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Is 6 too old to put a child into a non-English speaking school when that is her only language?

(99 Posts)
Boobz Mon 08-Oct-12 11:47:23

Will they cope, because kids just do?

I have 3 kids and want them all to go into the French system. They are currently 3.5, 2.5 and 7 months.

Due to a lot of boring policy / bureacracy, the children are likely to only enter a full French education when they are 6, 5 and 3. We are going to try to do it earlier, but we're unlikely to get them in to any Lycees in the UK because we are not French nationals, etc etc. We will apply, but I don't think it will work out.

However in 2015, when DD1 is 6, we will move abroad and will definitely be able to put her into a French school. Is this too old for her to go in - it is cruel to just expect her to pick it up, or am I underestimating childrens' abilities for languages? She would then stay in the French system until she finished her education...

If you think she could pick it up, how long would it take for her to be comfortable in French? A few months? A year? Or would she never sound properly native because of the late start?

Both DH and I are English speaking only (well, DH might say he has passable conversational French) and obviously this will be the only language spoken at home.


suchnonsense Thu 11-Oct-12 07:58:20

Hi - I have no knowledge or experience of foreign language schools, but thought I'd pop on to try to allay some of your Lambeth school-fears, as I noticed that you'll be moving back to Streatham. I'm not sure whereabouts in Streatham you'll be, but as far as I know, the primary schools near us are all very well thought of, not "failing" at all. The shortage of primary places in Lambeth is pretty shocking at the moment, but there are building projects all over - I know of at least three schools being either built from scratch, expanded onto additional sites or extended to hugely increase capacity - and that's just within half a mile of our house.
Just to say really, that you may find when you get back that the situation isn't quite as bad as you fear!

Also - I heard a rumour that Streatham is getting a Waitrose soon.....

happychappy Thu 11-Oct-12 08:00:23

I did it with my daughter at 7 in Italian, she was fluent by the time she was 71/2 my son was 3 at he took far longer to adapt/learn.

surroundedbyblondes Thu 11-Oct-12 08:11:27

Hi, I have no experience of what you're planning on doing, but we moved when our DDs were v small and they go to preschool in a language that I was not fluent in when when they first started.

I worked hard to acquire language skills with them (easier obviously when they're smaller) so that I would be able to communicate with teachers, school gate mums, friends etc.

I am glad that I did. Neither my kids nor I feel like outsiders now, and we have a good network of friends for support and fun. Being able to talk and participate in the school gate politics has helped me to understand the system and so for the kids and me to fit in.

LillianGish Thu 11-Oct-12 09:03:10

Excellent advice Natation - put your youngest in the maternelle at the Lycee Francais in Nairobi now (both mine started in Maternelle at 2.5). That way they'll learn French, get used to the French school environment and you'll find out if you like the French system. Then when you arrive in London you'll already have some possibility of a place at the Lycee Francais or one of it's feeder schools. You only need to get one in then you have sibling priority. I should add however though that every time you go on posting again and take the kids out you'll have to start all over again with the application process when you get back - with no guarantee of a place for all three straightaway. What concerns me about your plan is this: "If we go the French route, they will go to the private French school of our choice (within a certain £££ limit) both in the UK and at post, and thus don't have to board, and don't have to send to failing Streatham school." Your big plan for avoiding the schools in Streatham is based on the assumption that they will all three get a place in a French school on London. What happens (as is quite likely) if they don't? Or if one does and you are waiting a year for a place for the others? Your OP asks whether 6 is too late to pick up French - I don't think that will be a problem. What will be problem is that having picked it up, the moment you take them out of a French speaking environment they will just as quickly start to lose it. My dcs were effortlessly fluent in German when we lived in Berlin - in spite of being at a French school - but they soon lost it as soon as we came back to the UK. If neither of you is a French speaker I think it would be very hard - if not impossible - to keep your dcs up to standard in the UK.

wannaBe Thu 11-Oct-12 09:18:18

when I was nine we moved to South Africa. The school (the only one in the country for children with VI) was Afrikaans speaking. Added to that it was a boarding school.

So I went to boarding school, where I didn't speak the language and they didn't speak english, only returning home at weekends..

I was pretty fluent within about six months, and by the end of a year I spoke more Afrikaans than English - by the time my parents moved away and I became a term boarder the only people I actually spoke english to were my parents.

