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This is bilingual teaching done well - English pupils are challenged to raise their standard and French pupils not allowed to coast in French lessons, but are pushed to improve too. ‘We chose this school because we wanted both languages and cultures taught and didn’t want to lose one or the other.' Very little outdoor space - each balcony and terrace used to the utmost with little ones using climbing blocks and playhouses, and older ones using the basketball nets. Longer playtimes involve donning wellington boots and going into Bedford Square...

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What the school says...

École Jeannine Manuel in London is a French, bilingual, international school which opened in September 2015 in three contiguous mansions on Bedford Square, steps from the British Museum in the heart of Bloomsbury. Looking beyond French and bi-national families, we welcome pupils from all nationalities, cultural traditions and native languages from 3 years old. This year, the school admitted pupils through Year 11. Starting from September 2019, we shall enrol pupils through Year 12 and gradually thereafter to Year 13.
Our curriculum is based on an enriched, bilingual adaptation of the French national curriculum, including English, Science and Chinese programmes developed by and for the school and inspired by our core vision: to promote international understanding through a bilingual education.
École Jeannine Manuel is the sister school of its Paris namesake, a UNESCO associated school founded in 1954 and one of France’s most prestigious schools ranked top French Lycée for the fifth consecutive year. The London school is an Ofsted-registered British “Charity;” it shares the Paris school’s commitment to pedagogical innovation through the search for best practices with the aim to have pupils who are happy to come to school to think, do and share with others.
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What the parents say...

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Curricula

International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since the school opened in 2015, Pauline Prévot (40s). Degree in biology and science education from Versailles and Saint Quentin University and a DESS, or masters, in computer science. Her first job was with École Jeannine Manuel in Paris where she taught for 12 years, joining the maths department then became science and maths lead, and head of computing. She developed a Jeannine Manuel maths curriculum that is about critical thinking and working maths out in an experimental and experiential manner, and was thrilled by the opportunity to move to the brand new site in London, which she loves. Her husband is the financial director at the school and her two children are pupils here and they live five minutes away. She is hoping to stay for some time to come. They are building a senior leadership team, but with the school so new and pupil numbers growing so quickly, staff will need to grow and settle. Parents said the head was approachable and accessible but they mostly speak to one of the separate heads of the junior or senior school. They said she was ‘fantastic’, ‘deeply committed to teaching’ and ‘a passionate educator’ and ‘very animated when giving workshops to parents on the maths method’. The school has a strong board of trustees, including the dynamic and impressive head of the Paris schools, who comes over regularly, speaking at open days. Ms Prévot 'won us over completely and gave us confidence,’ said one parent.

Academic matters

This is bilingual teaching done well - English pupils are challenged to raise their standard and French pupils not allowed to coast in French lessons, but are pushed to improve too. ‘We chose this school because we wanted both languages and cultures taught and didn’t want to lose one or the other. Our children were happy the moment they walked in and we were no longer paying for schools where our kids sat bored in French classes.' It follows the French national curriculum except for English, science and Mandarin, where it has developed its own.

EYFS includes a one form nursery, with space to play inside and outside, reasonably well equipped with dressing up and play areas and plenty of art, rest time with kids lying down after lunch with blankets from home and quiet music - a safe, calm environment. Reception and year 1 start basic phonics and lots of coordination work in preparation for writing, but this being the French system, reading and writing proper waits until they are in year 2, with EYFS given to memory, poetry learning, speech and physical coordination.

Junior school classes of up to 20 pupils, with teaching shared between a French native speaker and an English native speaking teacher. Day books show work in neat French handwriting, maths with cuisenaire blocks, writing marked at pupils’ own levels - each one expected to challenge themselves from whatever level they start at. They start to learn reading and writing in French (fewer graphemes make it to learn to read and spell in than English) and once they have mastered French reading and writing, they can then start English in little groups, working at their own level until they are all bilingual. Parents said that by about 8 years old all the kids are fluent in both. Maths very practical ‘and at a higher level than my nieces and nephews in English schools’. Joint sciences, plenty of humanities (no RE in the French system) taught by both French and English teachers, art, music.

‘Children get a tailored education - each of my kids has been pushed and developed in different ways’. ‘Teachers don’t have kids comparing to each other, they need to show progress at their level and they are expected to be ambitious for themselves’. ‘Grading is based on effort and achievement and they need to show improvement,’ explained one junior school parent. There is a no homework policy until senior school, though junior pupils said they sometimes have to do reading or learn a poem. Older pupils not overwhelmed with the hour or so homework they are expected to do.

Senior school has pupils using lockers and moving between rooms, half the subjects in English and half in French. Only humanities taught in both French and English under a curriculum that shows historical events from two different perspectives. The battle of Waterloo seen from both the winners’ and losers’ point of view - pupils see how to question the source and look at cultural context. ‘It allows pupils to think about what is truth and to question fake news’. All lessons include collaborative, participative working.

