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Does anyone have any positive experiences of the French school system?


Craftman
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Hello,

This is my first time posting on this forum but am happy I've found it as it is so useful.

My family and I are planning to move to France next year to the Charente area. Most likely somewhere in the Jonzac-Poitiers-Angouleme area (large I know).

We have two children, boy and girl, and they will be 3 and 6 next year. So one will start Maternelle and the other Primaire.

Having read a number of posts regarding the French School system (on this and other forums) I get the feeling that the majority of them are negative and regularly feature bad experiences of bullying, the teachers, the educational ethos and the College system.

I realise that not all school systems are perfect, that one's experiences can depend upon the individual school and that it's important to know about downsides.

We also realise that as parents we will need to put a lot of effort into integrating into the local community and also helping our kids develop friendships with local children. And we are lucky that my wife's French level is almost fluent.

But we'd really like to try and get a balanced view, and wondered if anyone had any positive experiences from putting their children through the French education system? Especially if you may live somewhere in the area we are considering moving to.

Thank you in advance for any comments.

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It does work for some, some children do very well in the system, but I often wonder if they wouldn't do well anywhere.

 If the child fits perfectly and conforms, then it'll work. If they don't conform then in my experience, it does not work. Deviate from the path and the system has no intention of coping with deviants. Both my children were born in France and went right through the system. For the second, it was a nightmare as soon as college started not that primaire had been 'good'. It was also problematic for the eldest, but not as bad.

For me it'll be the biggest regret I have and that will last until the end of my days...... staying in France from college onwards. This feeling never changes even with the passing of time.........

 

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We moved to Spain in the late 70's. It didn't even occur to us to send our kids to a spanish school.

It would have been just the same if we'd moved to France. I've worked, and we've lived in France, and its (ex) colonies, on and off, since the 60's.

So we put them in a very reputable international school in Spain, and have never regretted the decision, even though it cost quite a bit. Unfortunately the school couldn't provide education beyond age 16 for sciences, so they had to go back to UK after that.

Before leaving UK, we were told that our daughter would possibly get 2 GCSEs - she managed 9 "O" level GCEs at the international school, then went on to college in UK and an honours degree in Australia.

Our son also managed 8 "O" levels in Spain, 3 "A" levels in UK, and gained an honours degree in Engineering from UK, and a Masters in Wind Energy from Copenhagen.

If they had stayed in school in UK or had gone to a local school in Spain (or France) they would both probably be hanging around the street corners like so many of the youngsters these days.

OK, so are we rich b***ers who could afford to put our kids in a private school? No, not really, we just couldn't see a proper alternative.

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Sorry, Craftman, my last post was probably off topic.

I think the answer to your question is that if you want your kids to grow up to be like french kids, then put them into the french system.

I don't really think it's much better or worse than the UK system.

If you want to be sure they have the best chance of success then you'll have to pay for a better school. That's just the way it is. Otherwise it's pot luck, whatever the conditioned minds of others may lead them to tell you.

Like the man said, you get what you pay for; it's always better to go first class.

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Well obviously you were/are far richer than we are, as private international schools were not an option for us in France, not at all. And I never thought that my kids would grow up as 'french kids', just kids who could speak french.

Why would I have thought or imagined anything other than that?

We moved to France and thought that school was school and never imagined the differences between what we had known and what our children would get. Well, I knew that it was a little old fashioned in France, but that notion obviously covered a mulitude of unimagineable differences. Would I have realised if we had had the internet, probably, but we didn't.

And first class, twice in the last few years, have I used it when I got cheap rail fares. That's it, also never really an option.

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I don't believe we were much richer than the average foreigners in our part of Spain. We chose an area to live which had good english speaking schools, which also happened to be a good place for the business we set up.

We did own our house, which cost rather less than an equivalent house in UK, but apart from that, all we had was the income from our business. It was a bit of a struggle at times but we had our priorities, and if it got hard we worked harder.

Maybe that produces better results in Spain than in France. Spanish bureaucracy is a pain but not totally unjust.

When we moved to Spain we already knew that school was not just school; it's the foundation of your kids' future, but then again we went to good schools ourselves, and had some experience of educational systems in other countries.

We had already decided, in 1980, that the british system had been pretty well destroyed.

Quite apart from that, one only has to observe the people of any country to get an idea of their culture and education and make the appropriate decisions.

The "first class" comment was simply a bit of hyperbole.

