My stepson Hugo will be 13 next year and has been offered a place at Eton. There are two reasons why he may not be going. One, it costs a fortune. Two, almost more crucially, his chances of getting into university afterwards may be diminished if he goes to a public school, however illustrious its history. Is it worth us spending a fortune on his education if it isn’t actually going to help him get into a decent university?
I have started to look into the alternatives for Hugo in France. This is tough, because he speaks only three words of French and loves cricket and Chelsea football club. There are about 25 international schools in France. 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 in a foreign country.
“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. About £6,000 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.”
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 or 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 year 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 and that boules is a contact sport. 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 British university will be able to resist a bilingual blond boy with an IB and a suntan?