Many years ago, we were faced with a major problem: there were far more primary-aged pupils who could benefit from a bilingual education than there were full-time places available at the École Internationale. ‘Full time’ in this sense means that the child obtains a place both in a French class at the École Internationale and one of the 14 national Section classes.
With the cooperation of surrounding local French state primary schools, and by special agreement with the French school authorities, it was agreed that children could be enrolled in their national Section class at the École Internationale for two half-days per week while continuing to have their French education for the rest of the week in the school (either publique or privée sous contrat) nearest to their home. Local teachers co-operate by avoiding the teaching of foundation skills in French and Maths while their bilingual pupils are absent.
The system started with a limited number of children in 1978 and has flourished, with currently more than 700 children benefitting every year from age three to 11 (nursery to Year 6). Around 70% of the British Section primary pupils at the École Internationale are externés, enabling us to more than double the number of pupils who would otherwise not have been able to benefit from a bilingual education.
"My child really enjoys going to English class and loves her teacher, she seems very fulfilled and happy to go to school and that's what counts the most for us."
In addition to a bilingual education, externé children benefit from a French education close to home, making friends nearby, and enjoying local after-school activities.
Inevitably, the system imposes some challenges: parents have to provide the lunchtime transport between the two schools as, although there are often school buses at the beginning and the end of the day, there are no buses at midday. However, many parents get round this by arranging car pools with parents of other externés (not necessarily British Section) at the same local school.
The externé system only operates at the École Internationale in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Children living within the Le Pecq catchment area (Le Pecq, Montesson, Le Vésinet, Croissy, Rueil-Malmaison, etc.) attend the École Jéhan Alain (from Grande Section, Year 1) and École Félix Éboué (Year 2 to Year 6) where British Section children are full-time as of Grande Section. The externé system ends when the children enter secondary school in Sixième (Year 7, age 11-12). Externés and full-time pupils are given equal consideration for secondary places.