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We moved with an 8 year old and we're happy with the French

school system.  Of all the parent's we've met in the last six years only

one had a problem with their local school.  I reckon it's horses for

courses... when we lived in the UK we had an OFSTED rated  'outstanding'

school in our village but we were so unhappy with the level of education that

we ended up paying for private school.

I, like you, read forums before we moved and was also

worried like you… but I've learned that that the majority of people don't post

on forums and maybe the majority of 'happy' customers don’t tend to write about

their experiences... so the forums can give a slightly inaccurate overview of

the French education system.

The French system isn't perfect but neither is the UK system.  Our son is

growing into a wonderful young man and he seems to be getting a well-rounded

education... And he’s bilingual and pretty good at Spanish too… by the way it

is another myth that there is no art or music or drama in French schools... I

was talking to a retired UK teacher a few weeks ago who was staggered to learn

that my son has Art and Music lessons in his 3rd year of secondary school...

she had read it didn't exist in the French curriculum.  (he's also had visiting

artists, trips to ballet and galleries and orchestras and theatres). 

I have friends whose children have happily gone through the system

through to degree level and others where the kids decided to study their degree

in the UK… all have been very successful. 

I guess a lot of this does of course depend on the child and perhaps

your aspirations for them too… but I don’t think the French system will

handicap them.

Your children are young enough to happily adapt.  If they are into sport ,dance

or gymnastics (Rugby, football, handball, basketball, canoeing, tennis or cycling

and so on) there are loads of youth clubs they can join and this will help

forge friendships... the clubs are very well organised too… and pretty cheap…  And a great way for you to meet people... I’ve

spent many a Saturday afternoon on the edge of a rugby pitch chatting with the

other parents.

If you start introducing some basic French into their language now it will help

them in the early days.

Life in France is a challenge but it’s not all gloom and

doom - Good luck with your move.

 

p.s. whilst we live in the Dordogne my son was the first

non-french child to go to the local primary and he is still the only English boy

in his secondary school

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To answer the specific question, yes very much so. We started our children in the local village school at ages 2 1/2 and 3. The eldest in now in Prepa at Nantes, the youngest in his second year at Lycee. As parents we tried to be as fully involved in their education as possible, we went to all the parent teachers meetings and were both involved in the PTAs wherever possible. You get out what you put in. The CPEs at Lycee tell me that there are some British parents who they have never seen throughout the 3 years their children have been there. If you are not prepared to support your children through their education system (I do not mean financially) then you are IMHO depriving them of half the benefit. Through the normal state system our children have learned to play instruments, played in orchestras 120 strong, done sport, art, theatre and been on foreign trips. The eldest took the American SATs for MIT and scored 85% for English and 75% for Maths, he was a year younger that the USA students. As parents we were brought up in the UK in the old O level system that is now back in favour. The French system is much more like this and seems to reward children and parents who are prepared to work hard to get good results. Not to say its the best system in the world, but we have been delighted with it. Our local college also had a SECPA system for those children who could not cope with main stream education. Rather than been shunted off out of sight, they were fully integrated with the rest of the school and their work valued too, as evidenced by the work they did for the theatre productions.

We once had a difficulty with bullying, but this was sorted out immediately. Some French teachers who teach English have difficulties with British children correcting them. Our youngest described one teacher at College as "evil" after just one lesson. (she was very strict) By the end of the first term, she was his favourite teacher. I have to admit that I was not fully comfortable speaking French with the college French teacher, he was very strict with the class, and sitting at a desk in front of him I felt every sympathy for them.

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My thoughts support those of LeHaut. Our eldest started in France at the age of 9, the youngest age 4. There was some bullying for the eldest, this petered out (Brit lad that instigated it moved back to UK). Eldest very happy at Lycee, youngest very happy at College.

Probably wrong for all sorts of reasons but I have given my boys an incentive to do well with exams. Above 75% they receive €2, 100% €3 (equates annually to around €120). Neither receive pocket money automatically, however they can earn it by helping around the house & doing well at school.
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We were always very involved with our children's education, always. I was Chair of our Parents Assoc at one time as there are no PTA's that I have ever seen. I was on school councils and class councils in college, never missed a meeting and regularly saw both children's teachers. So do not tell me that you get out what you put in. Which infers that we had been negligent, because it went wrong, and we were NOT! And it is very insulting.

In fact this thread has now gone from annoying me to angering me with such smug answers. What on earth do you think the rest of us do when it goes wrong........ try and sabotage our own children's futures???????????? Because teachers in France are good at that all on their own!

