Fury as London Lyce makes room for Sarkozy's son

London's leading French private school is faced with its second cronyism row in less than year after it granted a place at short notice for the son of Nicolas Sarkozy, despite being massively over-subscribed.

Ccilia Sarkozy, the ex-wife of the French President, is moving to London now that their 11-year marriage has ended, and has applied to send their son, Louis, 10, to the Lyce Franais Charles de Gaulle in South Kensington.

Places at the school, where fees can exceed 1,900 a term, are highly prized. It takes in 3,300 boys and girls of primary and secondary school age. But demand is so great that the French government, which owns it, struck a deal with Hammersmith and Fulham council two months ago on behalf of children from London's rapidly growing French-speaking community who had been unable to get places at the Lyce.

The Hurlingham and Chelsea comprehensive, in Fulham, is to be converted into a bilingual school, where British children would be educated free while the children of French ex-patriates will pay fees.

Reports that a place had been found at short notice for the President's son have set London's large French community talking and provoked anger among those who feel that family connections have triumphed over other considerations. One parent said: "This is very sensitive. It is better not to talk about it just now."

Ccilia and Nicolas Sarkozy were divorced on 15 October after a legal separation. The couple had separated once before, and she became romantically involved with an advertising executive. They were briefly reunited, but she did not vote for him in the second round ballot for the French presidency in May, and made only three public appearances with him after he was elected.

Lyce Franais Charles de Gaulle is regarded as one of the best independent schools in the capital, and not just by the French community. About one pupil in eight is British, placed there by parents wanting their children to benefit from a bilingual education.

Madonna sends her daughter, Lourdes, there. Former pupils include the dancer Nicholas Johnson, who died this year, the broadcaster and former Tory MP Gyles Brandreth, Vanessa Redgrave's daughters, Joely and Natasha Richardson, and the popstar Mika, then known as Mica Penniman. Mika hated it. "I had a cruel teacher who made my life hell," he said in an interview earlier this year.

The main site is located in Kensington across the Cromwell Road from the Natural History Museum, and next door to the French consulate general. There are primary school adjuncts in Ealing and Clapham.

The school was hit by allegations of nepotism after a popular teacher was replaced by the deputy headteacher's wife. More than 400 pupils staged a protest outside the school in April, demanding the reinstatement of Thierry Grpinet, head of the sixth form.

Twice that number of pupils were said to have signed a petition asking that he be kept on, and it was also reported that three quarters of the academic staff abandoned lessons for a day in protest.

Mr Grpinet said that he had been asked to stay on after his five-year contract ended, but that the decision to reappoint him was overruled in Paris, and he was replaced by Natalie Routier, wife of the deputy head Yves Routier.

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