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Options beyond the local state school

Sending your child to the nearest state school - whether école, collège or lycée - is the natural reflex in France.

Sending your child to the nearest state school - whether école, collège or lycée - is the natural reflex in France. However it is not the only option and alternatives are not just for the well-off, writes SAMANTHA DAVID

SOMETIMES it is only when the first school report of the year arrives on the doormat that parents realise there is a problem. Some glitches can be fixed, but what if it becomes clear that your child is simply in the wrong school?

In France, the first stop for schooling is usually the local state comprehensive, and many Anglo-French and British kids do very well at them. If however, that is not the case, one alternative to explore is a Catholic school if there is one nearby.

Catholic schools in France are run along very similar lines to state schools and are open to children of all religious backgrounds. The curriculum is the same as in a state school save for the addition of religious instruction (Catholic, naturally). Fees are so low as to be symbolic, because most of these schools are government funded. The main difference is often perceived to be that the pupils are pushed harder and that there is more discipline in the school and in the schoolyard.

If there is not a Catholic school in the area, or this does not appear to be the solution you are looking for, some state comprehensives also offer the possibility of weekly boarding for a reasonable fee (paid by the caisse des allocations familiales - Caf - on behalf of modest-income families). This means you could investigate furtherflung state schools, perhaps in a neighbouring town.

You might even find that this opens up possibilities of your child attending a European or international section. These are specialist language sections within state schools.

Sections européennes exist in German, English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese and Russian. Similar sections for oriental languages exist in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese.

They function both at collège and lycée level and are not fee-paying or selective entry. Pupils can apply for these sections if they can show an aptitude or serious motivation for the language they want to study.

They offer an extra two hours of language study a week plus reinforced cultural studies and, in lycée, some hours of teaching a non-language subject in the foreign language. This leads to a normal baccalauréat with the additional mention section européenne or section de langue orientale followed by the language choice.

For more intensive language teaching, you might want to find a section internationale. These exist in German, US English, UK English, Arabic, Chinese, Danish, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and Swedish.

They go from primary school through to lycée and in the English versions offer four extra hours of English a week plus four of History/Geography in English. This leads to the OIB (option internationale du baccalauréat), which may be an advantage when applying to Englishspeaking universities.

Although this option favours pupils with a foreign mother tongue (ie English), because the foreign language component of the OIB counts for 40% of the final marks, it is not an easy option.

It can however be a lifesaver because the English classes are taught by British teachers, trained in the UK, and using British methods.

Some international sections charge a fee, which can be very variable, as each section is funded differently. However they are always under €3,000 a year because you do not pay for the element of schooling outside the international section.

There are far fewer sections internationales than européennes, so be prepared to throw your net wide and apply to as many as possible, as soon as possible as competition for places can be fierce.

There are also British and American “international schools”. These are completely private (unlike most Catholic private schools, which have a contract with the state) and are prohibitively expensive for many people unless you can persuade your company to pay the fees. Googling “international schools in France” is a good place to start.

Very often these schools offer the UK curriculum taught by British teachers, leading to A-levels (others teach towards the international baccalaureate, which has no connection with the French state exam).

This can be a good solution if your stay in France is likely to be temporary as it means your children will be able to slot back into UK schools when you go home.

It may be a less happy choice if you stay in France long-term however, as your children may learn French more slowly or not at all, will not absorb so much French culture, and will not make so many French friends.

Some people go even further however, and plump for a British boarding school. The drawbacks are obvious but some families find it works for them, and it may be a cheaper option than a private international school in France if your child gets a bursary or a scholarship.

Finally, there is always the option of home schooling. It is possible to do this by choosing your own books and teaching methods, or you can do it via the CNED (The Centre National d’Enseignement à Distance).

The principle is that the pupil receives instruction manuals to work through and homework assignments to complete and send back. (As in an ordinary school, you have to buy the necessary reference books yourself.) Homework is then marked and returned and a bulletin sent home three times a year. The advantage of home schooling via the CNED is that a child can subsequently fit back into mainstream schooling, and will be on course to pass the brevet (at the end of collège) and bac (at the end of lycée).

The disadvantage is that if the French academic approach did not work for your child, this is unlikely to be any better. If however, the problem was more learning the language and fitting in with peers, then following the CNED could be a way of a child catching up at their own pace.Writing your own curriculum is an option, especially if you have experience in education.

It is important however, to keep an eye on the exams your child might need to pass because France is a strictly organised country and however brilliant your children may be, if they do not have the right exam passes, they will not get the training college or university place they want, let alone the job.

Researching all possibilities is time-consuming and might be confusing at times but it is worth persevering because there is an educational solution for every child. It is just a matter of finding it.

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