I expected my children to do as well at they were capable at school and blossom and flourish. Both had regular bed times, and not Mardi c'est permis!......or Samedi! Both had healthy diets, and plenty of extra curricular activities and education was valued in our home and encouraged. And it was a catastrophy, for both as it happens.

The eldest's mild dyslexia (probably on a par with mine)meant that he was penalised severely for all spelling mistakes in all subjects, even if he knew his subject, because WE ALL KNOW, that being able to spell is more important than writing about and understanding your subject!!!!! It was college when this really affected his marks and he left feeling absolutely worthless and still does. No matter how much help we got him or encouraged him, those teachers wore him down. It was only in Lycee that he had a wonderful teacher for a year. However, he didn't have her for his second year and his french teacher told us he and I, that if he didn't understand she was not there to explain, it was his problem and not to expect her to help like his teacher the previous year, and she made it quite obvious that she did not approve of any teacher encouraging any pupil to improve! He walked out a few months later and said he couldn't stand it any more..... and who could blame him. I couldn't.

And that was my son with least problems. The other, well, his dyslexia was far worse, as was his temperament. Gifted in sport, a french champion at one point, Art and maybe could have been at Maths, IF the stupid stupid stupid maths teacher had actually sat him down and checked to see that he wasn't cheating. The trouble being, he could do very complicated calculations in his head. Now I'm not that bright, but maths is the only subject where the teacher can check more or less instantly if someone is cheating by taking the pupil to one side and saying....'if you aren't cheating, do these extra excersize on your own, at my desk'. But every maths teacher he had was stupid and unimagineative.  So, constantly been punished for something he hadn't done, ie cheating, put him off maths. His marks in art lousy, ART in french schools.......not where I lived, they may as well have done painting by numbers. Unfortunately my deviant would put his own expression into his art and those fantastic things he did would get a ZERO and hors sujet. Sad really as there were three things he could have excelled at, even if he couldn't write very well, in spite of his excellent brain, but he was CRUSHED too. He didn't get a well rounded education, he didn't get anything good apart from a morbid fear of teachers and worse, education, which is so sad. He too had one good teacher in all his time at school, but that was it.

 

By the time the youngest was 14, I was desparate, because, you know, education is important, I spoke to people all over France. Well educated french people, with children with problems........... like a surgeon in Bordeaux, who had given up on french education and was having to send his dyslexic sons  to Belgium. In fact one month I spent over £100 in phone bills calling absolutley anybody I could think of. An association called La Bouture had started a couple of years earlier, by teachers, (because a few do care,) who were worried about children failing at school and IF it is all so rosey now, why is this association still in existence? And why is Hollande talking about children failing and the lack of encouragement in french schools???????? And that man is in charge of the country and not just a middle aged woman posting!

 

I want all children to succeed, I certainly do, I cannot think of anything better than a child getting on in life and having a good education. But if any of you think that when children end up failing, it is simply down to bad parenting, or the child being stupid, then think again. In France as far as I am concerned there are other forces at work. Unfortunately there are other posters who post from time to time who have had bad experiences in France too and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

 

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]

We were always very involved with our children's education, always. I was Chair of our Parents Assoc at one time as there are no PTA's that I have ever seen. I was on school councils and class councils in college, never missed a meeting and regularly saw both children's teachers. So do not tell me that you get out what you put in. Which infers that we had been negligent, because it went wrong, and we were NOT! And it is very insulting.

In fact this thread has now gone from annoying me to angering me with such smug answers. What on earth do you think the rest of us do when it goes wrong........ try and sabotage our own children's futures???????????? Because teachers in France are good at that all on their own!

I would hope that, despite quoting me, this rant is not directed at me. I started my reply with the words, "To answer the specific question", ie the one asked by the OP, I implied no comment on previous posts, nor other people's experiences. The tone of this post perhaps gives a closer insight to the individuals problems.
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[quote user="idun"]

....... So do not tell me that you get out what you put in. Which infers that we had been negligent, because it went wrong, and we were NOT! And it is very insulting.

In fact this thread has now gone from annoying me to angering me with such smug answers. What on earth do you think the rest of us do when it goes wrong........ try and sabotage our own children's futures???????????? Because teachers in France are good at that all on their own!

