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Ticks the right boxes for families who appreciate a certain discipline associated with French education (we saw lots of immaculate handwriting), and the opportunity to acquire or maintain French language fluency, but who at the same time like the quirkiness of an international school. Year 2 pupils were the proud to be the winners of a recent European film competition for the animated movie they created. Parents told us of a trip to Brussels where the students had a hand in crafting an EU law on the environment...

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What the school says...

EIFA International School ("EIFA") is an independent, co-ed, secular and international school that provides a bilingual education to children aged 2 to 16 years old. From nursery to Year 10 its curriculum is based on the French National curriculum and classes are taught in both French and English. From Year 10 onward students may follow an international programme leading to Cambridge IGCSE qualifications at the end of Year 11. ...Read more

What the parents say...

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Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Executive Head

Since September 2018, co-founder Isabelle Faulkner, Quebec lawyer and English solicitor, has two children, one in university and the youngest finishing his IB diploma.

Head of school since September 2018 is Françoise Zurbach, who has been teacher, pedagogical counsellor, and head of school in France and London for more than 20 years. With a French father and English mother, she spent her first 10 years at an English school in Montreal, moving to France and continuing her education in the French system. She spent 20 years teaching in a small French primary school, moving to head Wix primary in London in 2013.

Academic matters

Nursery children in Little EIFA follow the EYFS, taught in French and English; therefore children learn literacy and reading at an earlier age than would be the case in a traditional French setting. Little EIFA offers flexible part-time hours. Primary students follow the French national curriculum using a bilingual French-English model. Each year group (two form entry in most years) has a Francophone (and French-qualified) teacher as well as a native-speaking English qualified teacher, who plan jointly and teach different parts of the programme in both languages, creating a completely bilingual learning environment for every year group.

In the senior school, years 7-9 continue with French curriculum (taught in both languages). In year 10 students may take the diplôme national du brevet as well as follow the IGCSE subjects now that the school has been authorised by Cambridge Exams and Edexcel (68 per cent A*-C/9-4 in 2018). Senior school staff bring solid international school experience and a good overall understanding of the various curricula - English national curriculum, international curricula and French programmes. School benchmarks student learning via French standardised tests and is inspected by both Ofsted and the IEN (Inspecteur de l'Education Nationale Française).

As the school has 'homologue' status with the French Education Ministry, French and English teachers must be qualified and hold recognised credentials. One parent of a very bright child was effusive about the way he is challenged academically. School engages specialist teachers for children with learning challenges for those who need additional support; there is no cost to the parents for this. Students who are not yet fluent in English or French may also be expected to take lessons with language teachers.

Games, options, the arts

More on offer than in a typical French school. After-school activities are offered by teachers with a special talent or interest, as well as external providers. A range of musical instruments and ensembles including rock bands; activities such as rugby, football, capoira (Brazilian martial arts), ballet, yoga, language clubs, IT coding; a few parents mentioned a creative writing course and one teenage boy refreshingly told us it is his favourite activity; homework club every day. Some parents see it as a way to extend their children's exposure to French or English. Year 2 pupils were very proud to be the winners of a recent European film competition for the animated movie they created.

Early morning drop-off and after-school care till 6pm are available for Little EIFA children; this is convenient for working parents, but also those whose older children may stay after school for club activities. Extracurricular activities incur additional fees but no one we spoke to grumbled about that: they were very happy with the range of activities on offer. There are opportunities to take part in sports competitions and tournaments with other French and international schools in London. Parents told us of a trip to Brussels where the students had a hand in crafting an EU law on the environment.

Background and atmosphere

The co-founders, plus their fellow investors who form the governing board, have had good support from the local Howard de Walden Estate - major landowners in London W1 - who were keen to see EIFA on the menu of international schools available to the local Marylebone gentry. The combination of the strategic planning and foresight of the founders and this collaborative partnership with HdW Estates has enabled this school to secure two impressive buildings for their prep and senior schools. Originally conceived as a prep/primary school in 2013, but parents wanted their children to continue to be educated bilingually, and so a senior school opened and moved into its own premises in 2016.