Interactive whiteboards allow group work done on iPads to be shared by the class in real time. We saw groups collecting references from a text and uploading it to a shared table of references so they could all learn from each other's research. English enhanced with outings to theatres, workshops and some challenging teaching. ‘I was blown away by the depth of understanding and analysis my child showed when explaining a Jekyll and Hyde text.’ A french student won an English playwriting competition run by National Theatre with hundreds of entrants. Total bilingualism noted by parents - ‘they flip from one language to the other and you can’t tell what is their mother tongue language’. ‘There is an organic mixing of pupils and exchanges take place in both languages’. This is achieved by intensive language teaching in ‘petit groupes’ so that by the time they are 7 or 8 they are all at the same level; higher up the school, new pupils are given intense language support so they can integrate. Late joiners who have insufficient French to learn maths under the school curriculum can do maths IGCSE.
Maths gets special mention by parents who believe ‘that it is at a higher level than comparative French or English schools’.

Extra tutoring or language learning takes place in years 7 and 8 during the 45 minute daily Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) period while most pupils lie out on giant cushions and read from the English or French reading list. This might also be the time when dyslexic pupils or those who need help from speech and language therapists get extra support without missing other lessons. No special needs teaching but parents said that ‘this is not a one-size fits all curriculum, but there are customised classes to boost pupils. Because that is happening all the time, no-one notices the dyslexic child who has specialised activities, since they are all rotating and doing work at their own level’. The school won’t take a pupil it is not equipped to support, but everyone is used to therapists coming in. Most classrooms are wheelchair accessible and school is happy to adapt room timetables if needed.

Parents mentioned appreciating the ‘incredibly nuanced report cards that assess both effort and achievement and show that teachers know each child’s strengths and weakness’. Well as teachers know their pupils, there are no external examinations until IB except for language exams, so pupils are tested with internal exams and results matched to École Jeannine Manuel in Paris and Lille to check for progress. Currently the small classes, motivated pupils and teachers, are showing better results even than the Paris pupils. IB qualifying school status applied for.

Games, options, the arts

Very little outdoor space - each balcony and terrace used to the utmost with little ones using climbing blocks and playhouses, and older ones using the basketball nets. Longer playtimes involve donning wellington boots and going into Bedford Square, or older students to Coram Fields, with footballs and rackets. Junior kids do go out every day and there are big efforts to provide sport despite there being no playground; older pupils are allowed out at breaktime. They have a contract with the YMCA sports centre for gym and indoor courts, and with University College EnergyBase for more gym space and basketball as well as Coram’s Fields for team sports. Some fixtures against other French schools, but pupils said that ‘it wouldn’t suit a child who was very sporty’ and parents said, ‘it allows them to explore different sports but won’t make champions’. Having no homework in junior school allows them ‘time to explore their own interests,’ according to parents.

DofE provides opportunities for learning to map read, big hikes and volunteering, and they are making volunteering opportunities within school for the younger kids.

Art taught in classrooms (very fine Picasso portraits being done in year 3 the day we visited), and we saw critical thinking demonstrated as pupils explained and discussed the thinking behind a gilded shopping trolley artwork. Continuous opportunities to express ideas orally and to get used to public presentations.

No individual music lessons, but juniors can try out instruments in class, while senior pupils go up to music room to hear and learn to appreciate different types of music as well as playing and composing.

Talent show very inclusive and diverse - a Rubik's cube champion, yoyo tricks, a rap done by two students in both English and French - comparing Shakespeare and Molière. Not your everyday talent show from a London school.

Clubs at lunchtime and after school, for juniors while they wait for senior school to finish (eg drama, storytelling, fencing, chess, choir, parkour, arts and crafts) and for seniors (eg robotics, debating, gymnastics, choir, street dance, basketball).

Background and atmosphere

Jeannine Manuel spent some time in London during the war as part of the resistance and believed in the need to create understanding between nations, and the importance of language in learning about other people and their culture. To this end she opened a school and developed a pedagogy based on collaborative working and critical thinking. The Paris École Jeannine Manuel has 2,400 pupils and the Lille branch 800, and École Jeannine Manuel is now an education ‘brand’ with a reputation for high academic standards and exciting teaching that means it has long waiting lists. Jeannine Manuel’s son Bernard, a passionate educationist, worked to ensure funds from the Fondation Jeannine Manuel were set aside to open a school in London as a tribute to his mother's love of London and to make bilingualism a reality.

Three very fine Georgian buildings built in 1770 by Robert Palmer (fine enough to be included in the architectural Open House weekends) have been joined sympathetically and are now both elegant and functional. They face Bedford Square and are next to the British Museum and a minute away from Tottenham Court Road station, so could hardly be more central London. The Bedford Square building has room for up to 500 pupils and another building in Russell Square, which will have space for a further couple of hundred pupils, is being renovated ready for senior years as they move up to IB.

