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Provence education and international schools

It may be Brexit, or it may be the fairly irresistible combination of sun, sea, vines and olives, that explains why the expat community (whilst altering in its composition), continues to expand in Provence.

On the steep coast of what is officially known as the Côte d’Azur but definitely NOT in France, clings Monaco, the fairy-tale kingdom of ridiculously rich tax refugees. This eastern end of Provence is a thin wedge between the alps and the sea, squashing in the Nicois, who can only escape vertically up the mountains or west along the chain of glamourous seaside towns on the Côte d’Azur, amongst which St Tropez wears the gilded crown.

However, as the coast and the motorway head west, the country gradually escapes from its Mediterranean corset and relaxes into a land of vines, Roman remains, charming hill towns and the wondrous papal city of Avignon. On the way, you pass the still beautiful but now over-developed university city of Aix on your right and to your left lies Marseilles, separated from the summer madness of the traffic-choked motorway by a wild, romantic and often-filmed chain of mountains.

International schools

The kingdom of Monaco is home to the International School of Monaco, with its large cohorts of British, American and Canadian students. Practically next door, or at least only a short sail away, is its French neighbour Nice, home to its own international education options - the International School of Nice and Mougins School (one stop down the motorway – no problem when the traffic’s moving, tranquiliser beckoning otherwise). The curriculum at all three schools leads up to IGCSEs, with the first two offering the IB Diploma, whilst Mougins teaches the A Level syllabus. 

The cultured and relaxed feel of Aix-en-Provence has always appealed to expat Americans and Brits and so continues to support international schools, in particular the most popular school amongst expats in Provence, the International Bilingual School of Provence offering the alternative of the French curriculum, leading to the French Brevet and Baccalaureate or the British option of IGCSEs and then the IB Diploma.

Amongst the alternatives is the firmly Catholic, elementary school Ste Cathérine de Sienne, with an established bilingual section. The more cosmopolitan Val Saint André International School  is a day school offering either the French curriculum or IGCSEs and then A Levels. Finally and close by Aix, under Cézanne’s favourite mountain, is the SVIS - Sainte Victoire International School, in Fuveau, which offers full and weekly boarding and a French curriculum or IGCSEs followed by the IB Diploma.

An international curriculum and approach has the advantage that transitioning will be easier if moving is regularly on the cards or planned for the future. There are no obvious new independent entrants into this sector (which is slightly puzzling) so the choice for expats still lies between the current small international offering, the state system and a small sample of private schools.

Private French schools

Private schools tend not to be externally accredited, although they are licensed by the French Ministry of Education and the majority receive some state funding. Most have a mixed international intake and some have a large majority of French students wanting to learn English – so choose with care! The advantages are, that the class sizes are smaller and the facilities better than is normal in state schools.

State schools

There are an increasing number of French state secondary schools that have international sections. If you can get into one of these schools, your child will get an almost free education, alongside French children. They will, however, be immersed in a totally French environment and the education is based on the French national curriculum. This might not be suitable if the student is only attending for a short while before returning to their home country or international schooling elsewhere. Also, the French state schools are regimented and involve total immersion, strict French routine and regular testing

Schools with international sections often chosen by expats include:

For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Provence considered by expats'.

And finally…

It’s one of the most enticing places in Europe – the books and films don’t lie, even if the neighbours are maybe not as exclusive or exotic as they once were. However, international schools are few and far between, so you might seriously consider putting your child into the state system, provided you’re happy with the different approach and you intend to learn the rules of boules rather than skittles.

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