Interview with Mr. Mark Sherringham [fr]
1. Mark Sherringham, can you explain your remit as head of the French schools department at the Embassy?
As cultural attaché at the French Embassy in Washington, I am in charge of the network of accredited schools in North America (USA and Canada) that I manage together with the Agency for French Schools Abroad (AEFE) and the different consulates. I am also in charge of the French as a mother tongue associations (FLAM) in the USA, and finally, I play a role in the awarding of the LabelFrancÉducation to candidate schools.
2. Could you describe the network of officially accredited schools in the United States?
The accredited school network in the US encompasses for the 2015-2016 school year, 47 schools that are mostly located on the East and West coasts, in the Chicago area, in Texas, in Louisiana and in Florida. These schools have an excellent reputation: they are dynamic and innovative establishments that welcome about 17, 000 students, 45% of them being French, 45% American and 10% from other countries.
3. Which schools in Florida come under your supervision?
In Florida, for the present school year, I am in charge of supervising the 4 schools that remain accredited, 2 schools in Broward County and 2 in Miami Dade County.
4. The opening of a Lycée Français is on the cards for 2016. How will this new school be included in the existing network of accredited schools in Miami?
Should it be confirmed, the opening of this new institution that will deliver the French official curriculum and prepare students for the French official exams (Middle School and High School diplomas) should come as a complement to the private option for Middle and High School levels. This would be a gradual process with new classes opening each year that should meet the demand of the increasing French population settling in Florida.
5. Two public schools, Sunset Elementary and Carver Middle School were accredited until this school year. Why did the Interministerial Committee decide not to renew the accreditation awarded to these schools?
First of all, I would like to point out that these two schools benefited from an official French recognition for the excellence of their International Studies program (IS) before the process of accreditation was officially set up. They were then incorporated into the network of accredited schools without any further assessment of their compliance with the official criteria.
The audit conducted by the National Education General Inspectorate in April 2014 revealed that the schools didn’t abide by the accreditation criteria, that is compliance with the French curriculum and schedules in every subject as well as the presence of enough teachers accredited by the French national education system. With these elements, the National Committee for Schools Accreditation concluded in May 2014 that an extra year would be given to these schools in order for them to comply. When the Committee met again in June 2015 and established that the schools still did not meet the accreditation criteria, the accreditation was officially removed.
6. Why was the Charter School ISCH accredited by the Interministerial Committee?
It is very simple: ISCH fully complies with the accreditation criteria at the High School level, and the fact that students have very good results at the Baccalaureate is a proof of this. Regarding the Middle School level, ISCH has made some progress and this allowed the school to keep its accreditation; however further efforts will be necessary.
7. What are the implications of this change in the status of Sunset and Carver for the students? Will they be able to carry on studying in a French school in France or in an accredited school in the US or elsewhere? Will they be asked to repeat a class?
The implications for the students coming from these two schools who want to carry on studying in a French school in France or somewhere else are very limited:
If they are at the elementary level, students who have followed a program taught in French or the regular American curriculum will automatically be registered in the French school system at their proper age-grade level. The change in status has no impact.
If they are in Middle School, the students will necessarily be registered; however they might have to take some tests in maths and French language in order to assess their ability to follow classes at their age-grade level. This should not be a problem for students who followed the International Studies program.
In either case, repeating a class is not a requirement except if the student’s grades are too low.
8. How many students might potentially be concerned?
We have learned from previous years that only a few students are concerned, going back to France or leaving Miami. And, as just mentioned, there are no implications for elementary school level and very few potential consequences for Middle schoolers.
9. Parents are afraid that the quality of instruction in these schools might not be kept at the level it is at now. What is your view on that?
The excellence of the instruction in these two schools relies on the quality of the International Studies program. The fact that the accreditation was removed does not impact the IS program.
10. How does this decision impact the teachers that originate from the French Ministry of National Education?
There are no teachers from the French Ministry of National Education at Sunset Elementary School; two teachers are on detail at Carver. If Carver Middle School decided to become a LabelFrancÉducation school, the two teachers might be able to remain on detail. If not, they could apply for a temporary leave of absence.
11. How will the French authorities continue to support the International Studies Program?
The development of bilingual education, along with the consolidation of a network of officially accredited French schools, has become a priority for France, not only in the United States but worldwide. However, in both cases, the schools are called upon to find funds, from local authorities and /or parents’ contributions to self-finance the teaching, since French schools districts are sending fewer and fewer of the teachers that are on their payroll abroad, and then only for very specific programs.
In the US, France will carry on supporting schools by helping to obtain officially trained teachers for bilingual and accredited schools. In Miami, France’s official support also consists in large financial contributions from French MPs to FIPA.
12. Can Sunset Elementary and Carver Middle School ask for re-accreditation? If yes, what changes would need to be made?
Sunset and Carver can decide to make a request for their accreditation every year. However, their request will only be successful if the official French curriculum is being taught and the requirements in terms of contact hours in French have been met.
13. What other form of official recognition could be given by France to schools offering the “International Studies” program?
What would be the advantages of this accreditation?
Launched in 2012 by the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the “LabelFrancÉducation” seal recognizes and rewards schools that offer outstanding bilingual teaching, in which 20% of the school time is dedicated to learning in French. A few of the bilingual public primary schools in New York have already been given the LabelFrancÉducation. In Miami, ISPA, a bilingual International Studies High School was just awarded the Label. If Sunset and Carver were to apply for the Label accreditation, it would allow the creation of two complete tracks from first to twelfth grade: one accredited by the Ministry of National Education and the other recognized and accredited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Just as in New York, each would meet different demands.