She will be fine. smile

natation Thu 11-Oct-12 09:37:17

Yes your children have a better than even chance of being quite able to learn French through immersion at a French school (plus ideally French after school too) but your problem is going to be able to keep them in French consistently throughout their school lives, you won't necessarily be able to CHOOSE a French school, they will be choosing your children, only if there are places. I think now is the time to do your research into AEFE schools around the world in the most likely posting locations and find out what their enrolments procedures are.

fargone Thu 11-Oct-12 09:52:13

I think you said you were trying to get them into the lycée to start with? We are a totally non french family and our kids are in the lycée - they told us we had, and I quote, ZERO percent chance of a place, but then a week after school started we got a spot (and lost the first term's fees at the other school but that was ok). Be persistent, stay on the phone, let them know if you have connections to the french community in London, let them know you are committed and you have a good reason for wanting to be there. They do need to have a few local families in the schools, and now that they have opened new primary schools in Fulham, there are more places. They have bilingual education there, too, at petite section level.

fargone Thu 11-Oct-12 09:53:40

Just read more of the comments above - just to point out, the lycee is really really french, and quite hard to navigate if no one in the family speaks fluent french. We are not french, but we both speak french and I don't know how we would have managed if we didn't.

Boobz Thu 11-Oct-12 10:23:02

Hi Fargone - thanks for the info! DH speaks French, but not fluent. I think we will be ok, and I am planning to start learning as well.

We are only here in Nairobi until early Jan, so we can't put them in the French school here unfortunately (they would only start us after half term and we are planning on taking some leave then before we head home).

I now need to think long and hard about whether the French system really is the best for the kids given all the negative things people have written here.

Suchnonsense - we are in the Ferrers' Triangle (Natal Road). My DH has a job interview for a Rome posting next week, but if he's not successful, then I will start the process of applying to schools near where we live. It's hard though, because I can't visit them / talk to the head teacher / get a feel for the schools as we are here and the applications close before we get home. So I'm going to have to do it all by Ofsted reports, friends' recommendations and so on, thousands of miles away. Sigh.

LillianGish Thu 11-Oct-12 10:31:49

So I'm going to have to do it all by Ofsted reports, friends' recommendations and so on, thousands of miles away. Sigh. And Mumsnet - absolutely brilliant for that sort of thing.

suchnonsense Thu 11-Oct-12 10:34:47

Ah - that's the other end of Streatham to us, although our son is in nursery on Lewin Road which is just one over from you!

From talking to other Mums I think there's a concentration of church schools around there, both Catholic and CofE - I don't know if that's a route you would go down. Also, I believe that Penwortham and Woodmansterne get good reports and they aren't too far away. As I say though, there's a lot of building going on at the moment, so the situation may look different soon.

Boobz Thu 11-Oct-12 10:51:50

Our nearest 4 schools are all church schools - and we can't send our kids to those ones (which really annoys me since our taxes pay for them but we're not religious enough for them - but that is a whole other thread). The other closest 2 schools in the previous 2 years were "failing". Penwortham is good and Woodmansterne is ok but both only accepted children within about 500m of their doors last year (I have the reports here telling me how close the last applicant lived for each school) and we are much further away than that from those schools. But thank you for trying to help! We'll just have to see what else is out there.

suchnonsense Thu 11-Oct-12 11:02:29

I hear you, in relation to church schools. I have no objection in principle, but since they have the luxury of being selective, it would be much fairer if they were more evenly spread out and mixed with the non-church schools. However, they seem to end up clustered together which results in a horrible catchment "black-hole" for the non-churchgoing.

Good luck!

natation Thu 11-Oct-12 15:50:52

I really can't see what is wrong with a church aided school. Religion is obligatory in all primaries in England, the content of the religion lessons at an Anglican or Catholic primary often has not huge difference to the content of religion lessons in an LEA controlled school. You know Anglican and Catholic schools study hinduism, Islam, Judaism as well as Christianity, likewise so do LEA controlled primaries.

As for selection, LEA controlled primaries are selective too no? They select on the grounds of proximity to school (and why shouldn't they) or on grounds of specific needs (looked-after children, special deaf units). If primary schools did not select their pupils on grounds of proximity, then you'd have a complete free-for-all.

Church schools are still state schools with 85% of budget coming from the LEA. Catholics, Anglicans, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, no faith, we all pay for these state schools. On the logic children should only attend schools their parents pay their taxes towards, then only Catholic tax payers would go to Catholic schools, Anglican ones to Anglican schools, Jewish to Jewish schools, Muslims to Muslim schools, now where do we put the children whose parents contribute virtually nothing in taxes such as asylum seekers, unemployed, those on sick benefits?

natation Thu 11-Oct-12 17:39:54

There is Ecole des Petits which is an AEFE school, cost just over 10k per year, or LF Wix up to 7k per year, both in the Battersea area.

natation Thu 11-Oct-12 18:29:04

It's not that hard to use the internet to research schools. Rightmove is great, it draws a map of local schools, you just then google the names and find their websites and also go to the OFSTED website. You communicate with heads via email and hope they answer back, explaining it's rather expensive to phone.

