Mougins British School on the Côte d’Azur: Q&A with James Wellings, Head of School



Mougins British School on the Côte d’Azur: Q&A with James Wellings, Head of School

Mougins School is a British international school located in the heart of Nice Sophia-Antipolis. Founded in 1964, the school offers an international education for children aged three to 18. FrenchEntrée digital editor Zoë Smith chats with Head of School, James Wellings, about the school’s curriculum, the innovative ‘Thrive’ programme, and the wealth of opportunities that Mougins offers children.

Can you give us a little introduction to Mougins?

Mougins School is a British international school for three to 18-year-olds in the heart of Nice Sophia-Antipolis, which is a technology park near the old and beautiful village of Mougins. We have 527 students on-site, including about 40 different nationalities.

We run a curriculum that is inspired by but not adherent to the English National curriculum from the UK, and at the top level of the school, we run GCSEs and A-levels, which are perhaps the most well-known of the post-14 and post-16 programs around the world.

We have a beautiful campus in a woodland setting, with lots of modern and spacious facilities, and overall I would say the school is a very happy place, both for kids and staff. If you come onto campus, you’ll see a lot of smiling faces!

James Wellings, Head of School, Mougins

What kind of curriculum do you follow at Mougins?

With our three-year-olds, we start with the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum, which is based on that of the UK and very much focuses on what we call play-based learning. But it is play with purpose, setting up learning provisions to develop language, fine motor skills, and all the foundations and building blocks of education. We have lots of kids that speak a lot of languages, so there is a big focus at this stage on developing their English, to set them up for later in the school.

We then have Keystage One, which is our Year One, Two, and Three classes. They follow a curriculum that is inspired by the English curriculum, and they will also do four hours of French a week. We also have something called School in Woods, which is very cool! The kids do some of their normal lessons outside in the natural environment, as well as outdoors education.

This takes us into Keystage Two, for our Year Five and Six children (aged 8 to 10), then the Secondary School education begins in Year Seven at aged 11, following Keystage Three, for Years Seven to Nine. At 14, they will get to choose and narrow down their subjects; all students have to do Maths, Science, English, and French, but outside of that, they can choose from a wide range of subjects. They will then do their GCSEs at age 16, and that will take them through to their A-Levels, where they can choose four subjects in Year 12, and usually, they will narrow these down to three subjects in Year 13.

This will allow them the gateway to university after they leave school. We have a full university support programme. We have a university counsellor and we run something called the Future Proof programme, which is all about preparing students for life after school.

We have students going off to pretty much any university you’ve ever heard of – in the US, the UK, and Europe. We’ve just had our first acceptance into Oxford this year, and we’ve got a student interviewing for MIT this week, so we’ve got students attending some of the best universities in the world, and we’ve got other students attending some other great universities that are a bit more low-key, but which are right for them.

What is the primary teaching language at Mougins, and how does the school support bilingual learning?

It’s important to say that we’re not pretending to be a bilingual school. There are some excellent bilingual schools in the area; in fact, ICS Côte d’Azur is just down the road from us, where they have classes taught 50% in French, 50% in English. We are a British school with English as our main language, but we do put an emphasis on French, and French is a core subject.

We very much support language learning, and many of our kids will come to us bilingual and leave trilingual, or come to us monolingual and leave as bilingual. However, this isn’t a guarantee, and additional lessons or practice may be required if parents want their children to be really fluent in French.

Mougins science outdoor learning © Mougins

Can you tell us about the “Thrive” programme at Mougins?

This is my personal favourite thing within the school at the moment. I joined about a year ago, and I really wanted to look at ways we could promote passion. Within a curriculum, you are constrained by the amount of time that you have, but often kids will find their passions or areas of interest through other things, whether performing for the school play or playing for the rugby team. So, the question was, how can we find more opportunities for kids to try different things?

We built it into the timetable, so it’s not an extra-curricular activity; it is part of the curriculum, for one hour, four times a week. Thrive is a fully elective and vertical program. By elective, I mean that kids can choose what they want to do, and by vertical, I mean that year groups are mixed up in ways that they might not be in the normal curriculum. So, you might have 14-year-olds with 16-year-olds or 11-year-olds olds.

