Two new series I am starting here is to feature the top international schools in London and to discuss excellent value for money if not free alternatives to private schools. One of the most popular alternatives to preparatory and private secondary schools is the French Lycee in London. It consists of the main secondary school Lycee Charles de Gaulle in South Kensington, but it also has four attached Lycee primaries in South Kensington, Clapham, Fulham and Ealing.
You may have heard from others that the French Lycee schools, particularly the one in South Kensington, are impossible to get into. I have heard even Russian multimillionaires and managing directors at investment banks expressing hope that their children could get into the South Kensington Lycee, to no avail (“the French Lycee in South Kensington is impossible to get into!”, I often hear them sigh). But I wouldn’t write this post if I didn’t know a way in, would I? Here’s how.
The most common route to the French Lycee is for French nationals resident in London to register as early as possible for entry into the Lycee. Even in the Lycee de Fulham, I have heard of French parents who couldn’t get their children in if they hadn’t registered them shortly after birth. The Lycee does reserve places for French nationals just moving to London, but for those already located in London, places are very tight (the precise admissions criteria give preference to siblings, then to French nationals arriving from France, followed by French citizens in London, followed by other francophone families – details in French here).
But given that places are restricted to French nationals, the Lycee realized it had a problem serving French families in London, particularly for those opting the A-Level route in the English section of the Lycee Charles de Gaulle: interacting solely with children of other French nationals at the French Lycee, many French parents in London were unhappy that their children did not learn English as well or make friendships with non-French children and many of them opted for international schools or private British schools to prepare their children for university life and the UK job market.
For that reason, in 2006, the French Lycee launched a new initiative at its primary school Ecole de Wix in Clapham: a cooperation with the local primary school WIX housed in the same building for a bilingual intake managed by the council. Each year, 28 children are accepted into the Reception class, 14 chosen by the Lycee Francais, 14 by the Wandsworth council according to the same process as other community primary schools, I.e. via proximity to the school. The great benefits of this bilingual track is that children can learn English and French equally well, share the classroom with a group of French, British and other international children, benefit from the high academic quality of the French Lycee education, and what’s more, have a guaranteed place reserved at the Lycee Charles de Gaulle for secondary transfer. This model has proven extremely successful in two ways – the academic standards are so good and pupils so motivated that in a standardized exam administered in all French schools in 2010, the bilingual Wix children outperformed average French primary pupils (see press report). In addition, places at the bilingual track, which is free of charge (as opposed to 600GBP charged to the Lycee intake), are so highly sought after that the catchment area has shrunk to a mere 0.2 miles. This is the downside – the intake is limited to those families living in a very small distance to the school, and with priority given to siblings, the catchment area is likely to shrink further.
Due to the Wandsworth council success, 2010 saw the launch of another bilingual track at the Ecole de Fulham in cooperation with the Holy Cross Primary school in Parsons Green. 28 students are admitted via catchment area and split up in two class of 14 each, to match them with another couple of 14 each chosen from the French Lycee intake. The popularity of this programme is growing fast, with the catchment area shrinking from 0.7m in the first intake that started in Sep 2010 to 0.5 miles in 20011 and less than 0.4m in this year’s intake, and it is likely that the catchment area will continue to shrink in coming years.
Moving into the catchment areas of these schools could get your child access to very good quality education, the opportunity to grow up fluent in English and French and benefit from a guaranteed place at the French Lycee in South Kensington for secondary transfer. Does that sound like a good alternative to private school to you? If this sounds interesting but you are not planning to move to Fulham or Clapham any time soon, I recommend watching the other Lycee primaries closely for similar bilingual programmes of this type, particularly the one in South Kensington.
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