The children in the bilingual stream are taught for half of each week in English by an English-qualified teacher and in French by a French-qualified teacher for the other half. The running of the stream is shared equally between Wix Primary School and École de Wix, which is a French primary school which shares our school site. There are 28 children in each bilingual class, from Reception to Year 6. 14 children in each class come in to the stream via Wandsworth Borough, with the other 14 coming in from the Lycée Charles de Gaulle in South Kensington (the Lycée), which is École de Wix’s parent school (see Admissions below).
École de Wix has been renting space on the Wix Primary School site since the early 1990s. Around the same time, our local area started to become popular with families with French connections. Recognising this community shift and keen to take full advantage of the educational possibilities on the site, the heads of the two schools started to work with their respective authorities to investigate how a shared bilingual stream could be created in around 2004. As a result, a bilingual agreement (the Agreement) was signed by the Wix governors, Wandsworth Borough, the Lycée and the French Government in 2006 and the bilingual stream opened its doors to its first Reception Bilingual class in September 2006. A consecutive class was then opened each year until September 2012 when the bilingual stream was finally complete.
Our objective has always been to provide not only a bilingual, but also a bicultural education for the children in the stream. This requires close collaboration between the two schools, both on a day to day, operational level and at a strategic level. Under the Agreement, we benefit from the active support and guidance of a Bilingual Finance Committee, a Bilingual Curriculum Committee, and the most important committee, the Bilingual Management Committee, which comprises representatives from the Education Department at Wandsworth Borough, the Lycée, the French inspector of schools for Northern Europe and the French Cultural Attaché. Wix Primary and École de Wix report regularly to this ultimate committee, not only on the bilingual curriculum that we have created for the stream, but also the general management and running of the stream.
Our aim is that by the end of Year 6 all children in the stream should be able to reach at least national average results in their French and English national tests as a minimum. Many children in the stream arrive already able to use both languages to a greater or lesser extent and these children will often exceed the national average results in both sets of tests. However, we welcome children who do not use both languages at home. We recognise that it can take time to imbed the use of two working languages. Therefore we place a heavy emphasis on developing children’s oral skills, most particularly in the early years, so that monolingual children have the best chance of making the most of all that the stream and bilingualism generally has to offer (see Curriculum section). We do emphasise to parents, however, that it is imperative that children are exposed to the language they do not use at home out of school as much as possible, as well as in school, in order for them to take full advantage of the stream, just as it is imperative that families show their children how committed they are to helping their children with both languages.
We run a strictly two-way immersion approach in our bilingual stream which demands that children are equally exposed to the language, curricula and pedagogical approaches and expectations of both the French and English governments. Notwithstanding that the teachers in the stream speak both languages, they communicate with the children in their own mother tongues, so that perfect spoken language is modelled, structured and pronounced to the children at all times in both languages. It is also important that families with children in the stream accept and abide by the two different pedagogical and cultural approaches in the stream; whilst we are keen to learn from one another, both schools accept that they cannot impose their own, national practices on the other.
For families who feel that this level of French is too intense, we offer a higher level of French in our English stream than is required under the national curriculum. We are also lucky that various other Wandsworth primaries offer significant exposure to French, for example, Shaftsbury Park (www.shaftesburypark.wandsworth.sch.uk) and Hotham (www.hothamprimaryschool.org.uk). At these schools, the children can learn in French, but not at quite the level that they do in the bilingual stream at Wix.
We prepare and teach a tailored bilingual curriculum for each of our classes. In this way, we share the teaching of history, geography, science, art and DT within each class, so that children cover subjects and themes in both languages, building into one language and curriculum what they have also learnt in the other. It is vital that we adopt this approach, so that the learning within the class is cohesive and progressive throughout the week and the school year.
We also teach a bilingual maths curriculum which acknowledges and incorporates the different demands made by the respective national curricula, again so that the teaching within each class is complimentary.
Our respective literacy curricula tend to be taught slightly more separately than the other subjects, although class teachers ensure that they share bilingual books or themes as far as is possible, again, so that the children can profit from their learning in both languages.
Where there are fundamental pedagogical differences between the two governments’ requirements, we strive for a sensible compromise. For example, in the French educational system children don’t start to read or write formally until CP (Year 2, ages 6-7) whereas in England children are expected to start reading and writing in Reception (ages 4-5). We therefore adopt a softer approach to phonics, reading and writing in our Reception Bilingual class than our English Reception class and the children start to read English in earnest in our Year 1 bilingual class, with French reading sometimes starting in our Year 1 bilingual class instead of our Year 2 bilingual class. Whilst this can look like a slightly slower start to formal literacy than is found in a typical English classroom, our experience and our formal test results show that this is not to the detriment of the children. Far from it; by Year 3 or 4 the children have comfortably caught up with their English-only peers’ attainment levels, whilst also being afforded the time to develop and embed their dual language skills.
Key documents pertaining to the bilingual stream will be written in both languages. However, on a day-to-day basis, communications passing between teachers, the schools and parents will be in the language of the writer (i.e. English or French). This is in the spirit of bilingual education and another reason why it is advisable for families of children in the stream to put bilingual support in place outside of school.
