Our French Life, Our School Life

French School v British School

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Now I did touch on this slightly in a previous post but I don’t think I did it justice really. I’m going to talk about the primary school here in France. In particular, the type of work the children do. Given that I’m not in the classroom and my little fella doesn’t go into massive detail about his day – I’m going to tell you how I see it sitting in my ivory tower.  You have to give our children credit. They really do just get on with it.

So firstly, we all set off at 8 am in the morning and rise at 7 am.  I used to get up a 7 am and leave about 8.15 am so not much different here except we walked. The car journey takes me approximately 13/15 minutes one way. I can park up and my oldest take the short walk to college and then myself and Buddy can walk to the primary (all part of the same school) or take a short drive. He actually likes to get there before all the school buses turn up, rather than walk into school when most people are there. At first,  I thought this is great – he loves school so much he wants to get there early – turns out it was for the reasons above.  He didn’t want to draw attention to himself as he wasn’t confident in speaking French to his classmates. That was quite upsetting to hear. And I wrote about it in more detail here.

Now most people will say the youngest will find it the easiest.  They’ll be fluent in no time etc etc. Whilst the equivalent of reception was a blast for my youngest when he arrived, (6 playtimes and lots of fun) when he went into CE1 (year 1 v year 3) it was very much a working environment.

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Allow an hour in the beginning – we’ve got this down to 45 minutes of a nighttime but it’s stay a pain!

Whilst listening to French all day and constantly speaking franglais at home he is still not fluent in speaking French. He’s not far off and he does converse with his friends but it is only now that he is starting to. Some children will not want to say anything rather than say something wrong. Even when I’m at the doctors and he is asking basic questions i.e “what’s your name?” Buddy will turn to me and say “what did he say?” I’m fairly confident he knows exactly but he is embarrassed. We’ve been here 9 months – it is such a myth that children will be fluent in 3 months especially younger children. Normally chimed by people who 1) don’t have any children of this age and 2) are not moving to France.

I’d say allow a year for children to be more comfortable speaking and two years to be totally fluent and that’s with full immersion during term time. So that should give you some idea as to how much effort you will need to put in as an adult.

I can’t stress enough that everyone’s experience on forums etc are unique to them. You will invariably find someone has had a nightmare with one thing or another but people don’t always give the full story on forums so take everything you read with a pinch of salt. Including myself. This is our personal experience of schooling here in France so take from it what you will.

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Not the most exciting book to read – maybe my son will get a reading book once he’s fluent or maybe this is as exciting as it gets?

So yes, my youngest is a bright boy and was used to being top of the class in most things. He is incredibly conscientious to the point that I have to say it doesn’t matter if you get things wrong. You tried and that’s the main thing and it’s just primary. And I genuinely believe that 3 children in – I might have said it with my first but secretly thinking it does matter but I am so over primary I cannot tell you! In French schools it does matter. Even colouring in – they are expected to colour within the lines not over them! Now, if it was me I’d say go for your life the lines are just a rough guide but nope. Not here.

There’s no smiley faces here – it’s a red or green mark. It’s right or it’s wrong there’s no “well done for trying and never mind if you got it wrong” but not in a horrible way. It is what it is. Some people would say that British schools have gone too far the other way. For instance, in my daughter’s old primary school she would often get praised for getting maths wrong. Now maths is really a subject where the answer is wrong or right there is no in between. But there is a big emphasis on the workings out so if you got half way there, then it is the norm to be praised and given marks for that. My daughter would often say to me “but mum it doesn’t matter that I only got 10/20” whilst I was biting my fist to my mouth.

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The children are expected to have neat handwriting and not unique to them. There is one way to write. The French way. My youngest now says “I can’t do English ‘R’s” – I say what do you mean it’s easy and I demonstrate. It’s been so ingrained – how to write properly – he thinks if he does it another way then it’s wrong.

I’ll give you an anecdote from my eldest in college. My son said that in history he had to describe, from a piece of writing, what was meant by a hand that had been chopped off. The paper was about the treatment of protestants in France at this time. So in full on British schooling mode he went into great detail about the society at the time, the barbaric nature of the people etc etc. He got a big red cross with NO the answer is “torture”! He now says I have to think like a French person and break it down into its most simplest form. Whereas, in history UK style, they would have been encouraged to think about the bigger picture as to what has happened as well as the torture.

In the classroom, there is the normal white board and books and creative work but not as colourful and imaginative as a British classroom which would be full of exciting things to look at. A topic, a book corner, paintings dangling down from the ceiling and probably a mind map of what makes a kind person that type of thing.

It’s a lot neater in my son’s classroom. There is no carpet that everyone sits on and crosses their legs, there is no assembly and they don’t have tables of, say, 8 children to do their work. They will sit in two’s and get swamped around each term.