High ceilinged, carpeted rooms, with fine stucco architraves, neat modern furniture and lockers for pupils. Two particularly large rooms with tables and benches that open out from wall storage allow all pupils to eat school lunches or packed lunches in several sittings. Lunch is very French - a protein, a vegetable and a carbohydrate, as much as they want to eat, but no choices and no hot dogs. Set lunchtimes means not only do they all eat the same food, but that they all eat it together. A proper shared mealtime.

Polite, calm atmosphere, youthful teachers and purposeful collaborative teaching methodology. We didn’t see any pupils daydreaming - too much going on and classes too small for that.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Pupils said that if they had any concerns or issues they could and would speak to teachers at any time, and believed it would be dealt with. A well-being curriculum carried out in all years may have something to do with this. None we spoke to said there was bullying or roughness, though some admitted to social issues between friends. One parent said, ‘minor things are dealt with efficiently at school, by caring teachers, with little parental involvement’. ‘Pupils were told to go away and think about it and come back to resolve the problem - which they did’. We were told that ‘pastoral care is excellent’ and ‘there is a nurturing environment’, but it would seem that it happens simply because of caring teachers rather than strict systems or policies. The school only goes up to 15 for the moment so no drug or smoking issues - yet.

Pupils and parents

Most of 185 pupils who joined in the first year they opened were Parisians who knew of the École Jeannine Manuel Paris reputation, as well as French families who hadn’t been able to get into any of the other French schools in London. The current 440 pupils are from a much more mixed demographic - lots of third culture kids whose passports and backgrounds are very international. Lebanese, French Canadian, Hong Kong, Irish, increasing numbers of British families who, according to the school, are looking to ‘maintain some European culture - the Brexit effect’. Parents are bankers, lawyers, doctors. Pupils were surprisingly unsophisticated for such a well travelled lot - worldly, travelled, educated, but no designer trainers to be seen. Parents we spoke to said kids were ‘gentle’, ‘no bling’, ‘allowed to be kids’. Pupils move at 11 from other French junior schools or from British primary schools ‘if they are looking for a small, centrally placed private school with an emphasis on critical thinking’. French pupils' parents want them to keep their French up and keep links to their roots when the French schools which are subsidised by the French government are full, or they may be seeking an alternative to schools that are totally French in language and pedagogical style. School buses go north to Swiss Cottage, west to Kensington and Shepherds Bush via Paddington and Marylebone, and to Fulham and Chelsea.

Entrance

Unlike the Paris branch, there are not (yet) long waiting lists for this school. One form nursery, then two classes per year. Selection of pupils very ‘light touch’ - a simple test of language and maths. Mostly they are looking for parental commitment to the school’s ethos. ‘You have to believe that the school will do the educating but they need the family to support their ethos.' ‘It is an inversion of normal entry requirements,’ said one parent. 'They interviewed us for over an hour, wanting to know about our backgrounds and education and aspirations. They hardly tested our child at all!’ The joy of not having to sit through 7+ or 11+ entrance exams is enough to tempt many parents, one imagines, as well as the absence of working towards exams generally. Beginners in French accepted at all levels, beginners in English up to year 7.

Exit

Currently, leavers only when families move country; otherwise, pupils seem to be staying on and so the school is growing with them and creating ever more years until it has a sixth form. Since no sixth form yet, hard to know where these pupils will go to, though the École Jeannine Manuel in Paris sends three-quarters of its pupils to universities outside France, almost half to UK universities - and of those 90 per cent to Russell Group universities. If the school gets IB accreditation (currently only has candidature status) then it is certainly well equipped to do well in London too, with current cohort of determined, mature, well-educated pupils from aspirational families. No home tutoring goes on that we could find out about, little homework and little pressure, just a set of enquiring minds and high expectations. UK universities can look at the Brevet French exam results taken at 15, or the English lit and lang IGCSE, or foreign language exams taken to public exam level (DELE for Spanish, DAF for German, HSK for Mandarin).

Money matters

London private school level fees as no French government subsidies. Extra for lunch, for clubs and for trips. The school was supported by French École Jeannine Manuel for first couple of years, but is now fully self sufficient with annual accounts healthy enough to develop the new Russell Square building and plans for a third local site to allow for more growth in pupil numbers. Currently student numbers increasing by up to 30 per cent a year and no reason to see that diminishing for a little while yet. Bursaries available for all year groups.

Our view

Ideal for a mixed heritage family where both French and English languages and cultures are of equal importance, and heaven for a child who wants to be encouraged to think and discuss and experiment rather than regurgitate facts. Not good if you need the reassurance of endless public exams and certainly no preparation for 11+, 13+ or GCSEs (except English lang and lit). Not a sporty school or a competitive school. Each child challenged to improve from their own baseline and they all seem to want to rise to the challenge, making the most of London, of each other and of themselves.

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