When it comes to selecting a school for their children, families arriving in France will have to plough through the various options to find a suitable solution for their children. Considering the diverse countries of origin with their specific cultural backgrounds of these people it can be a challenge to find an establishment that fulfills all their criteria and desires – particularly when they have been informed of the transfer at short notice or arrive during the academic school year.
The term “inpatriate” describes individuals working outside of their country of origin who have relocated to join the parent company of the organisation they have been working for – I am therefore referring here to foreign nationals coming to work in France.
I examine here how inpatriates address the subject of finding a suitable school for their children and which criteria play a role in their selection process.
The statistical data featuring in this article have been drawn from a study carried out by Paris21.tv in conjunction with Open Sky International School in Paris. The information has been collected by interviewing professionals in the relocation/mobility sector providing information about their clients. It therefore includes only those inpatriates which have benefited from a relocation service or HR support of their company.
Profile of inpatriates
The majority of inpatriates coming to work in France is between 30 and 50 years of age. This middle age range relates to the fact that employees which are being sent abroad often have, on the one hand, a solid professional experience to show for, whilst on the other hand, their relative young age provides them with the flexibility to adapt more easily to the new circumstances they are in.
Given the strong representation of the age range between 30 and 50 it is a logical consequence that many inpatriates are accompanied by their families. More than 7 out of 10 of those moving to work in France are accompanied by their children, who are almost entirely at school age. According to the professionals interviewed:
Although the general current trend leans toward shorter expatriations, the study has shown that the majority of inpatriates were assigned to stay for the medium term i.e. for more than 1 year and less than 5 years.
In terms of the language spoken by these families, it may not be surprising that English is the most frequently spoken language by the inpatriate community, French being in second place. Many of these families have previously been expatriated elsewhere and their children are following an English/American or French curriculum.
The position of Japanese and Indian in 5th and 6th place respectively indicates the increasing importance of Asian inpatriates in managerial positions in France.
Spoken languages by inpatriates:
Key criteria for selecting a school
Against this backdrop – the combination of the inptriates’ age, the fact that the majority are accompanied by their families and the length of stay in France – finding the right school is high on the agenda.
Whilst the large majority of school children in France are educated in public establishments, most inpatriates turn towards the private school system. This is mainly due to the fact that a bilingual programme in English and French is a key selection criteria for these families. Not surprisingly, there are very few possibilities for bilingual education in the public sector.
Many families staying in France for a number of years wish their children to continue their education in English whilst also benefiting from learning French in order to better integrate and benefit from their relocation experience. However, even within the private school sector there are only few establishments offering a truly bilingual teaching programme in English and French, where both languages are equally balanced.
Most international schools teach in the language of their country of origin (American School, British School, German School etc.) and offer 5/6 hours of French language per week on top.
There are several important criteria inpatriates focus on when making a choice in terms of finding a school for their children:
As mentioned previously, the primary criteria is whether a school offers a bilingual or international programme.
The location of the chosen school plays a less dominant role in the decision making process. Families often decide to find accommodation in proximity to the selected school, whilst also taking into consideration the commute to work and the lifestyle within the neighbourhood.
In some cases the scope of the school cycle offered by a school, meaning whether a school combines the various educational cycles (nursery, primary, secondary) can be an important factor, where families have children of different ages and wish for them to attend the same school. This helps to facilitate the daily routine (drop offs and pick-ups) and is often seen as a significant element to help children adapting to their new life.
By contrast, it seems that the reputation as well as the price of the education is altogether less significant to those parents referred to in this study:
Tuition fees of the various schools can differ significantly – starting with €5,000 in some bilingual schools and reaching over €30,000 for some international schools per year. Given that the majority of companies either take on the tuition fees in full or, alternatively, are prepared to subsidise a large portion, this element does not enter significantly into the decision making process for most inpatriates.
As a general observation, when the children settle in easily following the transition and the family is happy with their choice of school, a crucial step towards a successful relocation has been made. Almost all participants of the survey agree that finding the right school is paramount for inpatriates to having a positive experience during their time in their host country.
HR policies relating to schooling as part of relocation support
When analysing HR policies with respect to schooling and the level of support offered to inpatriate families, the picture is somewhat different:
Although the majority of companies do supply some form of support with respect to schooling – either through an in-house service or via third parties such as relocation agencies – only just over half believe that the issue of schooling is an important subject for the company itself. This opinion stands in stark contrast with the feeling of the inpatriates themselves which, as earlier mentioned, agree that finding a suitable school would be a main condition to the overall success of the mission in their host country.
Approximately a third of companies do not offer any help in finding a school for their inpatriate employees, the main reasons for this lack of support being simply not having the knowledge or the time to accord to this kind of service.
For those companies who do, just over third treat this subject of schooling internally within their HR department. The remainder, the large majority of companies, are hiring third parties to deal with these issues.
Finally, with respect to tuition fees incurred by the inpatriates the overwhelming majority of companies offer financial support (87%) – with half of the companies taking on the entirety of the tuitions fees incurred and a further third offering a flat rate subsidy.