Parents are informed of their children’s progress by two “livrets” (French-style reports) a year, as well as at least one parents’ meeting, usually in December. Parents are of course welcome to make contact with the class teachers at any other time if they have any specific concerns. They will also be kept abreast of what is happening in the child’s class via the bilingual class blogs and class Highlights of the Week.
All children in the stream will have access to the learning needs support available within Wix Primary School, irrespective of their admission route. Where private support may be necessary is when French-registered children require additional support, which is not available within Wix.
However, it is worth thinking carefully about whether the bilingual stream is in a child’s best interests if he or she has specific learning needs which are best accommodated by consistent and reinforced language teaching and support across each week. For example, a child who has educational language needs in his mother tongue may struggle to thrive in the bilingual learning environment. However, we work closely with the parents of children who find learning in two languages excessively challenging, to decide whether the bilingual stream or one of our monolingual streams on the site would best meet the child’s learning needs.
As with the French stream children, children in our bilingual stream do not wear uniform. French school children typically do not wear uniform.
Whether or not all the children on the site should, or should not, wear uniforms is regularly reviewed by parent consultation. There is all-round agreement that the children in the stream should either all be in uniform, or all be in their own clothes, to promote a sense of consistency and belonging within the classes in the stream.
Children in the stream typically achieve consistently at or above national age-related expectations in their attainment levels by the end of year 6, both in the English SATs tests and the French equivalent tests. This is a tremendous achievement of itself, notwithstanding the opportunities the children receive from bilingual and bicultural learning throughout their time in primary school.
English national testing in phonics at the end of Year 1 and in Key Stage 1 SATs at the end of Year 2 are good within the stream, but the overall trend is that, with the children still young and digesting two languages and approaches, the national test results in the stream at these stages are not quite as strong as they are by the end of year 6.
We consider it to be vital to focus on, develop and embed the learning opportunities relating to the children’s language in the younger classes within bilingual stream. This is in order to ensure that the children can gain the greatest benefit in the medium to long term with us. Experience has taught us that this approach in no way compromises the children’s learning and development; far from it, as it would seem positively to benefit their learning. We impress on parents new to the stream not to expect their child’s educational development to run exactly in parallel with typical national expectations; by accepting a place in the stream for their child, parents are specifically accepting a slightly modified teaching approach to what is normally available in the UK or in France.
The bilingual stream follows the English national requirement of 190 days a year in school for children (the French national requirement is 173 days). Accordingly, the bilingual stream typically mirrors the English stream term dates.
The school has a zero tolerance policy for the leave during term time. It is vital that children attend school every day unless they are ill. Missing time in such a busy bilingual curriculum can have a significant impact on a child’s learning. Please particularly keep this requirement in mind if you also have children in the French stream.
From Year 3 it is usual in the French education system for schools to ask parents to provide a list of school equipment at the start of each school year. Parents are given advance notice of this and equipment lists are available on the Wix section of the Lycée website. “La Rentrée” (the beginning of a school year) is an important affair in France and buying school equipment in preparation is very much part of the French culture.
Please also see our page on Applying for Secondary School
English state secondary provision: Please see secondary school admissions section. The majority of children choosing to opt for state secondary English provision currently move on to Bolingbrook Academy, for which Wix is a feeder school. See: arkbolingbrokeacademy.org.
Bilingual state secondary provision: Lambeth Academy started to make French bilingual provision for its Year 7 intake in 2014. This has proved to be so successful that from September 2016 it has changed its admissions criteria to provide for up to 10% of that academic year’s Year 7 admissions to be taken from a French bilingual background. See: www.lambeth-academy.org.
French private secondary provision: Many children move from the bilingual classes to the Lycée. They also have the option of applying for the new Lycée International de Londres in Wembley. However, although the Lycée is actively involved in helping us to develop and manage our bilingual stream, it has its own private school secondary age admissions criteria, with a focus on meeting the needs of the very large French-speaking community in London. See: www.lycéefrancais.org.uk (South Kensington) and www.lycéeinternational.london (Wembley).
English private secondary provision: A growing number of our bilingual stream children choose to move in to the private sector for their secondary education. As an example, pupils from our last two Year 6 bilingual cohorts have moved on to Alleyn’s, Whitgift, Putney High School for Girls, Clapham and Streatham High School, Emmanuel, Whitgift and Eaton House (whilst waiting to move on to Eton in Year 9). Some families are also choosing to send their children to the Lycée for Years 7 and 8 (6eme and 5eme), with a view to moving into the English private sector at Year 9.
A note of caution: Whilst children are placed in the same academic year in England if their birthdays fall between September and the following August, in France children are placed in the same academic year if their birthdays fall between January and the following December. This means that each bilingual class, unusually, has a 16 months age range, not a 12 month age range and that the younger French-registered children (born between September and December) would be a year behind if they were English-registered. Whilst this rarely causes insurmountable issues for their primary education, it does present problems for young, French-registered children wanting to move on to English state secondary schools. It would be very unusual for a English state secondary school to accept a child into Year 7 if, under English year groups, they should be in Year 6.
If you have any questions about the bilingual stream, please contact Rebecca Osuntokun, the deputy head responsible for the bilingual stream, via the school office.