What is an International Section in a French public school?
An International Section, relatively rare in public schools in France, offers students who are already bilingual the French academic program plus an additional 6 hours in their second fluent language. This is the equivalent of an extra day of school per week. At Balzac your kids will meet and interact with bilingual students in the British, German, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic and Spanish sections, and their English classes are taught by native English speaking teachers.
An International Section also prepares students for the O.I.B. (Option Internationale du Baccalauréat), which is recognized by Universities around the world as rigorous preparation for a secondary education in either of the 2 main languages studied.
How does an International Section differ from a Section Européenne or a Section Bilangue?
An International Section is far more rigorous than a Section Européenne. Balzac students begin in 6eme, at age 11, with 6 hours per week of the student’s second language (English for students in the Anglophone Section) following the Cambridge programme. Students are selected based on their academic record, their motivation, and their bilingualism and biculturalism. Students in Balzac’s Anglophone section are doing much of the same coursework as students in the UK.
A Section Européenne usually begins in 4eme, the 3rd year of Middle School, and offers enforcement in a second language with one to several extra hours per week. The level in the Section Européenne is not as high as the level in an international section since students are not necessarily bilingual or bicultural.
An International Section is also far more rigorous than a Section Bilangue. A Section Bilangue means that instead of starting to learn 1 new language in 6ème, as is now normal practice in many collleges, the students learn 2. A Section Bilangue offers extra hours in a second language but does not require that students take an entrance exam, nor do they follow the Cambridge programme.
If admitted to Balzac’s International Section, who are the students that my student would be in class with?
Honoré de Balzac students admitted to the Anglophone Section in 2016 will be with other students like them; bilingual English and French, for all of their English classes. Additionally there are many students who speak more than 2 languages. The Class of 2021, admitted in 2014, includes students that speak Swedish, Danish, Spanish and Portuguese in addition to fluent French and English.
For the subjects that are covered in French, students will either be all together as one class or mixed with students from other International Section classes, since they all share fluency in French. The kids really enjoy being mixed across the different international sections for their French classes. And its something that exploits the truly international feeling of Balzac’s International Section.
How many students attend Honoré de Balzac?
Honoré de Balzac is a Collège and a Lycée. There are @1800 total students on the campus, and the student population is 50% International Section (SI), also known as “section”, and 50% General Section (SG) also known as “secteur”.
International Section or “section” students come from Paris and nearby suburbs by public transportation. General Section or “secteur” students come from the Northwest corner of the 17th arrondissement, and between Porte de Clichy and Porte de St Ouen.
What is the school environment like?
The Honoré de Balzac campus is over 4 hectares and is the largest in Paris. The entrance to the school is just next to the Porte de Clichy metro. The school is separated into the Collège building and the Lycée building. Both the Collège and the Lycée have gymnasiums, but the 25 meter indoor swimming pool is shared. There are trees and grass in the school grounds, as well as ping-pong tables that the students can use in their breaks. There is a library for the Collège and a library for the Lycée, both stocked with books in French and the different languages of the six international sections.
Please note that the city of Paris is currently improving the Line 14 metro by extending it to just in front of Honoré de Balzac at Porte de Clichy, as well as building a tramway. This is part of a massive improvement project between rue Cardinet and the Porte de Clichy that started in 2015 years ago. The RATP work is estimated to last until 2019. More details about this work are being closely followed by the school administration. Student safety remains a priority.
Do students in the International Section have ridiculous amounts of homework?
Students in the International Section do not have a lot of homework because of the number of hours they spend in school during the week. Many parents have observed 6eme International Section students with less homework than their friends in the regular non-international sections of French public Collèges, and also in French Private Collèges. But it does depend on the teachers and your student. For bilingual students in the International Section, the reading can feel heavy. Please see the recommended summer reading lists to get a sense of the books students are expected to read and understand.
Thanks to the EDUCHORUS online system, most homework assignments are given at the end of the week so that students have the weekend and perhaps several additional days to manage their time. Grades are also posted there.
Are all the Balzac English teachers native speakers?
Yes. English teachers for the British International Section are currently from Scotland, England, and Ireland and Canada.
What else does Balzac offer in terms of activities and international exposure?
Balzac’s parents community is dynamic and has a collaborative relationship with the school. All International Section parents are strongly encouraged to join their Section Association, this is APESA for the Anglophone Section, as well as Balzac International, the umbrella Association for the International Section that sponsors and organizes the international meal, the talent show, and the Bal de Lycée or Prom.
