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Talking Heads: Andy Hill of EIFA’s Senior School

on Mar 1, 2017

Andy-Hill-EIFAL’Ecole Internationale Franco-Anglaise (EIFA) is a bilingual, co-ed, independent school in Marylebone. It encompasses a Nursery, Junior School and Senior School across two sites. Andy Hill has been head of the Senior School since Dec. 2016. He previously held a number of posts at international schools in various locations including Milan, the U.S., Paris and Belgium.

The Senior School currently only goes up to Year 10, but you are a candidate school for the International Baccalaureate (IB) with a first cohort due to graduate in 2020. How will that affect the curriculum?

At the moment, from Year 7 to Year 10, our pupils follow the French curriculum, delivered 50/50 in French and in English. The proposal for next year is to adapt the French curriculum in Year 10 and in Year 11 and opt for a more international one designed around IGCSE’s, research skills and approaches to learning. That’s a logical transition to the IB.

Why have you opted for the IB?

Since the Senior School is not currently “homologuee,” we don’t generally appeal to French families unless they have made a conscious decision to step away from the French bac. We didn’t see much point in offering the British exams since most of our students aren’t British. Therefore the exam best suited to the profile of our students is the IB. It’s probably the best preparation for university that there is, especially for pupils thinking of studying in Western Europe, the U.K. or North America. It’s also a very challenging exam and the best internationally recognised qualification. We also plan to offer the bilingual version, which is even more demanding and requires pupils to take some subjects in French and some in English.

Where do you think your students will go to university?

I would expect Europe, Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. would be the main places. We have something like 38 nationalities at the moment, including Latvians and Kazakhs.

What are your medium-term goals for the school?

Obtaining the IB accreditation – a process that is quite advanced already but takes two years in total. I’m confident that we will get it for September 2018. All of our staff will be trained IB teachers by the end of this school year. We are expecting another visit next winter and hopefully our first cohort can start in Sept. 2018 and graduate in 2020. That would probably be 10 kids or so.

The other thing I really want to do is bolster our co-curricular offering. We’re pondering what to add at the moment: should it be the Duke of Edinburgh Award, public speaking, London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts? All of these things should be plugged in for the start of next year.

building EIFAWhat is your language offering?

At the moment we offer Spanish three hours a week. The IB is also offered in Spanish so that may be a possibility for the future.

What do you think makes your school different? There are quite a few bilingual French-English schools in London already.

Apart from the IB, what really makes the school unique is the really small class sizes. We would like to be bigger, but we’re not going to be a huge school. We’re going to be family and individual focused. The ideal size would be 10-15 per class and that’s because we’re bilingual, that’s challenging and you have to get the two languages developed evenly. Some kids will arrive bilingual and some not.

What is the language requirement for entering the Senior School?

My preference would be that either French or English is well developed, but we try to be flexible. We do take kids out for Francais Langue Etrangere (FLE) and for English as an Additional Language (EAL) to give them one-to-one or one-to-two tuition for as long as necessary. So for instance, some students will spend a good deal of their time getting one-to-one in French and English because neither is their mother tongue. In an ideal world, because exams are between 16 and 18, that’s the cut-off point. By that stage we need to be fairly confident that our pupils can take a balance of subjects in French and in English. We are encouraging balance between the two languages but it will be dictated by the situation of our pupils. We will be flexible.

What about your own background? What brought you here?

The IB. I have been a consultant to two other schools while they have begun the IB. Most of the last 20 years, I have spent growing a school. I spent 10 years at the International School in Milan, 10 years in a small British school in Antwerp where I added IGCSE and IB, and 4 years in a bilingual school in Atlanta (English/French or English/Spanish or English/German). I was a couple of years at the American School in Paris. So in terms of systems, I know the French, the British, the American, the German and the Swiss. I also understand the needs of the crowd of parents that I cater to, but perhaps most importantly I know what a university looks like today, not 30 years ago. It’s changing so much and one of my roles is to convey that to the parents and make them understand their child can go to many different countries and get an excellent degree. They shouldn’t restrict themselves.

What do you think are the respective strengths and weaknesses of the French and the Anglo-Saxon system? How can you get the best of both worlds?

The French are strong in content, presentation and knowledge. The Anglo-Saxon/international system is strong in acquiring knowledge via skills. When you put the two together, you have the best of both worlds because most exams are about content, but advanced studies are about skills.

The U.K. system, in the private sector, is very exam heavy. Do you think your pupils benefit from not taking so many exams in middle school?

Yes, but we need at least one opportunity to practice before our pre-university exams.

Which key values and qualities would you like your pupils to graduate with?

1) Tolerance and the ability to appreciate that while someone else’s viewpoint may not be theirs, it may have equal value in a different culture.

2) Exceptional communication and presentation skills including the ability to inform and persuade in more than one language.

3) The ability to acquire knowledge from a variety of sources and be critical about those sources of information.

4) To be non-judgmental about people unless you know them well enough to form that judgment.

What do you think are the character traits that make a difference today in the workplace and how have they changed?

Today the workplace needs more teamwork and a greater variety of skills (a chemical researcher may need to speak and read two languages even though he is a chemist). But the biggest change by far is that access to information is immediate.

What do you think are the qualities that make a great Headteacher?

Humour, patience, organisational skills, humour, knowledge of how students think, psychology, humour, academic rigour and humour!