Kids here go to high school (or collège) early — Z will only be ten when he leaves the safe, comfortable environment of the primary school he's been at since he was just out of nappies.
Almost all of his bosom buddies will be going to the collège in our quartier, a short walk from our street. It's a nice school with just 440 pupils, and a friendly atmosphere. Another advantage is that they have a "section européenne" that specialises in German. So Z could just do German for the first two years and start English later; not a bad idea for a boy who's already pretty good at English.
Basically, we'd be quite happy for him to continue his education at the school for our catchment area and of course he's very keen to stay with his pals, to perfect his mucking-about-in-the-playground skills. However, there is another possibility.
A ten-minute walk in the opposite direction from our house takes you to another, much bigger collège with 900 pupils. This one has a very special international programme just for bilingual children and families come from hundreds of kilometres away to get into it. There's a written and spoken English test to get into the class and the children that do get in are worked hard with extra classes in English language and literature. History is taught in English too. It's a small, tight-knit class and a very enthusiastic American teacher gives them lots of personal attention and encourages high achievement.
Is this the right environment for Z ? Could he take the extra pressure? Is he "academic" enough? Is his English good enough to pass the test (mea culpa, mea maxima culpa)? I think that if we can get him on our side on this, he might thrive. But then I think he'll also thrive in the regular collège.
This is a first-world, middle-class dilemma, I'm keenly aware of that. We're wonderfully lucky to live in a country that still believes in a public education system in which we have the luxury of choosing between two perfectly good options. But God, I hate making decisions, and I hate contemplating pushing our wee boy out of his (and our) comfort zone and into what might turn out to be a bit of a hot-house.
(PS. If you read French, Caroline had a really funny post the other day about the social politics of choosing a collège, even for those who don't have to deal with the language question)