We’ve split it into four areas, and kids can choose which ones they want to take. Self, which is all about developing physical wellbeing; so sports, gymnastics, badminton, yoga, sophrology, meditation, etc. Community, which is all about charity work or work to develop the school, so we have eco-warrior groups and charity groups, things like that. Academic, which includes debate, Lego STEM… we even have a model Union Nations, which is great because it includes 11-year-olds all the way up to 18-year-olds, all working together. Finally, there’s creative, which includes activities such as music groups, artistic drawing, mosaics, choirs…

The goal is for kids to find their passion, and hopefully they will, but it doesn’t matter if they don’t because just being exposed to so many different things is beneficial. We also bring in outside expertise for some subjects, so we have a self-defence group and a girls’ self-defence group, we have a Mandarin teacher who comes in, we even have some parents who come in and help out. For example, we have a hedge fund manager that runs an investment club for some of the older kids. It’s a really nice community.

What are some of the extra-curricular activities on offer at Mougins?

A lot of things that most schools offer as extra-curricular, we already have in our Thrive program. However, we also offer sports teams who are going off to compete with other schools around Europe – this is a growing area for us at the moment. We also have an external provider who offers a whole programme of extra-curricular activities, including sports and drama, from 4 to 6 pm every night. So, if you wanted to, you could stay at school from 8.30 am in the morning to 6 pm at night and never be bored!

We’re also open from 6 pm to 8 pm for parents and members of the community, and we do fitness classes, yoga, dance, and some other things. It’s a busy place!

Mougins primary activities © Mougins

What advice would you give to parents who are moving to or have recently moved to France, and are considering enrolling their children at Mougins? What should their next step be?

The first thing they should do is check out the website (Mougins British International School), which has lots of information about the school. They can fill in the contact form on the website, and they will be contacted by a lovely gentleman, Yash, who will invite them to come to visit the school. We really like parents to come to the school if at all possible, because we think it’s important that both they and their kids get a feel for the place, and see if they like it. We know that’s not always possible, but we do encourage it. School visits take place during the school day, so that the kids are actually here.

Parents can also ring the school or arrange a Zoom meeting – there’s an admissions number on the website, and that will get you through to the famous Yash. We also run open days once a month, so we invite everyone to come to those. Open days give parents a chance to tour the school, as well as meet me and the heads of primary and secondary.

We really try and be as bespoke as possible – if you’re a Brit moving to France, that’s got a lot more complicated now, and we’re there to help with advice and information, as it’s not always clear.

We try to give parents as much time as possible, meet with everyone, and just make sure they have a lovely experience so that they can make their choice. We firmly believe everyone has to make their own choice for their own kids.

Finally, why do you think should parents (and students) should choose Mougins?

There are three things. Firstly, we are very much a values-driven school, which is easily said and not often delivered! Our core values are Integrity, Respect, Community, and Learning. We thought very carefully about what these values and we included the whole community of students and parents to debate and discuss what they should be. And I can genuinely say that we are living them every day on campus. They are part of our systems, part of our reports, our rewards, our behaviour policy, our curriculum… and I think that gives students and parents a really good moral compass to aim towards.

The one I think is really interesting to talk about is the value of ‘learning’, because some people will say that learning is not a value, but I always disagree with this! We have a statement attached to each of our values, and the learning one is “We are all learners who strive to develop and improve. We recognise the importance of effort, mistakes and reflection.” And that is very much a value.

That’s why I would encourage parents and kids to join us at Mougins, because we do live by this value, and if we all do that, whether you are like me, as the Head of School, or whether you are a three-year-old starting in year one, the same thing applies. We can all learn, we can all reflect, we can all improve, and we can all put our hand up and say, ‘well, I didn’t quite get that right, but what have I learnt from it?’

Secondly, we are offering a really rich curriculum in a beautiful place that is really fit for purpose for an international community. We recognise that we are an international school in France and pay homage to that, and we also offer a great curriculum and get great outcomes for our kids.

Thirdly, it’s opportunity. Kids that come here will have opportunities; they will have a wealth of them! It’s up to individuals as to how far they take those opportunities, and it’s up to us to support that, but they will be there.

So, if you want to come to a school that is values-driven, has excellent academic outcomes, and offers lots of opportunities to kids, I would say Mougins is a good choice for you.

Mougins School, a proud member of Globeducate

Mougins British International School is a member of Globeducate, one of the leading K-12 international education groups in the world – a network of 55 premium bilingual and international schools, as well as online programmes, educating 28,000 students in nine countries.

Find Out More About Mougins British International School

Mougins British International School
615 Avenue Maurice Donat
006250 Mougins
[email protected]

Lead photo credit : Mougins campus © Mougins

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