Southern France - school/location recommendations & advice please

(25 Posts)
ScooterKid Wed 13-Mar-13 22:00:29

Dear all,

We (dh and 4dcs 6 and under) will be moving to the south of France in 18 months time for a few years. we're reasonably flexible in terms of location, we would just love to find a nice school that would be welcoming (state or private but not international). Anyone have any recommendations?

Thank you!

OP’s posts: |
anonymosity Thu 14-Mar-13 00:50:04

Not got any school recommendations but I loved Avignon and Grasse as well as Nice.

Bonsoir Fri 15-Mar-13 14:09:36

When you say "not international" do you mean not international as in fee-paying Anglophone schools, or do you also include French schools with international sections ie 1/4 of the day in another language?

ScooterKid Sat 16-Mar-13 21:05:35


Thanks for your replies!

Bonsoir - when I say not International I mean that we are looking for a 'French' school I.e. a school that follows a French curriculum, whether state or private, and therefore our kids would be immersed in the French language and culture fully (I would expect to keep up their English reading and writing at home).

We are at a loss as to where to focus our search, and thought that considering a school first might be a good place to start. I'm aware that most people follow the state system, but I was wondering whether a private school might offer more pastoral care to our kids who don't currently speak the language. Perhaps that is nonsense? Would I be right in thinking that all the private schools are religious? This would not concern me - though it might not be welcomed as we are not a religious family.

OP’s posts: |
Bonsoir Sat 16-Mar-13 21:10:37

If you want a French school, you should know that any house you rent/buy will be within catchment for a state school and that's the one your DCs will be allocated. You will have no choice in the matter. The only way to opt out is by sending your DCs to a private school, of which 95% are Catholic schools and 5% are other religions or bilingual schools ("sections internationales").

I would highly recommend you look into French schools with a "section internationale". They tend to be more flexible and understanding towards DC who don't speak French and help them along, and you will meet other like minded parents.

List of schools with "sections internationales"

Bonsoir Sat 16-Mar-13 21:14:24

You should also be aware that, while state schools are obliged to take in children who are allocated to them, whether or not they speak French, Catholic private schools are selective, frequently oversubscribed and unlikely to want to take in DCs who don't speak any French.

happily3 Sat 16-Mar-13 21:14:35

I'd try to find a school where there are few if any other English children - it should give you a better chance of integrating with the local community


Bonsoir Sat 16-Mar-13 21:16:00

Why do you think that, happily3? I tend to find that the opposite is true: schools with plenty of non-French children are in more open-minded communities and more welcoming to foreigners.

ScooterKid Sat 16-Mar-13 21:39:00

Bonsoir - thanks for the link. Do schools with Sections Internationales teach in French? I'm not sure how they operate.

From looking into French schools I'm not aware of any OfSted equivalent so knowing the standard of a school before joining I would guess is no easy task? I suppose I was thinking that maybe we need to consider an area (any suggestions?!) and looking into its villages and towns and then renting near to an interesting school

OP’s posts: |
Bonsoir Sat 16-Mar-13 21:43:28

Yes, schools with Sections Internationales are French schools (some are state and some are private) that follow the French NC; however, there are modifications to the curriculum and the timetable to allow for about 1/4 of school time (in primary) to be in another language. Many "sections internationales" are in schools where not all DC are in the "section internationale" and are working in French for 100% of the time.

No OFSTED and no published information about schools in France! You really need to find someone who lives in the area you are interested in who can give you the lowdown. I'm in Paris and don't know anyone much in the South. You could try tracking down AuldAlliance, a poster on MN, who lives in Aix-en-Provence (I think). Certainly down south somewhere.

Bonsoir Sat 16-Mar-13 21:48:33

Mougins and Valbonne bilingual primary (50/50 split I think)

natation Sat 16-Mar-13 22:10:32

Have to agree that having now helped out many families to find Dutch and French language schools where I live, that the ideal is a school which is used to foreigners, has an active Parents' Association where the main mums hopefully contain a few foreigners, where there is no dominant minority so that children don't go into their ghettos in the playground, where there at least a few other children who can speak your children's language. If you choose a school where 95% of the children are French Belgian or Flemish Belgian (where we live), then your time might be very lonely without no-one to talk to initially and no-one interested in play-dates which is indeed a bit "foreign" to many Belgian families. We ended up putting our children completely by accident in a school which ticks all the good boxes, so glad we did. On experience for us and many others, integration into French has been aided by having company in English.