[/quote]

Well how smug of the other posters not to agree with you and to have had good experiences ! Why is your experience the only valid one ? The OP asked if anyone had any positive experiences and posters have replied to him but you choose to get a strop on because of this. As a generality I believe it is true that you get out what you put in - I see a lot of kids struggling in education in UK and France because their parents don't care. Does this mean every parent who puts in a lot of effort sees great success - of course not, good grief credit us with some intelligence. It was one generalised comment in one post.

But if you are moving your child to a foreign education system where you and they will struggle with the language and the way things work then if you leave them to flounder the chances are they will struggle. Seems like common sense to me.

I'm sorry you had a bad experience, but we are having a good one and I'm happy about that, not smug. It seems I'm not alone.

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[quote user="idun"]

 Gifted in sport, a french champion at one point, Art and maybe could have been at Maths, IF the stupid stupid stupid maths teacher had actually sat him down and checked to see that he wasn't cheating. The trouble being, he could do very complicated calculations in his head. Now I'm not that bright, but maths is the only subject where the teacher can check more or less instantly if someone is cheating by taking the pupil to one side and saying....'if you aren't cheating, do these extra excersize on your own, at my desk'. But every maths teacher he had was stupid and unimagineative.  So, constantly been punished for something he hadn't done, ie cheating, put him off maths. [/quote]

A similar thing happened in my education which by the way was the worst of the trendy progressive modern education of the 70's, teachers smoking in front of the class, not just smoking but smoking dope, others creating ground breaking sex education books intended for the whole education system that were withdrawn as they were in fact paedophiles and the books contained photographs of them nude and excited in sexual positions with teenage students, just trying to paint the picture, - back to maths.

I missed some early and important lessons due to asthma as a child including arithmatic, years later my mother was surprised to find that I did very complicated division calculations in my head because I did not know how to do long division, she took it up with my maths teacher who was equally unaware but did not give a monkeys as I was near to the top of the class and he had no intention of teaching me it as I had missed the lessons years earlier, my mother tried to teach me but well I guess I found it pretty uncool and unecessary and of course she was not a teacher, you need the skills to teach especially to someone who doesnt want or cannot see the need to learn, kinda sums up my whole education really.

I still do not know how to do long division with a paper and pencil and still do it regularly in my head, in fact I rarely use a calculator at all, only for trigonometry or squares, roots or inverse functions and practically never pen and paper but I only scraped through with a C at O level maths, probably a C for cheating as they could not see my workings, there were none. We didnt have calculators then, they were only just invented, we used log and trig tables.

I bought my first calculator as a first year year apprentice doing HNC at technical college, it was a Casio one with the logs and trig etc that we needed, it cost £28 and that was with my sister getting it duty free from Jersey, my gross pay then was £16 per week £10 of which I paid my father for my keep.

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I am impressed to read that somewhere in France 'Through the normal state system our children have learned to play instruments, played in orchestras 120 strong'

In this Academie instrumental lessons are either private, or taken at the local Conservertoire, and there are certainly none of the youth orchestras and choirs which used to be the norm in the UK.

Neither are there inter-school sports leagues.

In this field too the activites are hived off to external groups, such as local clubs.

The lack of  music, drama, and sports teams in French schools, combined with the way in which teachers waltz in to reach 2/3 hours then go straight off rather than stay on the premises explains why there is often little cohesion or cross-curricular activity.

However some areas are apparently starting to change to read this post.

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For my son, collège was a total nightmare.  In rural France, state education is archaic.  (From a family with many teachers who have taught all over the world)

It's totally ridiculous to expect all children of varying abilities to work to the same curriculum and be marked out of 20 purely on results and nothing for personal achievement and effort.  And for music and sport to count towards the moyenne - please??!!

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[quote user="Garonne"]For my son, collège was a total nightmare.  In rural France, state education is archaic.  (From a family with many teachers who have taught all over the world)

It's totally ridiculous to expect all children of varying abilities to work to the same curriculum and be marked out of 20 purely on results and nothing for personal achievement and effort.  And for music and sport to count towards the moyenne - please??!!

[/quote]

This may be harsh but I think the children should be prepared for the real world - encouragement surely but marks for effort ! I have employed people and they didn't get paid for effort. Those with higher results got a job or were paid better.

Music and sport - why not ? Aren't they just as valid for many kids as physics and geography. In fact lots of musicians and sportsmen earn more than many scientists.

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[quote user="idun"]

In fact this thread has now gone from annoying me to angering me with such smug answers. What on earth do you think the rest of us do when it goes wrong........ try and sabotage our own children's futures???????????? 

