What is an International Section in a French public school?
An International Section offers students who are already bilingual the French academic programme with six to eight hours teaching in their fluent ‘section’ language. This is the equivalent of an extra day of school a week. At Balzac, students will meet and interact with bilingual students in the British, German, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic and Spanish sections, as well as French students living in the school’s catchment area.
An International Section also prepares students for the O.I.B. (Option Internationale du Baccalauréat), which is recognised as a rigorous secondary education in both French and the section language and accepted as an entry qualification by universities around the world for studies in French or the section language or both.
At Balzac, students study for the British OIB.
More detailed information, in both French and English, about the British OIB can be found on the ASIBA website (see link on right hand side in MORE FACTS).
How does an International Section differ from a Section Européenne or a Section Bilangue?
The key difference is that in international sections the students are already bilingual, therefore the section language, in this case English, is taught as a mother tongue and not as a foreign language.
Balzac students usually begin in 6ème, at age 11, with about 6 hours of English and 2 hours of History-Geography in English. The other subjects (maths, sciences, sport, music etc.) are taught in French. The lessons in English follow a curriculum set jointly by Cambridge International and the French education authorities. Students in the English section are doing similar language and literature coursework as students in the UK. Students in the English section can begin Spanish as their 2nd language subject as of 6ème (optional). Those who choose not to begin in 6ème will start Spanish in 5ème with a different group. Spanish is the only LV2 available in the English section. All the other International sections do English as their LV2.
A Section Européenne usually begins in 5ème and offers reinforcement in a second language with one to several extra hours of tuition a week. In lycée, European section students also follow one or more non-linguistic disciplines in the foreign language (for example history or maths).
A Section Bilangue means that instead of starting to learn one foreign language 6ème, as is standard curriculum in French colleges, students learn two foreign languages, usually 3 hours of each. A Section Bilangue offers extra hours of language tuition, but does not require that students take an entrance exam, nor do they follow the Cambridge International programme.
If admitted to Balzac’s International Section, who will be in my class?
For all their classes in English, students admitted to the Anglophone Section at Honoré de Balzac will be with other students who are bilingual English and French.
For the subjects that are taught in French, students will either remain all together as one class or mixed with students from other sections, since they all share fluency in French. How much mixing is possible depends on school time tables. The students enjoy being mixed with different sections for their lessons in French; it fosters the truly international feel of Balzac International.
How many students attend Honoré de Balzac?
Honoré de Balzac is a Collège and a Lycée. There are approximately 2000 students in total on the campus, of which roughly 50% are in International Sections (SI) and 50% from the local catchment area. Honoré de Balzac also runs a CHAS (sports) programme, European options, and cours préparatoires.
International Section students come from Paris and the nearby suburbs.
For the school year 2018-2019 there were 841 students in the six International sections of which 227 were in the British section (110 in college and 117 in lycee).
What is the school environment like?
The Honoré de Balzac campus is over 4 hectares and is the largest in Paris. The school entrance is just next to Porte de Clichy station making the school easy to reach by public transport (métro line 13, RER C, bus lines 54 and 74, and Tram 3b). The Collège and Lycée are in separate buildings, joined by the administrative offices in the centre. 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. The school canteen has its own chef so meals are prepared on-site.
The school is opposite the new Cité Judiciaire and close to the 10-hectare Martin Luther King park.
Please note that metro line 14 is currently being extended as part of a broader redevelopment project between Rue Cardinet and Porte de Clichy that started in 2015. Infrastructure works are expected to last until the summer of 2020. As a result some of Balzac’s grounds have been closed off. The works are closely monitored by the school administration. Student safety remains a priority.
Do students in the International Section have lots 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 remarked that International Section students in 6ème have less homework than their friends in the regular non-international sections of French public and private Collèges. The amount of homework does depend on the teachers and the student, however.
For some bilingual students in the International Section, the amount of English reading can feel heavy. As well as the novels and plays studied in class, where the students will also be asked to read chapters in the small school holidays, each summer the children are expected to read a required number of books in order to prepare them for the following year. See below the summer reading list for 2019.
Are all the Balzac English teachers native speakers?
Currently four of the five English section teachers are native speakers who come from Scotland, England (London and Yorkshire) and Canada.
What else does Balzac offer in terms of activities and international exposure?
Balzac’s parent community is dynamic and has a collaborative relationship with the school. All International Section parents are encouraged to join their Section Association (APESA for the Anglophone Section), as well as Balzac International (BI), the umbrella Association for the International Section that sponsors and organises the International meal, End of Year Market, the Talent show, the Spring BBQ and the Bal de Lycée.
The Balzac parent community help run the above school events as well as attending the March Open day to answer questions from new parents. The British section also has a parent and student run Yearbook.
In Collège and Lycée students can participate in a public Speaking contest – the Concours d’Eloquence. In Lycée students can also participate in MUN (Model United Nations) with trips to MUN debates hosted in Paris and throughout Europe.
Teachers do their best to expose the students to guest speakers and organise outings.
The teachers’ primary responsibility, however, is to complete the International Section curriculum each year. Outings, which take teachers away from the classroom and involve heavy administrative organisation, are possible but not frequent. Some outings and trips outside France are also organised on weekends by parents, who accompany their own children.
