Concerns and reassurances

After a week far from school, I was happy to be back behind my desk yesterday. I’d like to thank Andria, who handled a number of sensitive issues at TES that I couldn’t take care of from a distance.

Speaking of sensitive subjects, there is one that recurs regularly – the level of learning at our school. Several parents have expressed their concern and have asked us for reassurances. There are many reasons for their doubts: the number of children in our
classrooms who don’t speak French at home, the fact that there are no similar schools with whom we can compare our results, the anxiety that stems from leaving for another school, which parents assume will be more demanding, and that the level of learning
will be higher than here. Whatever the reasons, the concern is real and palpable, and it is our job to dissipate it. It is not an easy thing to do, and I know that writing this one letter on the subject isn’t going to wash away all the worries. I do however want to
remind you of a few objective facts that cannot be misinterpreted or misperceived.

Our results in the French national exams are excellent (and the anonymous answer papers are marked by teachers from other schools, not by our own staff!) We know for a fact that the longer a student studies in the French Section, the better their results
will be. Students who join our school from France or from other French schools abroad do not find themselves top of their class when they arrive – as they would if the level were easier here than elsewhere. Our former students who return to France or who
leave for other AEFE schools have never found themselves in any difficulty (except for the students that had been already flagged as having issues). At every stage in primary, the national assessments show that our students are doing well in French and in maths.

We receive regular visits, inspections and training sessions and not once has any external educational authority ever even hinted atan issue with the level of learning in our classes in any of their reports. As for the handful of students over the years who have
transferred from the French to the British Section or to the American School – they have always done fantastically, proving that the level of English in our classrooms is just as good as that of an Anglo-Saxon school.

Of course, I am not saying that everything is perfect, that there aren’t any children in our school who are struggling – of course there are. But to say that the existence of a few students with special needs means the level of the entire school is being dragged
down, or that our gifted and talented students are not excelling, would be far from the truth. The notion that all of the students in a year group progress at the same rhythm is not true of our school in Taipei, or of any school anywhere. Every child progresses at
their own rate.

I am also not trying to say that the bilingual pathway we offer has no effect on children’s learning: mastering French with its slippery spelling and capricious conjugations may take some students a while, (which makes me think of one of our young graduates last June who, although no one spoke French at home, passed the French Baccalauréat with highest honours, was offered places in the very best universities in the U.K. and in France, and during her graduation speech described how she had struggled to express herself in French until she reached lycée – high school).

We hear your concerns. The perception that each and every one of you have of our school is eminently important; it helps us advance and improve. That said, I would find it bitterly disappointing to have the mistaken perception that the level of learning is low tarnish the image of a school that is, as the facts prove, in excellent pedagogical health.

This Thanksgiving weekend, I would like to extend a special thought to our American families; I am thankful for the support our school receives from its parent community – it is of vital importance in guiding our students towards academic success.

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