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.
There are two versions of the English OIB – the British OIB and the American OIB. Balzac does the British OIB.
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.
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.
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). It is also worth reading the excellent ‘OIB within the New Bac’ at the following link https://www.asiba.fr/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/OIB_2021_sommaire.pdf.
See below a piechart, with coeffs, for the OIB within the new bac.
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 LVB available in the English section. All the other International sections do English as their LVB.
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 40% are in International Sections (SI) and 60% from the catchment area. Honoré de Balzac also runs a CHAS (sports) programme, European options, and cours préparatoires.
International Section students come from Paris and the Paris 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 lines 13 & 14, 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.
Do students in the International Section have lots of homework?
The amount of homework depends on the teachers and the students. The work obviously increases as the students get older.
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, students will be given reading during both the short mid-term holidays and long summer holidays in preparation for the following term/year. See below for the summer reading list for 2020.
What other languages are offered at Balzac?
The English section students take Spanish as their 2nd language (LVB formerly called LV2) as of 6ème or 5ème. All the other International sections at Balzac do English, as per the normal French program, beginning in 6ème. On the Balzac 6ème inscription dossier in June, once offered a place, your child will have the choice of starting Spanish in 6ème or 5ème. Those students who do not wish to start Spanish in 6ème will do their Spanish lessons with the general section students who start their LVB in 5ème. Spanish is the ONLY LVB on offer in the English section as of 6ème and is therefore the LVB that you will take for your Baccalauréat.
Greek and Latin can be taken as an additional subject as of 4ème.
Students applying to Balzac, excluding 6ème, will be required to enter the LVB that they are currently studying in the inscription plateform.
Are the Balzac English Section teachers native speakers?
The three English section teachers (1 History/Geography & 2 English Literature) are native speakers.
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 helps run the above school events as well as attending the March Open day to answer questions from new parents. The British section also publishes a teacher/student/parent 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.
The teachers’ primary responsibility 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 weekend outings and trips outside France are also organised 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 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 school. Parents and students are not “clients” and we do not have a constant turnover of students from expat families arriving from and leaving for 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 ?
Please make sure that before you apply, you and your child come to the Open Day in Janaury, where you’ll be able to visit this very large school as well as meet the British section teachers and parents, who, as well as answering your many questions, will explain the ‘level’ required for an International English section. If you cannot attend the Open day, refer to the FAQ – Open Day info/docs.. which will hopefully give you an idea of the ‘level’ required.
The inscriptions are now done via an online plateform housed on the rectorat de Paris site. See last FAQ for details. Please note that whilst the new plateform allows you to apply for ANY school year at Balzac, places in the years other than 6ème (25 places) & 2nd (35 places) are VERY FEW indeed. Before applying for years other than 6ème & 2nd, call the International secretary (01 53 11 12 08) to find out if there will be ANY places available in the year you are thinking of applying for.
Following reception of your application, at your 1st choice school, the candidate will receive a convocation letter for the ONE sitting of the Written test, which takes place around the 5th of May, together with another date for the Oral test.
The Written test (60mins entry into college – comprehension and creative writing, 90mins entry into lycee- Critical appreciation) is followed a day or two later by a 10/15min Oral with the section teachers (students are given a short a text to read and then asked questions). Both tests take place at your 1st choice school.
The written test for entry into 6ème, 5ème, 4ème & 3ème is 60mins compared to 90mins for entry into 2nd & 1ere.
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 sections secretary.
At the beginning of June students will be informed by the Acadamie de Paris, on their site and by letter, if they have been offered a place (dérogation granted) or not.
Students applying for 6ème must request a dérogation for Balzac from their primary schools prior to the May test. 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 in May. 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. (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. Please note that places in the years in between are VERY FEW indeed. Spots only open up when students leave and Balzac is NOT a school with a high turnover of students leaving to go abroad each year. Before applying for years other than 6ème & 2nd, call the International secretary (01 53 11 12 08) to find out if there will be ANY places available in the year you are thinking of applying for.
