Mini league of nations thinks big
They replied that they were ready not just to take on Europe, but to go anywhere in the world.
In a nation insulated both by the sea and by the opinion that "the whole world speaks English so why bother", the Ingatestone ethos is refreshing.
So why should this school, established in 1973 and run on the principles of high-quality education, international tolerance and an emphasis on language teaching, feel the need to acquire the status of a language college at all?
Headteacher Bob Reed says the Pounds 200,000 in sponsorship and Government funding will provide a much-needed state-of-the art language centre, with the latest multimedia facilities such as links to the Internet and cable television.
Within three weeks of the Government's announcement of the scheme, the school managed to amass more than Pounds 130,000 from local businesses, builders and organisations such as the Reuter Foundation and Westminster Press.
Some of the cash will be used to set up electronic links with partner schools, notably in Germany.
Mr Reed said: "German schools tend not to be as technologically advanced as here. Most are only just getting fax machines."
The school currently offers French, German, Spanish and Russian, but it hopes its new status will enable it to add Japanese, Italian, Arabic and possibly also Chinese to the post-16 curriculum. Up to a third of the sixth-formers take the more broadly-based International Baccalaureat in preference to A-levels.
Mr Reed said: "We offer two languages from Year 7 with pupils able to take on Spanish or Russian from Year 9. However, a significant number of our youngsters are already fluent in one of those languages so we are anxious they should not end up disadvantaged."
The Anglo-European School's admissions procedure had to be approved by the Commission for Racial Equality because only 15 per cent of the intake are local children. The rest are admitted either on the siblings rule or because of personal links with other parts of Europe.
The result is a melting pot of nationalities, a sort of mini league of nations, situated in the heart of an affluent Essex village and drawing pupils from up to 50 miles away.
Mr Reed said: "The difference between this school and others focusing on language teaching is the emphasis we place on tolerance and understanding.
"For example, many of our children were annoyed to read in the press that the VE Day celebrations marked the end of the war against Germany, rather than the conflict with Nazism. To some people it might be just a subtle difference but in a school such as this we are sensitive to getting it right."
The school places great importance on exchange visits and the "pi ce de resistance", as Mr Reed puts it, is an eight-week stint for Year 10 pupils at schools in Frankfurt. "There is a remarkable difference in these pupils when they get back. They have matured and are so much more confident," Mr Reed said.