The Balzac parent community sponsors and volunteers to ensure an International Meal in October, an End of Year (Christmas) Market in December including a student Talent Show, Drama competitions, and the British section has a parent and student run Yearbook. Teachers do their best to expose the students to guest speakers and outings to meet with professionals that work in media, science, the arts.
Starting at the Collège level, your student can participate in a Speech contest called the Concours d’Eloquence. At the Lycée level, your student can then choose to participate in MUN (Model United Nations) with trips to MUN debates hosted in Paris and also throughout Europe.
Having said all of this, the teachers’ primary responsibility is to complete the International Section curriculum each year. Outings, which involve time away from class and heavy administrative organization, are possible but not at all frequent. Many are organized on weekends by parents, who accompany their students.
Porte de Clichy is where the school is located. Is it safe?
A guardian at the entrance to the school ensures that only students and staff are entering. Since most students start to take public transportation with schoolmates or alone to commute to and from Collège, the real issue for most parents is getting used to their kids’ having that kind of autonomy. A lot of parents accompany their students part or all of the way during the first weeks of 6eme, until the kids refuse to be accompanied. It is really up to parents to make sure that their students are prepared for the kind of autonomy that their commute requires. This can include being smart about electronics being used during commutes. Being street smart is part of being a teenager in Paris.
What are other things I should know about the school?
Our kids are so very happy to be with other bilingual and multi-cultural students and teachers. For many who come from the French public system (80% of the last 2 years of 6eme British classes) this is the very first time that they are surrounded and supported in their bilingualism. The self-confidence that is generated by this kind of environment for adolescents and the support of talented teachers is truly extraordinary.
This is a French public college/lycée, subject to the same challenges, frustrations and reforms as other schools that are part of the Education Nationale. This is not a private school. Parents and students are not treated as clients.
Balzac parents are responsible for volunteering their time to ensure that events and activities take place in a timely and organized manner. Without active parents for events, meetings, and committees to support International Section events, there will be no more events.
When is the entrance exam? If my child can’t make it on the day, will he be able to take the test at a second sitting?
The application for the 2017-2018 school year is due on 30 March 2017. You must contact Mme Poitevineau to obtain an application or discuss the particular case of your student. Following reception of your application you will receive an invitation for the one sitting for the written exam in May. The exam is followed by an interview (student only) with one or two of the section teachers. All students who sit the exam and participate in the interview will then be contacted by a written letter that arrives by mail in mid-June to indicate if they have passed the initial test with a level that indicates that they can participate in the International Section. Then it is up to the Academie de Paris to send a second letter, usually mid-end of June, that confirms your student’s place as confirmed, on the waiting list, or not admitted. The place must then be accepted by parents and communicated back to the school.
Be aware that your primary school Directeur will need to know that Balzac is your students’ first choice college. And that in taking the May exam and awaiting a June acceptance letter to attend Balzac, you may or may not “lose” a place at your local public or 2nd choice college. This depends on your schools.
How hard is it to get in? Are kids refused if they don’t have perfect writing skills?
For the International Section, reading is critical since it will allow students to have a grasp of vocabulary, for testing and for participating in the section itself. The entrance process includes a written exam for students, as well as a face to face interview.
In the past 2 years, about half of the students that were offered applications to the International Section’s British Section, took and passed the test, and had the interview, were offered a spot at Balzac (or at Camille Sée or Maurice Ravel).
French grades are also very important since the long days in an international section require a certain amount of discipline as well as a bilingual level.
Competition has increased in recent years for admission to the lycée, starting in 2nd.
What is the difference between the international sections at Balzac, at Camille Sée and Maurice Ravel?
You need to indicate your first, second and third choice of schools on your application. Balzac’s International Section is the largest, and the oldest, having opened in 1996, with 6 different International Sections. Camille Sée opened an International Section, a British Section, in the 2010-2011 school year. Maurice Ravel opened an International Section in 2014-2015. Please speak with the parents in these schools to hear more about their experience.
Is priority given to students who already have a sibling at the school?
No, priority is not given to students who already have a sibling in the school. All applicants must sit for the exam, and must have an interview, and spots are offered based on availability.
I heard that there is a preference given to children applying from the French public school system. Is this true?
No, this is not true.
How do Balzac students do on the French Bac (O.I.B.)? Where do Balzac Lycée students attend University?
The OIB is highly regarded worldwide and Balzac’s British Section graduates currently attend top Universities in France, the UK, the USA, the Netherlands and Germany, with the majority of the 2015-2017 classes attending University in the UK and France. A detailed list of the schools that Balzac graduates attend is available to APESA members.