Posted by / Category London /

Over dinner, the other day, I was told that a French primary school that had opened recently in Ealing (West London) was already oversubscribed. Because apparently, all French schools are. I couldn’t believe it. Obviously, because I was French (or was it because of my French accent? I will never know), my interlocutor had assumed that I was sending my children to a French school. The thing is, I was not. I was brought up in the French system, and we sent our older one to a British nursery, because the French Lycée was oversubscribed (unless you had friends in high places, that was, but we didn’t. I am told that, following a certain Ofsted report, the transparency of the admission process has greatly improved). I must admit that I was extremely disappointed at first, but as she was clearly thriving, we ended up keeping her in the British system, where she so clearly belonged. We didn’t hesitate for our younger daughter: she went straight to a British nursery. To us, it was all about having happier children.

It got me thinking: if the French love London so much, why do they absolutely want to send their children to a French school? To me, the whole point of living in London is to embrace its international vibe, and have as open as possible an education. The French education is very academic, with a strong emphasis on maths, and I certainly wouldn’t praise it for its international awareness and open attitude. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to study, live and work in France, then you should go for it. But for a truly international experience and a stronger business acumen, in my view nothing beats British schools in London.

Maybe the French choose such schools because they only will stay a couple of years, in which case it makes sense to keep the same curriculum than at home. Maybe it is for the children to be really bilingual. It is true that sending the children to British schools means that I have to try speak French at home to maintain my daughters’ bilingualism (sometimes with limited success). That said, what I love about British schools is that kids try a bit of everything, and the emphasis on sport and art is really strong, which I find great! I also like the fact that learning, as much as possible, is done by playing or experimenting. Finally, children are taught to be confident and to present their various projects to the whole class from a very young age. I was pleasantly surprised that my daughters started doing ‘Show and tells’ from the age of 4. I have never heard of something similar in France. There is also a real sense of community in British schools: at school, with the assemblies and the various activities, but also outside of school, with the other parents. I don’t remember having this in France.

A French mum explained to me that she considered the British system to be ‘too soft’, and that it would be impossible for her offspring to go back to the French system after a few years in a British school.

She might well have a point, but I thought that she sounded a tad arrogant (Is it me? Am I becoming that British?). That said, anyone who has been through the 7+ and 11 + entrance exams knows that the British system is very academic too, probably with a stronger emphasis on humanities and presentation skills than the French one. Let’s be clear, a child attending a French school doesn’t stand a chance at such exams. 

Suffice to say that, in spite of everything I have heard against the British system (uniforms, single sex…), it works for us. After all, it is all about finding the right school for the right child, right?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London
  • I completely agree with you about finding the right school for the right child. When we moved to France from Scotland, I was told by the French LEA that I should enroll my children at an international school because they were bilingual. We didn’t. We signed them up in our local village school so that their friends would be local. They have followed the French system all the way through, and our eldest has just got his Bac and has started a DUT course. So it worked. All three children got looked at strangely because they spoke English fluently though, and generally either scared the crap out the English teacher when they opened their mouths, or were immediately enrolled as “teacher’s helpers”.

    • This is hilarious, because we have exactly the same over here with French! I think that it makes sense to go to a local school if you really want to understand a place. That said, it all depends on the circumstances, right?

  • I think my boys would have been happier in a British school, but it just wasn’t possible. My eldest has skimmed his way through the local French schools, scraped his Bac and is now happily ensconced in the Law Fac.

    My youngest is in 4e and not really enjoying it. But he does have his mates there and they all see each other outside school and at footie so it could be worse. Actually, I’m just glad they are not starting school because there’s some weird stuff going on in the education system, and standards are levelling downwards.

    • Thankgs are changing fast. I really believe that the French system caters for very specific profiles, and that it you don’t fit in, well, you will be left outside.

  • We’ve put our kids in the local school in Ireland. The only people I know who put their kids in the French school were employees of the embassy, or people who knew they were here only for a year or two, their children were older and they just wanted a continuity. I’m happy my kids are in the Irish system, it is very different from the French, so I’m kind of learning with them!

    • Same here. I especially enjoy learning about British literature…

  • I have to admit I’m not sure what it means when you say the schools are “oversubscribed”. Does that mean there’s too many kids? If so, I assume the schools you’re talking about are private schools, or maybe the public schools have too many kids per class; no idea. lol

    • Yes, it means that there are too many kids. In Ealing for instance, there was 4 applications for one spot. French schools are indeed private, but cheaper than the private British schools, because they are subsidised by the French government. That said, most French expats manage to negotiate the fact that the school fees will be paid by the employer.

  • I like a school that produces a well rounded child, not one that only focuses on academics, but one that encourages kids to think outside the box and be artistic and creative.

    • Well, don’t choose a French school then! Been there, done it. Just take my word for it.

  • Anonymous

    I have the perfect solution for bilingual children… Dover College is a British school with a CNED curriculum for pupils in 6eme to 4eme so it’s the best of both worlds! Here is the link to the website:
    With the high speed link from London St Pancras Dover is only an hour away.