March 01, 2004
British school invades France

This is fascinating:

For pupils of Southlands School in Kent, the term "French exchange" no longer means three nerve-wracking summer weeks with a family of strangers.

Instead, the school has bought and renovated its own property in France and - unique among schools in Britain - uses it all the year round, not just during the holidays. All 1,200 pupils have the chance to use it for language lessons, outdoor activity trips and class projects. Southlands isn't a rarefied public school with a big budget, but a community comprehensive in New Romney.

"What we wanted was a little bit of France, in France," says the head teacher, Eamonn Cahill, who worked with the assistant head, Siobhan Stevens, to find the right property. "In fact," adds Stevens, "it took seven years and we saw an awful lot of not quite right places."

Then she heard of a possibility in the commune of Azincourt in the Pas de Calais, the place the English have always called Agincourt. This, as all schoolchildren should know, is the site where, on October 25, 1415, Henry V, leading his "Band of Brothers" of some 6,000 men weakened by illness and hunger, defeated a French army of 25,000.

The mayor, Bernard Boulet, suggested that a derelict former cafe on the edge of the village might be suitable for the Southlands project. "He was right," says Stevens. "It needed a lot of work, but it clearly had potential and was only an hour's drive from Calais."

It sounds like a really good operation. Like all good operations, it is succeeding (assuming that this Telegraph report of its success is to be believed) because the people who have to make it work are the ones deciding about it. Yes, there is lots of government money – British, French and EUropean – swilling about, but nobody in London, Paris or Brussels commanded Southlands School to do this. They are doing it themselves. Governments everywhere please note. And if it works out so well it becomes seriously famous, please refrain from commanding - or even "encouraging" - any other schools to do something similar. Let them decide for themselves.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:23 PM
Category: This and that