Wednesday, September 5, 2012

School Report

Both boys have done the registration day in school now, so the timetable starts for earnest tomorrow:
The boys seem quite pleased with their 'profs principales' (form teachers) and also with their timetables - but are not so sure about some of the pupils in their classes, Son 2 in particular having a few well-known troublemakers in his class (again). All this is just the same all over the world, I'm sure, so I'll try to tell you a few things that are specific to French education.

School (but not education) starts young, with 2 or 3 year olds going into the Maternelle schools and learning all about how to interact with a group, sit down, put their hand up etc. There is never any problem of children arriving at the education level without having experienced books etc - which seems a good thing compared to my experience in more deprived areas in England.

Formal education, however, starts later than in the UK, at the age of 6-7. Children learn to read within the first term or two, rather indicating that a late start is a good idea..?

At the age of 10-11 (slightly younger than in the UK) pupils go up to Collège - this is where Son 2 is now. At 13, he's in 4° (quatrieme), and will have this year and then one more which he finishes by doing his exams and going up to:

Lycée, which is the school that Son 1 has just started at the age of 15. This stage of education lasts for three years, with the Bac exams at the end. So it's like starting sixth form college a year earlier, really. I think Son 1 is ready for the responsibility, and the sense of trust that seemed to be somewhat lacking in his collège.

Other details - there is no school uniform, although pupils do dress alike! Class sizes are quite good, always staying under 30. The school day is long (8.30 - 5 at collège, and 8 - 5.30 at lycée) but Wednesday afternoons are off. There may well be free periods during the day at both 'secondary' levels - pupils can start school later if they have no lesson at the beginning of the day, or if the teacher is absent. There are no supply teachers any more (thank you, Mr Sarkozy). There is no on-the-job teacher training, but motivated teachers do a lot of individual work to improve their own performance - I know because one of my best adult students is a teacher!

The ethos is one of hard work and seriousness - there seems little room for fun, or even the concept that learning might be fun. I have stopped asking adult French students, 'What was your favourite subject at school?' because it doesn't make sense to them. On the other hand, French students leave school highly capable of putting their heads down and getting on with their work, and my husband notices that this really distinguishes them from UK students with whom he's worked - who still have a: 'What's the point of work, and does it really matter how well I do it?' ethos, even when they're being paid! As always, a perfect system would surely combine the best points of both the French and what they call the 'Anglo-Saxon' (English-speaking) systems... For an interesting and personal view, you could have a look at this article from a few years back. The author's child encountered both the best and the worst of French primary schooling, and both tie in with our own experiences.

EDIT: Cory at 'Tongue in Cheek' has posted on the differences between French and American education today! It's well worth reading (and, of course, has much prettier pictures than this post).


Deborah said...

Great post, so interesting :)

Bee happy x

Janice said...

I go along with the idea of formal education starting later than in the UK....there is so much evidence that children learn to read quicker, and without pain, if it is left until they are 6 or 7. So many 6 year olds already think they are failures in the UK system, as they are not fluent much better to be "ready to read" before being forced to. Glad all is going well for the children. J.

Angela said...

A really interesting post - thanks for the links to the other two also. Do they use Supply Teachers in France [at the minute I see little evidence of this one being used much here!!]

blessings x

VintageVicki said...

Very interesting post :)

I do think that here in the UK the emphasis on starting formal learning at such a young age is wrong - boys especially need longer to settle into school life.

This year its just one in uniform and one in own clothes - will let you know how the own clothes thing goes - am sure he'll spend ages deciding what to wear!

Carole said...

Great post, but I think my husband who is a maternelle teacher would not quite agree with what you said. I always tease him about the fact that he's a "playdough" or "ball" teacher, and it turns out that there are real educational aims in maternelle, but adapted to the need that children still have to play at that age ; of course being socialised is the most important part for the "petits", but they are prepared in the "moyenne" and "grande" classes to graphism (writing) and go through the premises of deciphering and encoding - always in a playful manner.
I wish your sons a great school year and I hope your elder will enjoy the lycée !

Floss said...

I agree, Carole - I over-simplified. However, because we attempt to teach children to read at the age of 4 or 5 in England, I think that the playful but no pressure approach of maternelle is really to be commended.

marigold jam said...

Interesting Floss - I always wondered about the French system. I do think that there is a cultural difference between the French and the English and maybe a happy medium between their more formal attitude with no room for anything less than perfection and our too laid back approach might actually be best but hey vive la difference I say! My French friend says that she thinks the English tolerance and individualism is a good thing - she is becoming more Anglicised especially now her son has an English partner and lives in London which she loves!

Fat Dormouse said...

I'm just catching up on some blogs, so my comments are a little late! I've only had a very brief - and not enjoyable! - experience of collège, when I taught 3° for a year...I think the English teaching seems fairly grim, at least in our area, with so much emphasis on copying from the board. But that's my only experience, so I can't say much!

wendz said...

I've read this post a few times, thinking about it and taking it in, and also read the one you linked to.

I tend to agree with you more than with what Carole said (although I do think there are exceptions and her husband seems to be one of them.)

My boys initially struggled to fit in with the French system and we were called in on a number of occasions to have it explained to us that "in France we do things differently to what they seem to be used to."

Even now, years later, Fabien in particular can battle with they way they do things and the rigidity of the system can drive me bonkers. I often help Fab with his homework, over the phone and the internet, and it baffles me how things are laid out and the expected way of thinking and doing.

Nathan (he is in troisieme now) is going off to Germany in a couple of weeks, to do three months in a German school, in fact in a Rudolf Steiner school, and I think he is going to be blown away by how different it will be. I hope he will manage to settle down to his French school again in January.

syrahsuzie said...

Just catching up with my favorite blogs after a few hectic days. I have enjoyed this 'rentrée' series - it brings back memories, good and bad! My two girls are now 22 and 24 but we arrived in France when they were 2 and 4. They both coped well with the French system because they are both good at maths and french.
I coped well with 'maternelle' and 'primaire' as we lived in a small village. But I struggled with 'college'. I felt there was too much emphasis on academic success and not enough recognition of students with different talents - where were the sport heroes, the budding artists, the musical prodigies that i envied from my own teenage years?