Here is a school about 600m from where you say you live, non church affiliated, has a GOOD ofsted rating.



natation Thu 11-Oct-12 18:34:13

Penwortham rated as SATISFACTORY
Woodmansterne rated as GOOD

natation Thu 11-Oct-12 18:42:43

All 3 of the church schools in that area of Streatham also score GOOD in ofsted reports.

So in 15 minutes, found 6 schools in the area, 5 are rated GOOD and 1 is rated SATISFACTORY. So far I've not managed to find a failing school, ie one rated UNSATISFACTORY and put in to special measures.

fargone Thu 11-Oct-12 19:31:26

Again I haven't read every comment but just to weigh in on the quality - the school is "old fashioned" in some ways - lots of memorization etc - but it is very good academically. It's fundamentally a public school so you do get big class, under-equipped etc but you also don't have the private school price tag. My daughter has been really really happy at the french school. I've found it a bit harder with my son who had some reading delays and focus issues, but now he's doing well too. He's at the fulham primary and that's a great school.

Boobz Thu 11-Oct-12 19:39:46

Sorry Natation - maybe I'm getting the wrong end of the stick, but are you saying we should try and send our child to one of the church schools near us?

natation Thu 11-Oct-12 20:32:59

I think you should consider all state schools, whether directly LEA controlled or Church Aided, before dismissing them. It just seems a bit sill to dismiss them immediately. As religion is taught in all state schools, the differences are often far smaller than outsiders imagine. You'll often find more differences between non Church schools next to each other than between Church and non Church schools next to each other. As the schools in Streatham are nearly all good on paper, why not take your time and think of a better reason to rule out from the beginning a church aided school other than its history as being founded as a church school. The Anglican ones in particular might have just a tiny percentage of children in them brought up as active Christians. I'd imagine they all contain quite considerable numbers of Muslim children, children from around the world of many nationalities and languages. I'd personally be more bothered if a school contained a huge percentage of non English speakers of one single language, than the religious content of lessons. Which one of these 2 factors are going to have more effect on the ability of a teacher to teach a class?

fraktion Thu 11-Oct-12 20:42:03

I think the problem with state church schools is usually less the family not liking the schooling than the school not liking a non-churchgoing family and the family not paying lip service to something they don't believe in so not going to church and not getting in.

That's certainly how it goes in the very oversubscribed church schools in my parents gone town.

natation Thu 11-Oct-12 22:12:35

It's important to see schools on their own merits and not judged on how other schools might operate in the same sector.

suchnonsense Thu 11-Oct-12 22:51:54

Natation, that is of course correct, if you assume that a parent has a choice about faith or non-faith. Unfortunately most faith schools operate a selection criteria which excludes those who are non-churchgoing (and not prepared to lie about it). So, if your closest 4 schools are faith schools, your nearest option might be a mile away, which in madly-oversubscribed Lambeth, is almost certainly too far to get a place (max around 500m is not unusual).

I have no issues with faith schools, per se, and believe that parents should be able to choose this route if they want to. However,by having different admissions criteria to other schools, they actually remove choice.

Boobz Fri 12-Oct-12 05:53:01

Natation, as others have said, I can't send my children to the faith schools, because I need a letter from a vicar saying I have attended church for the past two years. I have not. I would LOVE to send my children to one of these schools, as they are invariably better than anything else nearby, and are the closest schools, but I'm not allowed. I am not dismissing them, they are dismissing me because I don't believe in God / go to church.

Last year, the last child to get in on distance for Penwortham was 487m, and Woodmansterne was 647m. I live approx 1km+ from both.

So out of the 6 schools you found for me, only 1 is actually an option, and I will of course have to consider it. Ofsted reports are not gospel: Granton does not have a great reputation but perhaps it has improved since we left, I can only hope so! But what you found in 15 minutes, I was able to discount nearly 85% of due to faith / distance in 15 seconds.

Anyway, we have digressed certainly from the thread topic! Thank you for all your help and suggestions: a lot to think about. I’m sure wherever DD ends up, she will make the most of it, and so will we.

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