‘French School Mistress’ – October (II), 2004
My stepson Hugo will be 13 next year and has been offered a place at Eton. There are two reasons he won’t be going. One, it costs a fortune. Two, almost more crucially, his chances of getting into university afterwards will be diminished if he goes to public school. Is it worth us spending a fortune on his education if it isn’t actually going to help him get into a decent university? Surely the whole point of private education is to give them more of a chance when it comes to degree level?
I have started to look into the alternatives for Hugo in France. In total there are around 25 international schools here. Some of them, like the British School of Paris, offer a British education up to A-Levels. You can even play cricket there. According to Richard Woodhall, Head of the Senior School, their aim is to provide a totally British education away from home. “Although we have pupils from 55 countries here, this is an English education in France,” he says. “Parents looking for that should beware of some of the international schools that purport to offer that but are in fact French with just a bit of English on the side.” The fees at the British School of Paris for a 13-year old are €15,500 a year. Your child could also live with a host family close to the school at an additional cost of about €600 a month. The total cost then is about €22,700 or about £15,000. A lot less than Eton but still not a steal.
If you feel like educating your child among the jet-set of the Riviera there is the Mougins School near Cannes. The fees are less than in Paris, €11,250 a year, but again you would have to factor in the cost of a host family. “We have students from 22 countries who end up in universities all over the world,” says Sue Dunnachie, Marketing Consultant at the school. “I think in terms of the British universities coming from an international education is an advantage. One of our students has just got into Oxford.”
With international schools there is a concern that the students are only passing through and so never really settle in. According to Dunnachie, this is changing. “We are finding that the pattern of students is changing, rather than the children of people who have been posted here, we are seeing a lot of children whose parents can work from anywhere in the world and have picked the sunny south of France.” Also on the Riviera is the Sophia-Antipolis School, which runs parallel courses following either the French state system or the International Baccalaureate (IB). According to Peter Arnold, a teacher there, it is a good alternative to the “fiasco” of the UK system. “Universities love students that come out with the IB because they know it’s such a rigorous academic course,” he says. “It is the equivalent of getting three of four A-grades at A-Level.” The fees are €8,500 a year for the IB and only €2,000 for the French system. However, Arnold advises anyone that has not had any previous French against going for the latter option. Added to this there are boarding fees of €10,000 a year.
Up country in Bordeaux is an international school with a small-school feel. Although in the centre of town, Bordeaux International School has only 100 students. It takes students aged three to 19 and teaches an English curriculum. It seems more French than the other international schools, it has a French headmistress for example, and the students integrate a lot with students from other local schools. Fees start at €9,900 a term for secondary students and host families charge around €6,000 a year.
Of course one of the brilliant things about living in France is that the state education system is so much better than the one in the UK. Maybe Hugo will just have to learn French and come out of school thinking Napoleon was a good bloke. A teacher I spoke to here says it takes about three terms for a foreign student to learn French and settle in. It will be a tough three terms for him, but what admissions officer from a UK university will be able to resist a bilingual blond boy with an IB and a suntan?
For those of you who, like me, live too far away from anywhere to be able to access broadband from the telephone exchange there are a couple of other options on the market. One is a piece of software you can buy and install online from www.onspeed.com. Although friends of mine have it and say it works, when I tried to install it my whole system crashed. The manufactures claim it speeds up your internet connection to close to broadband speeds. Another option is to invest in satellite broadband. You can only have this if you already have a satellite dish which can receive Canal Plus or Canal Satellite. If you do, then you can go onto www.astranet.fr and subscribe. There are three packages available ranging from €17.95 a month to €39.95 a month. You will also have to invest €XXX in the cables and box which will link your computer to the dish. The downside with satellite broadband is that it only works one way. In other words it only speeds up the connection when downloading but will not help when you’re sending large documents.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group. She writes a beauty blog www.beautyorbeast.uk.
Her third novel, The Arnolfini Marriage, based on a romance that evolves around a van Eyck masterpiece came out in 2016. As well as contributing regularly for newspapers and magazines, writing short stories and studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, Helena is also working on a thriller called The Longest Night that will be published in spring 2019. Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and came out in paperback in April 2018.
Helena was educated at Durham University and lived in the Languedoc region of France for eight years, where the family still have a home. She lives between there and London with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019