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?