[/quote]

Idun I'm really sorry this thread angered you.  I'm also sorry you and your children have to deal with  all the probelms that come with dyslexia but... the OP did ask for some positive feedback.  I'm not being smug... I'm hopefully just showing the other side of the coin.

My son has had his own problems at school - he was tested for dyslexia in the UK (Private school not State) and we were told he was borderline and that he had dyslexic tendancies?  (whatever that means) He still struggles with spelling and a little with literacy and he certainly does struggle  with the dictation controls at school... but his moyen is still very good regardless. 

His French teacher this year told him that he is going to apply for assistance when my son does the dictation controls for the Brevet... we never asked for this, it was offered.  I'm not being smug in saying this... I am just trying to show that there really is another version of French education and not all of it is bad. 

I would agree that the French system is very much like my old grammer school education - strict, learning by rote  (sometimes) and very disciplined.  It's not perfect but neither is the UK system.  Saying that Hollande is talking about children failing is silly... Hasn't the UK government had huge debate over bring back the o'levels to try and raise standards in the failing UK system?

The OP did not ask for a comparison... he asked if it was all gloom and doom.  Well, no it's not and many children do very well in the French system.  Is that so hard to accept?

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Thank you to everyone who posted a reply to my enquiry and to contributing to an interesting, informative and lively discussion.

I’d especially like to thank those who directly answered the question posed by my post.

The range of opinions shows that no matter how much desk research is done prior to a move to a different country, you never really know what it will be like until you are there. It also seems to confirm my view that school experiences vary between children, parents, teachers, school and region.

Maybe to some extent it’s a case of ‘luck’ as to the standard of teaching/education at the local school where one’s family settles. I guess this means that a good idea would be for us to decide on a smallish area (if not a town/village) to settle in and then research the schools in this area. This is pretty difficult for us as we have a particular set of criteria for a property and also a modest budget, so choice is something we don’t have too much of.

Also I’m not sure how we would go about researching the quality of a French school whilst still in England (anyone provide any solutions?).

I am very pleased to hear that there are expat families in France who have had ‘more positive experiences than negative experiences’ with the French education system. Also that their children have had a chance of undertaking extra-curricular activities with the school (something I thought didn’t happen in France).

So I’m feeling more positive about the French school system but the discussion has made me realise how important it is for us to check out any school thoroughly, to engage as much as possible with the local community and to deal with any problems immediately. It has also made us realise that it won’t be plain sailing and there could well be some difficult school issues to tackle (forewarned is forearmed!).

Again thank you all for your posts.

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Yes.  We also have some negatives but overall, so far, I'd say it's still positive and we're not running back just yet, even though we could if we wanted/needed to.

Sports - lots of clubs on Wednesday afternoons, including a specific general sports club which is connected to the schools - and Saturday afternoons too.  For instance, oldest son spent all last year in a football team (training on Wednesday afternoons and matches on Saturdays) but didn't fancy it this year as he's worried about being distracted as he's heard that 4eme is hard work! He has joined the general sports club this year, on Wednesday afternoons.   Next son does Judo on Wednesdays, archery on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons and lutte on Saturday mornings. 

Art - they do it at college and my eldest is very good at drawing and a couple of his teachers have suggested he join some sort of organisation to further his skills.  He declined as he enjoys drawing and doesn't want to turn it into something too serious.  He also enjoys the drama club at school and the teachers are impressed with him so far.  If he does well at French (which seems to be picking up now - always been good at spoken French but had difficulties with written French) then maybe he can go to one of the lycees with artistic leanings.

Music - neither of mine are particularly interested but they're passing.

Other subjects: they both started a year behind to allow them to learn the language.  One son redoubled last year and the other skipped a year in primary because he was ahead,  which is odd because they're now in the same year even though there is nearly two years age difference between them.  (One school year in the UK).  At this point, the son who skipped a year is falling behind a bit in written French.  We're not sure if this is because he is constantly with an English friend he got close to since starting college.  We're thinking that since he skipped a year and is at the younger end of the correct year for his age it won't be too drastic if he redoubles too!

Youngest is 5.  The OP's kids should be absolutely fine from what I've seen of kids their age starting.  Ours didn't start until last year because we wanted him to be expressive in English before he started speaking French, having met English and Scottish children who went to school at 2 or 3 and can barely speak English but are fluent in French.   He may repeat a year, he may not - but I'm sure he'll be fine.

We're in the Charente but I'm not sure that is relevant because all schools across France apparently cover the same curriculum and use the same methods!

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