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Starting Your Child at a French School

Wednesday 15 August 2007

Getting your child successfully integrated into a French school is not something you should leave to chance.

Whilst in many areas of France schools make a real effort to integrate new arrivals from abroad into the school system, the process is very variable across the country.

In some schools, special arrangements may be made for your child to be taught the French language on an intensive basis with other new arrivals before they join the main class, or for special French lessons to be given out of school hours, or in lieu of other subjects.

Thus, where there are at least three pupils in a school who do not speak French as their mother tongue, a school is able to request special teaching assistance to assist with the integration of these children.

Nevertheless, you may also be simply left to your own devices, and you will need to make your own arrangements for ensuring your child is competent in the French language!

You may well come across schools that include ‘International’ or 'European' Sections in a school. Do not be misled by the nomenclature. Whilst these sections do have some classes in a foreign language, it may not necessarily be English, and the purpose of the classes is as much to assist French children with an understanding of other languages and cultures as to assist those from abroad.

The best advice that can be given in considering your child’s schooling in France is not to rely on the school to sort the problem for you. Try and start your child in a French school as young as possible, and arrange for them to receive private French language lessons.

Opinions differ on the latest you can leave the entry of your child into a French school, because all children are different, and school practices differ.

However, many expats consider that sending a child to a French school beyond the age 8 years, without any prior knowledge of the language, is going to make it very difficult for them.

Even at this age, special language classes are going to be imperative. One of the major risks your child will face is in having to re-sit their year, because of insufficient academic or language progress.

If this occurs then they are going to be faced with the double jeopardy of not only adjusting to a new language and culture, but also the risk of suffering a sense of failure.

If your child then becomes unhappy about living in France, your own dreams may be placed in jeopardy.

For older children, then probably the best solution would be to relocate to an area where there are English language International Schools, such as Paris, Nice, Toulouse or Bordeaux.

We would be interested to have your feedback on this whole topic in our Forum pages, as your own experiences can only benefit those who follow you.

You can read more about schooling in France in our guide to French School Education.

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