The Lycée Winston Churchill; the future for intercultural education?

In September we were delighted to be invited to the official opening by the President of France of the Lycée International de Londres Winston Churchill on the site of the former Brent Town Hall in Wembley.

Francois Hollande gives speech at the Lycee Winston Churchill opening

The new Lycée complements the long-established Lycée Charles de Gaulle in Kensington and the recently opened Collège Français Bilingue de Londres in Kentish Town in reflecting and responding to the needs of the rapidly growing French and Francophone population in London.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests that there are now 93,000 French nationals in London, making them the fifth largest non-British national group in the capital. So, at face value the expansion of educational provision for French families supported by the French government is perhaps not surprising.

But we believe that the opening of the new Lycée reflects a far wider and more profound set of changes underway in the educational and cultural environment of the UK as a direct result of globalisation and recent immigration.

Alongside the three secondary schools in London there are already several primary schools supported by the French government through its agency AEFE. In addition there are a number of independent French medium primary schools, while two independent French schools are actively developing an offer of both primary and secondary level bilingual/dual curriculum education in the capital.

Less well known is that there are already a small but growing number of UK state primary schools which offer bilingual education. For example, the Wix school and the Hotham school in London have a French bilingual stream. The Judith Kerr school offers German bilingual teaching, while the Bilingual Primary School recently opened in Brighton provides an English/Spanish bilingual education.

The key point is that these schools, just like the new Lycee Winston Churchill, are consciously aiming to meet the needs not only of international expats in the UK but what they see as an increasing number of UK-resident families interested in a specifically multilingual and multicultural education for their children.

How this need is met within the UK education environment is a complex question but the fact that this need exists – and is growing – appears to us to be unarguable. Not only are more and more families in the UK themselves multinational, multicultural and multilingual but even the ones that aren’t are witnessing the opportunities and challenges of globalisation every day as their children grow up alongside children from every cultural and language background in the world.

Through its long established network of British International Schools and through the work of organisations such as the British Council, the UK has long made an effort to share its language, culture and education around the world.

For us it was fascinating to hear a French president, speaking at a French school in London, talking in such animated and engaged terms about the positive benefits of cultural openness and of sharing French language and culture with non Francophone families around the world.

More widely, he highlighted a point which runs though much of our research and consultancy; the importance to France, the UK and indeed the wider world of educating the next generation of children not only with enhanced language skills but also with enhanced skills in intercultural understanding and intercultural working.