Bonsoir Sat 16-Mar-13 22:16:07

To have some helpful English-speaking mothers who can give you the lowdown on how things work at school is priceless, IMO. It is so hard to understand how French schools work as they barely communicate with parents.

ScooterKid Sat 16-Mar-13 22:57:21

Thanks for all your comments. They are all very useful and making me think. Any further thoughts are gratefully received!

I have a horrible feeling that my thinking has been too simplistic. I'm feeling slightly panicky! My husband and I do speak French but it's been a long time since I lived in France so I am by no means confident. I know Aix-en-Provence and Avignon a little, but I have assumed that both areas would be far too pricey so I'm trying to think of somewhere to focus our search (but still in the South). Naively, I had thought the whole school question would be fairly straight-forward once I had decided on an area!

My eldest will be 7. Did any of you have any good coping strategies for your kids? I would imagine that learning a new language so intensively will have some issues.

OP’s posts: |
Bonsoir Sun 17-Mar-13 08:05:30

At 7, it will be HARD. Basically DC who go to maternelle from the outset aged 3 not speaking French are fine because with the right parental support they have 3 years in which to learn to speak French before having to learn to read, write etc. But joining CP or CE1 with no French is tough. Can I ask why you need to make this move?

natation Sun 17-Mar-13 08:39:20

I'm not in French but in Belgium, we still speak French here though!
I had children enter French school aged 3, 6 and 10. I chose (by accident) a school with 40% non Belgian children of 30+ nationalities and 20+ languages. It meant the school, whilst offering at the most only 2 hours a week of small group or individual French lessons for the new arrivals into primaire, the school is however quite used to coping with children arriving without French who are older than the age of 6. I think more than the school accepting these non French speakers, it's the fact the children nearly always find other children of their nationality and linguistic background in the school, the hard first few months sitting in a classroom understanding almost zero and at least counter-acted by having a few friends in the playground. I don't know of any children taken out of our primaire aged 6 to 12 years because they failed to learn French. It's not easy on the children, for our 10 year old, it took a on hour conversation between his teacher, me and him to get him to open his mouth and talk and contribute in class and that was a turning point. The 3 and 6 year olds adapted very quickly however, the 6 year old was even and continues to be the youngest in her year and also consistently 1st or 2nd in class, so I think her academic performance has carried her through, she's now 11 and could cope with being in the year above even, wish I could say that for the other children!

I'm not sure you'd find such a school as ours in the south of France, Brussels is so multi-national, it's got to be one of the easiest places to move non French speakers into a French school.

Bonsoir Sun 17-Mar-13 11:01:58

Yes, as natation so rightly points out, not all children are equal before the challenge of education in a language other than their mother-tongue. Very hard to know in advance how your own DC will adapt.

happily3 Sun 17-Mar-13 13:05:19

Hi Everyone.
I think this is an interesting thread with lots of valid thoughts. My comment above is based upon personal experience in France and elsewhere, I completely accept that it is just one opinion, and I definitely agree that some dcs are able to cope better with certain challenges than others.

I made the point because once there are several foreign dcs in a maternelle class there is a ‘danger’ that they will group together and end up not integrating quite so well. E.g. at playtime etc.. they will speak less French. Also the teacher might sit them together in class to ease the pressure on her/him.

Starting aged 7 the bonus will be that your dc will learn more French than your younger dcs at maternelle and become proficient in reading and writing as well.

It is excellent that you speak good French already.
I do hope it all works out well for you. Good luck!

Coping strategies/things to consider:
- Offering to help French dcs with their English might make you very popular if you have time ..?
- If you go for the all-French schooling, maybe find an English playgroup or society to go to with the children as well for light relief.

natation Sun 17-Mar-13 19:52:22

When our youngest daughter was in maternelle, there were about 12 languages and nationalities amongst the 25 children, there were never more than 2 children in each class who spoke the same language, the common language was French and that's what they used in the playground. I did see one year they but over half a dozen anglophones together and it's the only time I head English in the school to any great extent - I used to help at school during the day the year that happened, I can say it made the teacher frustrated, especially when 2 classes hardly had any anglophones in them, it was a blip, spaces came up in only one class and the anglophones filled them.

Our 7 year old never speaks to the anglophones in English, well hardly never. Our 11 year old speaks English to a few girls who joined the school later and do not have mother tongue level French although fluent, to other anglophones, she speaks French.

fraktion Sun 17-Mar-13 20:37:13

One of the issues with the south is it's quite closed off to newcomers outside the cities, but the cities are expensive. The same families have been around for donkeys years, networks of friends are well established, a lot of time is spent with family etc.

