Schools in France: Catchment areas

Graham Downie looks at property within reach of Englishlanguage schools, giving concerned parents peace of mind...

Can local schooling influence French property prices? Now there’s a question I never thought I’d read, let alone write!

One of my old neighbours in Walton on Thames recently told me that he pays �36,000pa in school fees – and that’s to send his three children to an average’ private school, certainly not Eton or Harrow.

Tales of people moving house to certain catchment areas are commonplace in the UK. If one side of a road sits within the boundaries of the catchment area for a certain school, then the houses can be tens of thousands of pounds more expensive. I recently read some research from the RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) that said that a good school can add 12% to the value of a house – the spokesman then went on to say:

“A secondary school with a good reputation can cause mayhem in a local property market. Buyers with children of school age will do and pay anything to get their children a place.”

Indeed, although we had a terrific income, one of the major reasons we upped sticks and left leafy suburbia in 2003 was to ensure that our children were brought up in a country where you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to ensure your kids went to the right’ school.

So when we arrived in our sleepy corner of the Charente, we were delighted to put our two girls (then three and five) into the local maternelle. It’s fair to say that we’ve been delighted with their schooling ever since. Both of them have been fully fluent in French for a long time and, bizarrely, are top of the class when it comes to conjugation’. Ask them the future or imperfect tense of pretty much any French verb and they’ll give you the right answer.

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Their maths is going well and we have no doubts that when they get to coll�ge, they will continue to receive a great education and be given the chance to progress to a university of their choice. Just the other day, one of the estate agents I know was telling me that her son has recently gone to the University of Seville and loves it there.

So if our experience of state schooling in France is so good, then what on Earth leads me to ask such an appalling question?

Well, those same two girls that are so stunningly brilliant when it comes to writing in French are barely literate when it comes to their mother tongue. Oh, they can speak it and read it as well as most English children their age but boy is their spelling atroshus’ – even though they read Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton every night.

My girls are obviously not alone – a not for profit English school called Accents in Civray, Vienne, opened last year and has been a roaring success. They offer specially designed English lessons given by teachers for English-speaking children aged five upwards. The aim of the association is to develop and maintain the level of English among both the local Anglophone (English-speaking) and Francophone (Frenchspeaking) population.

The good news for me is that they have started a new school in Jarnac, Charente. Lessons are each Saturday morning for two hours with two classes (five- to seven-year-olds and seven- to 12-year-olds).

Getting answers

As a property finder in the Charente, I am constantly bombarded with questions about the problems and experiences of moving with kids from the UK to France. Are the local schools good? What is the curriculum like? How are class sizes? Do the teachers speak English? As well as a million and one other questions.

I always try to answer these as honestly as I can and interestingly, I’m now beginning to notice that parents have done their research – and, while they now worry less about the ability of their children to fit into the local system, they quite rightly are concerned that their little ones may lose their mother tongue.

Happily, I can now tell clients that formal lessons in English, run by qualified teachers, can be obtained locally. It’s an important factor and, for most parents, will certainly be seen as an attraction (along with the climate, scenery and picturesque riverside bars) and could even sway a decision on which house to choose.

I’m not for one minute suggesting that it will add 12% to the cost of housing around here but it’s sure to give a little reassurance to some purchasers during what is always a stressful time. As one local mother of two boys says: “Who can be really certain of their future here in France? Maybe through financial or family demands, we will need to return to the UK – what then for our children? After not being in the British education system for a number of years, our children would have to step down a few years at school to catch up unless we offer them an English education alongside their French education while in France? This allows our children to hold the key to open even more doors in the future.

“If I had known that Accents had existed before we moved to France then it certainly would have narrowed my search for the perfect house – i.e. within a 20-30 minute drive of the Association”.