I'm worried about my child travelling on their own
For many students, commuting to and from Collège is their first experience of taking public transportation alone. The real issue for most parents is getting used to their children having that level of independence. Typically parents accompany their children part or all of the way during the first weeks of 6eme, until the children refuse to be accompanied. It is really up to parents to make sure that their children are prepared for the kind of autonomy that the journey requires. This may include being smart about the use of electronics devices during commutes, keeping personal belongings safe and being aware of what is going on around them.
What are other things I should know about the school?
The children are very happy to be with other bilingual and multi-cultural students and teachers. For the majority who come from the French public system this is the 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 state collège and lycée, subject to the same challenges, frustrations and reforms as other schools that are part of the Education Nationale. This is NOT a private expat school. Parents and students are not treated as clients and we do not have a constant turn over of students leaving and arriving from abroad. Only a very tiny fraction of our students come from International schools abroad, where they’ve been following the French curriculum.
The OIB is a French exam certificate and as such students applying from abroad also need to have the required level in French in order to follow all the other subject lessons.
Balzac parents are responsible for volunteering their time to ensure that events and activities take place in a timely and organised manner. Without active parents in meetings and committees to support International Section events, there would be no more events.
How do I apply for the section ?
The application forms for the entrance tests are available from Mme Poitevineau (the International sections’ secretary) as of Janaury (see home page for contact details). Following reception of your application, you will receive an invitation to attend the ONE sitting of the written test, which takes place in May. If you are applying from outside of France, contact Mme Poitevineau to discuss whether or not it is possible for your child to sit the test in your current country of residence.
Students applying from a ‘hors contrat’ school eg. La Petite Ecole Bilingue, Montessori or a school abroad that does not follow the French curriculum will also be required to sit a French and Maths test with the Rectorat de Paris. For further details about how to arrange these tests, contact the International secretary.
The written test (6ème – comprehension and creative writing, 2nd – Critical appreciation) is followed a day or two later by an oral with the section teachers (students are asked to read a short text and asked questions). Both tests take place at Balzac. Please note that students applying for 2nd will only be invited to the oral if they pass the written test.
Results of the tests will be given first by Balzac in a letter to the parents at the end of May and then by the Acadamie de Paris, on their site and by letter, at the beginning of June.
Students applying for 6ème must request a dérogation for Balzac from their primary schools prior to the May test. Those applying for 2nd will only need to request a dérogation if they are offered a place in June. Those offered a place for 6ème may “lose” their place at their local public college. This depends on the school.
How hard is it to get in?
Students applying for 6ème should have both written and spoken English as well as good reading skills. The entrance process includes a written exam and an oral. If accepted into the class, students will start reading and working on novels as of 6ème
French grades are important in that an International section means extra hours and longer days which require a certain amount of discipline as well as a bilingual level. (see also FAQ – Do students in an International section have alot of homework)
Competition has increased in recent years for admission to the lycée, starting in 2nd, as well as for 6ème. Places in the years in between are very limited and spots only open up if a student is leaving.
There are 25 places available for 6ème plus 5 places on the waiting list and currently 35 places for 2nd.
In May 2019 – 75 candidates sat the test for 6ème and 63 (compared to 73 the year before) for 2nd. 30 candidates received an ‘avis favorable’ for 6ème and 19 for 2nd. Of the 19, 9 were offered a place in the class and 10 went on the waiting list.
Previously the students in the 3ème class (25-29 students) with the required level (Average in English Literature and History/Geo from the first two Trimesters) automatically passed into 2nd, thus leaving only a few places for those applying from outside. As of this year (May 2020) ALL the students currently in 3ème, wishing to remain in the section, will now sit the entrance test for 2nd and be ranked along with those applying from outside. This applies to all the English section schools in Paris with a 2nd class.
What is the difference between the international sections at Balzac, Camille Sée, Maurice Ravel and Montaigne?
When you apply you indicate your first, second and third choice of schools on your application.
Balzac’s International Section is the oldest, having opened in 1996, and the largest, with 6 different International Sections (British, German, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic and Spanish). Camille Sée opened its British section in September 2010. Maurice Ravel in 2014 and Montaigne in 2018. Don’t hesitate to make contact with the parents in these schools to hear more about their experience. Each school holds an Open Day around February or March.
Apply to the school that is the closest to where you live.
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 take the entrance exam and places are offered based on test results and availability.
What does a normal week for a student starting in 6ème look like ?
Timetable 6ème 2019
How do Balzac students do on the French Bac (O.I.B.)? Where do Balzac Lycée students go after the Baccalauréat?
The OIB is highly regarded worldwide and Balzac’s British Section graduates currently attend Universities and Schools in France, the UK, the USA, the Netherlands and Germany. The majority of British section graduates go on to study in France and the UK. A detailed list of the higher education choices of Balzac graduates is available to APESA members.
We are very grateful to the English section teachers as they give a lot of their free time to help students with applications to UK universities. This is complemented by input from parents for applications to the US and Canada. Balzac is now an SAT test centre for those interested in going to the States.
OIB results 2010 – 2019 are summarized below.