The number of places in the international sections is set by the Rectorat de Paris. There are currently 25 places available in 6ème and 35 places in 2nd. The students (25) in the 3ème English section class at Balzac also have to apply and sit the entrance test for a place in 2nd if they wish to stay in the section for lycee.
In May 2020 – a total of 183 candidates sat the entrance tests for the Balzac English section (College & Lycee). 6ème – 57 candidates (25 places available), 5ème 25 (?), 4ème 19 (?), 3ème 10 (?), 2nd 151 the higest number we have ever had (35 places available), 1ere 21 (2).
The other British International sections in Paris
When you apply for 6ème or 2nd, you indicate your order of (school) preference on your application.
Apply to the school that is the closest to where you live, these are long days and kids, starting 6ème, who live in the rive gauche (left bank) should not be travelling to the rive droite (right bank).
As of September 2021 there will be five British section schools in Paris offering 6ème and three schools for lycee (2nd).
6ème = Balzac (75018), Maurice Ravel (75020), Collège Voltaire (75011), Camille Sée (75015) & Montaigne (75006)
2nd = Balzac, Camille Sée & Maurice Ravel
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 and an Italian section (half class) will be opening in Sept 2021. Maurice Ravel opened in 2014 and Montaigne, with 2 other International sections (Polish and Portuguese) in 2018. Collège Voltaire will open their 6ème (half) class in September 2021. For further information about the other English sections please consult their school websites. Some of the schools also have section parent associations, some don’t. Each school normally holds an Open Day around January or March time but with Covid restrictions Balzac has not held their Open day for the last two years.
How many OIB hours will my child have at Balzac compared to the other English section schools in Paris?
Balzac students have;
College – 6hrs Literature in 6ème & 3ème, 5hrs in 5ème & 4ème + 2hrs History/Geography 6ème – 3ème per week.
Lycée – 4hrs Literature in 2nd, 1ère, Terminal + 2hrs Hist/Geo in 2nd & 3hrs in 1ère & Terminale.
Camille Sée & Maurice Ravel students have;
Lycée – 7hrs Literature in 2nd & 6hrs in 1ère & Terminale.
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, Ireland and Canada. The majority of British section graduates go on to study in France and the UK but with Brexit we are now seeing more students heading to the Netherlands for English degrees courses. 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 and a parent co-ordinator for applications to the US and Canada. Balzac is now a SAT test centre for those interested in applying to the States.
OIB results 2010 – 2020 are summarised below.
Studying in the UK post Brexit
Please note that if you are a British national, even if your child is not, then they are still eligible for home fee status (the fee rate that students who live in the UK are charged), as well as Student Finance support or Further Education 19+ for degree courses that start before January 2028.
Open Day info/documents for students applying for 6ème & 2nd
6ème & 2nd – see FAQ – ‘Do students in the International section have lots of homework’ for the ‘Summmer Reading List 2020’. This will give you an idea of the level required for 6ème & 2nd (very few, if any, places available in other years).
6ème candidates – these are long days that often start at 8am and finish at 17h30. The English Literature and History/Geo lessons mean 8hrs per week on top of a normal 6ème timetable. See FAQ – ‘What does a normal week…like’ for a timetable from a 6ème student 2019/2020. If your child has a lot of after school activities, you might want to consider whether an International section is really for them. 6ème English section students start Spanish as their 2nd language in either 6ème or 5ème, see FAQ – What other languages…..at Balzac’
- If Balzac does not offer the LVB that you are currently studying in 3ème, you may have to take it elsewhere.
- see doc below – OIB Literature exam program for 2021 & 2022 – to fully understand the level of the books you would be studying from 1ere onwards to prepare the OIB Literature exam.
The new online inscription platform for rentree 2021
This brand new platform will be open 8th of February – 2nd of April for International Sections