Girton as a community and its traditional values. It is a symbiosis which is certainly working well.
Address: 65 High Street, Girton, Cambridge CB3 0QD
Telephone: 01223 277230/277262
'Focus on Girton' is a series of occasional articles on the public service, commercial, charitable and other organisations of Girton, for the information of local residents. Articles are written independently by members of the Editorial Staff of GPN, with the consent and cooperation of the organisations concerned. The selection of organisations featured in this series is entirely at the discretion of the Editorial Team. The articles do not in themselves represent an endorsement of the products or services of the organisation concerned. No connection exists between the publication of an article and any advertising in the GPN, and the article does not form part of any marketing or other promotional activity on the part of the organisation.