Little EIFA and the prep school are in a large late Georgian building in Portland Place. Little EIFA is based in a well-organised maze of rooms in the basement level with enclosed outdoor space exclusively for the youngest children. On the ground floor are the reception children and the library, stocked with 5,000 books – half French, half English (on the day we visited full of relaxed but fully engaged children with their noses in books), in bright rooms with original period features such as lofty Wedgwood-blue painted ceilings decorated with crown moulding and fireplaces. Other primary classes perch higher up on top floors with large windows that brighten the rooms year round.

The senior school is a short walk away on quiet side street with a nicely refurbished building that contains bright classrooms fully equipped with all the requisites - science lab, study hub, an amazing large art studio with walls of windows on two sides, and an inviting canteen that serves as a multi-purpose space. This room features a huge painting of a London cityscape with silhouettes of children in the foreground, donated by a parent and painted by South American artist Walter Blanco as part of a school event. Children's work gets equal prominence, and there is also a collage of maps of all the countries the children come from featured on another wall. There is a clean, uncluttered feel despite the ample careful displays of student work and art. Daily recreation and breaks take place at nearby Regent's Park. Students use the library at the prep school or visit nearby Marylebone Library.

EIFA is an urban school; parents say that some families come expecting more, but what makes it all worthwhile is the positive EIFA school culture - that is the major draw for families we spoke to.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Parents tell us that EIFA has a strong sense of community and this is part of the attraction. The diversity of families helps to create an ambiance where acceptance and respect are the norm. The school is young, and there is a definite 'pioneer spirit' among those families who joined in the early years and who speak with pride about what the school community has created. Communications are good and parents feel well informed and able to approach the school teachers or administration whenever needed. Senior and junior school parents describe the teachers as versatile, devoted, nurturing and impressive. The kids we saw in the classrooms, study hubs and library looked happy and were welcoming and at ease with their visitor. Some parents attribute the good behaviour to the school's small size. No uniforms except for PE and games classes. Active parents' association regarded as refreshing by many who find this parent engagement a welcome change from the norm at other French schools. It's also an important support that can help to integrate parents new to London. Meeting minutes and photos of activities are on the website.

Pupils and parents

The increasing number of French-medium schools on offer in London has enlarged parental choice; those selecting EIFA want what it says on the tin - an international school with a French bilingual programme. Over 40 nationalities; the French, Americans and Canadians are the main groups but there are many bicultural, bilingual families of mixed nationalities; some local residents, others expats. A few French families seeking the dream life in 'France's sixth city - London' (with perhaps one parent commuting to France for work). Though some of these families have returned to France, the school has not yet seen the impact of Brexit and continues to grow. In many respects a 'neighbourhood school' and many children walk or ride their scooters, but some travel longer distances - the school's outsourced school bus service covers to Highgate and Hampstead to the north, Notting Hill to the west, and Fulham to the south west. Parents do not seem to mind having play dates scattered across London.

Entrance

This young school, which has only recently opened a secondary department, does not yet have waiting lists for the senior school. It is currently relatively non-selective, with admission is based on completing a straightforward application form and providing school reports. Does not require fluency in English or French for entry up to year 8.

Exit

Parents say that some families who aspire to the French Bacc opt to move at 11 to the bilingual school in Kentish Town or one of the Lycées, and some, particularly those whose parents are not French speakers, transfer to British independent schools, but an increasing number of families are choosing to stay on for senior school as it introduces IGCSEs.

Money matters

International school prices are to be expected here. The school has needs-assessed financial aid. Low student-teacher ratio (6-1), and since extras such as English or French language support and special needs support are not extra, the fees are competitive with those of other international schools. Lunch is included in the school fees and is compulsory unless the child has dietary restrictions. It is prepared by outsourced caterers, and is tasty by all accounts (and our own sampling).

Our view

This is a niche school with high aspirations that ticks the right boxes for families who appreciate a certain discipline associated with French education (we saw lots of immaculate handwriting), and the opportunity to acquire or maintain French language fluency, but who at the same time like the quirkiness of an international school that draws on global themes and topics to enhance the students' learning and world view. The principal was quick to say, ‘EIFA is not a French school, it is a bilingual (French/English) international school.' The rich displays of African masks made in art classes, green Irish shamrocks to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, student rehearsals for Wizard of Oz, beautifully written essays on Macbeth and even stir-fry chicken noodles for lunch serve to illustrate her point. Worth a look.

Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

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