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Bromley free school making sure les enfants are fluent in French

PUBLISHED: 10:35 06 December 2012

Brigitte Guerry and Gaspar Hardman

Brigitte Guerry and Gaspar Hardman

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There is a lot from our neighbours across the channel that has permeated British society - croissants, good wine (and beer), Chanel, even David Guetta - but their language has mainly stayed on the other side.

So for a group of French mothers living in the Bromley area, who feared their offspring wouldn’t achieve bilingual fluency, starting up a French school was the answer.

Since September, French-speaking children from Bromley and beyond have been heading down to L’Ecole Tricolore (named after the French national flag) at Hawes Down Primary School in West Wickham on Saturdays for language lessons, while during the week a pre-school and an after-school club are run at Bromley Parish Church.

L’Ecole Tricolore follows the success of La Marelle, a similar bilingual Saturday school in Dartford that has around 120 children attending the classes.

Hasina Harris, who is mum to Joel, five, and Chloe, three, is head of both L’Ecole Tricolore and La Marelle as well as a teacher at a Newstead Wood School in Orpington.

“Initially there were four of us, all French mothers who had met through a website dedicated to French people living in Kent. Our children were all very young. I spoke to mine in French, and my childminder is French also, and my husband speaks English to them. But having seen students of mine who have French parents and are yet unable to speak the language, I realised that was going to happen to my children if I didn’t do work on it. Having French parents doesn’t guarantee the child will be bilingual at all,” she says.

The French speakers at La Marelle and L’Ecole Tricolore come not just from France but other Francophone countries too – Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Madagascar, for example, - amounting to about 20 different nationalities across the two schools.

And it’s not just for the French to speak French. The school welcomes children who only speak English and want to learn French, and adults too.

Hasina is passionate about the importance of children learning languages and worries not enough is being done in schools.

“I had a break from teaching for about five years and I worked in different offices as multi-lingual coordinator.

“I worked in companies with clients all over the world and employees were not recruited without knowing a second language.

For travelling purposes too… with the Ebbsfleet connection we are only two hours away from Paris.”

Now the French mamans have further ambitions and are setting their sights on starting a bilingual primary school.

Hasina explains: “What is missing around here is a French school. We have people who are desperate to give that education to their children. It is so saturated in London where the French population is growing, and people are trying to move closer in to get their children to the French schools there. But the French government is trying to encourage schools elsewhere so we are applying to start a free school that will provide a bilingual education.

If all goes to plan, the Bromley Bilingual Primary School will be opening its doors by September 2014.

Under the free school model it will be open to anyone, meaning English-speaking families could send their children there.

With the influx of French people into London and its suburbs, perhaps now is the time for their language to join us too.

For more information visit www.ecoletricolore.co.uk.

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