A section internationale, if English, will give your DC something they're good at which can boost their confidence, gives you access to teachers who speak English if your French breaks down and means other parents will be more open to things/people which aren't French.

There's an MNer who used to live in Montpelier as well as Auld in Aix.

ScooterKid Mon 18-Mar-13 23:07:32

Sorry I have not posted sooner - the remainder of the weekend was busier than expected!

Thanks again for the pointers (and encouragement! - Happily3)

Bonsoir - if I'm honest the only thing that is driving this move is the desire for an adventure and an opportunity to get to know France better (in time we'd love to buy, most likely as a holiday home as after a couple of years we may need to return to the UK). There is a sense of now or never, before our kids get too old to make the move potentially harder. I lived in France for a while in my late teens, I even taught English as an 'assistante anglaise' but for one reason or another the time has never really been right to go back until very recently. I think I'm rambling now...

On a practical level, how long does it take a child (on average) to get to grips with the language. I assume comprehension comes first, then speaking and finally reading/writing?

Do kids have friends round for tea after school like they do in the UK?!

OP’s posts: |
Bonsoir Tue 19-Mar-13 07:27:34

How long it takes DC to catch up will depend on many variables but IME a DC who arrives at French school from CP onwards not speaking any French and not living in a French speaking home and whose parents want to maintain the child's first language will take several years to catch up.

Weta Wed 20-Mar-13 10:06:58

I'm the one who used to live in Montpellier smile

I can't really help on the language front as my DC are bilingual anyway and we moved to France when the oldest was 18 months (and left when he was nearly 6).

As far as cities/places to live go, we loved Montpellier and found the people comparatively friendly (caveat to this is that I don't find people in France particularly friendly at the start, it does take quite a while to get to know them) and down-to-earth, and it seemed a much less snobby place than Nice, for example. As I say, it took a while to make friends but we did make some very good friends there. I used to go to an English-speaking playgroup, but generally didn't feel there were all that many English-speaking people around.

The school week is very different to the UK - for instance in maternelle/primary they currently do Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri from 8.45 to 16.45 with a 2-hour break for lunch (they can either go home or eat at the canteen), with Wednesdays off. This is about to change though, either this Sept or next year depending on the place -- I'm a bit hazy about the details as it doesn't really concern us any more.

It means there isn't really time for playdates etc after school as it is already very late. Children generally do activities on Wednesdays and there may be scope for playdates then too. Though we often found that a few local mums would end up in the park after school on the way home, so it just depends.

My son went to a private Catholic school (not v expensive, about 40 euros a month) with maternelle and primary. I had many reservations at the beginning about school in France starting at age 3 and being very structured and rigid, but I was very impressed by the school and the teachers. V different to my own experiences though - they lock the gate at 9am and parents aren't really welcome in the school, but that's just France. There were no other English-speaking children.

Good luck with working it out and do ask if you want any more info about Montpellier. One other piece of advice - I would do some research (or ask here) about the differences between the French and UK education systems as it can be a big shock. It's much less child-centred and really quite rigid and hierarchical, with a big focus on things which I regard as unimportant. It has its good points too, of course, but it's important to know what you're letting yourself in for.

TheAccidentalEgghibitionist Fri 22-Mar-13 15:30:35

Hi ScooterKid I'm in Toulouse in the south of France. My DS does go to an international school here. I know there are a selection of schools on the outskirts of the city though with either a section Internationale or that have a programme to develop French language for international children to help them integrate into French school.
Lots of people prefer them as the system works very well. Toulouse has a large international community because of the aeronautical industry (especially Brit, American and German families) so the education system is well geared up to cope.
That doesn't necessarily mean that it feels like little England, it depends where you live. The other benefit is that there are lots of mums and tots groups and after school activities for children, which is unusual in France.
I agree with Weta it's a good idea to research the French education system so that you feel comfortable that your children will be happy and able to cope with the different style of teaching.

AuldAlliance Sat 23-Mar-13 08:47:30

Just seen this.
I'm near Aix, can't afford to actually live there as prices are 2nd only to Paris and I'm only a university lecturer with 15 yrs' experience hmm. This is a very nice part of the country, but the locals are indeed not all that friendly. I've made some really good friends, but not a single one was born or grew up here. Schools vary wildly, it's hard to give a generic answer as Southern France is a big area.
If you have any specific questions, I'm happy to answer them - maybe this evening, though, as DS1 has his birthday party this afternoon...
<<rushes off to scatter treasure hunt clues>>

Join the discussion

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Join Mumsnet

Already have a Mumsnet account? Log in