Whenever I’m asked this question by a newcomer to Strasbourg I usually smirk and respond with something obnoxious.

This is primarily because I have two children in the International Section at Robert Schuman and am very happy with it, and also because I like to be obnoxious. Objectivity doesn’t come into it.

And there you have it – a case in point – the difference between the two schools is subject of much emotive and baseless discussion around Strasbourg; and rumours seem to play a part in each school’s reputation – each emanating from proud parents defending their choice of school.  It’s all very subjective, so if you’re a new parent in town – the story will vary wildly according to who you speak to.

The choice is made particularly difficult due to the fact that both schools are state funded and therefore free. However, before you even consider one or the other – you should know that one of the best fee-paying schools in the country is also located in Strasbourg.  Indeed, if you can afford it the Bilingual International School at Lucy Berger/Jean Sturm offers your offspring a totally bilingual approach to education – and has consistently produced a near 100% pass rate for the Baccalaureate.

So what IS the difference between the two schools? Well first off – although the European School is paid for by the French state it sits outside the French system. Which means that it covers the education needs of children throughout their entire school life, from age 4 to 18.

The international schools operate within the system, meaning a child will pass through the recognised French sections of Maternelle (3-5 years), Primaire (6-10 years), College (11-14 years) and Lycee (15 – 18 years).

[Note that a child’s age is relative to the year calendar and not the school one – meaning if you child is born on the 1st of January they will be the oldest in their class.]

So, if you are going to try and compare the two – you actually need to consider the full gamut of international institutions verses the European School – meaning:

  1. École maternelle/Primaire Robert Schuman
  2. École maternelle Vauban
  3. École primaire Conseil de Quinze
  4. International collège de l’Esplanade [SEE UPDATE BELOW 18/2/2016]
  5. Lycée internationale de Pontonniers

So direct comparison is very difficult and hence the views of parents, and their anecdotal advice, will depend entirely upon the age of their children.

There are many minor differences between the two such as the school hours, teachers pay, available facilities and extra-curricular activities/services. The reason I say minor is because the funding all comes from the same place – and therefore while there might appear to be disparity in some areas today – this situation is likely to be only temporary, and unlikely to affect the net result of your child’s education.  (e.g. there are no restaurant facilities at the European school)

Academic achievement is not yet comparable either because the European School has yet to produce any graduates. The State inspectorate decided only to offer places to children up to age 12 when it was set up three years ago, in order to keep set-up costs down, with each subsequent year seeing the opening of a new section to accommodate it’s oldest pupils, until the school is complete. Which means we’re still a good three years away from having any objective measure of academic success.

It is worth knowing though that the international Lycée, like it’s private counterpart, is also said to be one of the best schools in the country, also producing a near 100% pass rate on a consistent basis down the years.

Taking all this into consideration, the only things that you can compare on a like-for-like basis are:

  1. the teaching language
    The default language in the international sectioned schools is, not surprisingly, French – with 20% of classes taught in English*. At the European school all classes are taught in English**.
  2. the certificate
    The international schools take the French Baccalaureate with an international option (OIB) which qualifies them for foreign University admission. The European school takes the European Baccalaureate which is recognised across Europe. This obviously means the syllabuses are slightly different – but both qualifications certify your child as bilingual, which places them head and shoulders above the majority of their national counterparts.

That’s it essentially – as any other differences between the two are likely to be somewhat subjective.

So – as a parent in Strasbourg you have a fairly straight choice – but they are essentially two paths to the same thing – an excellently educated child. Whether you decide to let them do it predominantly in English or in French is entirely up to you.

*or Italian, Polish, Russian, Spanish or German depending upon your mother tongue

** or French or German depending upon your mother tongue

UPDATE: 18 February 2016: The international schools have undergone some state intervention since I wrote this post. The rentrée in September 2016 will see the opening of a new international section at College Vauban. Children from the two primary schools, Robert Schuman and Conseil de Quinze, will henceforth be separated according to language. English, Italian and Spanish kids will attend College Esplanade while the German and Polish children will go to College Vauban. This change is designed to enable the opening of new language sections, including Arabic, as well as integrate more local children into a multilingual teaching environment. Whether it will work remains to be seen.

Unfortunately, the State is also in the process of doing away with bilingual classes at the college level, believing them to be “elitist” – alas, a view held by many ordinary French mother-tongue voters – which may mean the eventual dismantling of the international schools system entirely. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!

Lycée International