 

Having said all this, my son enjoys school immensely and I’ve only ever had one set of tears. This was after a two week break in October. It’s more or less the same structure. They will have sports twice a week, there will have Art, English, music (singing in church at Xmas time) and days out. In May, my son goes horse riding for two days. They have trips to the library and have participated in the regional ‘cross’ (cross country), they have gymnastics, dance and have a dedicated sports teacher.

Sport is taken just as seriously as any other subject! It is up there with being academic so it is.  They go to dedicated sports facilities. This is another thing I love about France – the dedicated services for the community.  Take their sports day it was a round robin type of event where they did tennis (tennis courts no less), walked to the running area, the football area, the president of the local boules club taught them the rules, karate, hand ball and so on. It wasn’t put a bean bag on your head or crawl through some hoops. It was sports day – so sports is what they were doing!

They can even go to the local cinema to see and do performances on stage. I did worry that there would be no such creative activities as I had read that it was all about the grammar. So I was delighted to see that they will be performing, in a 4 day spectacular (done every 2 years) in March this year.  He went swimming during the summer months to the local swimming pool and was taken by the school transport. This is very different to the UK. Most trips are on public transport or you have to pay for a coach etc. Here if the children are going out for the day the school bus will take them.

My children are at a private primary/college.  It just so happened that this was the case. This is because my older two were going to college (secondary) and this school is out of catchment area. You don’t need permission from the Mairie to attend a school out of your catchment if it’s a private school. I had no problem with my youngest going to our village school but it made sense that they were all on one campus and the head was keen to have the ‘family’.

I know a good head teacher when I see one and he is a very passionate hands on head. If you have a great head teacher and is liked by parents and teachers then it really does make for a good school.

I have found it to be an excellent school and given that, certainly for my eldest, they didn’t come from the greatest school around – I wasn’t going to give them the extra challenge of a poor school as well as a foreign language. Schools are the same the world over some are better than others. Do your research.

Plus in the local public schools, teachers can and do frequently strike. You don’t find out this fact until you arrive. Maximum impact you see – you don’t get a letter a month in advance like in the UK or that some will be and some won’t be. Whereas in a private school your child, in theory, will be taught more as their teachers aren’t allowed to strike.

 

 

I had done my research and it paid off. In any event, the fees are approx 16 euros per child, per term. Yes, you do have to pay for a few extras but everyone has to pay for meal tickets – just over 3 euros per child per day. You don’t have the option for packed lunches although you can come and take your child home for lunch should you so desire. My children either love or hate the school meals. There is generally a rogue meal once a week.

By the way, I should also mention that you can home school your child in France if you wish to just like you can in the UK.

Playtimes are quite retro – 70s style. A version of British bulldog is played (banned in a lot of primaries), marbles are brought in to play with as are cards.  It’s a small school (18 in my son’s class) and the head is excellent and am pleased to say there hasn’t been an incident of bullying.

If there is any type of accident that involved a head banging they will call out the pompiers (firemen) as a matter of caution. I love this. No icepack or an incident form – the pompiers will come to your child’s school.

Like teachers the world over there is talk of some that are better than others but by and large the vast majority here are perceived as very good. And parents know. I’m not sure either. They just do. We know what goes on without stepping foot in the school. The teachers care for the children like they do in a good British school. I have no worries that if one of mine falls sick (which they have done) that the staff are kind and caring. I feel my children are well cared for and looked after and surely that’s the most important thing? We can learn outside the home.

Behaviour is far superior than a British classroom it has to be said. I went in to do some English singing and was forewarned that I would need to say stop a lot. The children were so well behaved. The perception of what is naughty here is very different! There is no need for warnings or behaviour passports. I’m sure the inner cities are very different but I can only tell you what it’s like here in Normandy. The children really do as they’re told and the teachers do not have teaching assistants to help them.

There is less participation with parents coming into the school i.e themed assemblies, learn n lunch days to have parents become more involved with the school. However, the PTA is alive and well probably more so than the UK. They put on some pretty darn impressive events – school fayre, repas evenings for local residents and day trips out.  They, like in the UK, contribute to trips out and make a big contribution to school life.

Children are hugged and given a ruffle of the head – this is quite different to the UK and took my youngest some adjusting to a teacher physically giving him a cuddle! This is generally not allowed in the UK – teachers have to be very careful.

My son has one to one French lessons everyday for an hour – this is a fabulous support and not something I anticipated. I know of children who are literally just thrown into an English speaking school and expected to pick it up. There are little resources to give them one to one lessons. Funding appears to be alive and well even in private schools who are still funded from central government. I’m not entirely sure why they have private schools that have the vast majority funded by the government. It’s not the same as in the UK whereby it costs thousands of pounds a term.

The homework is slightly different to the UK but still the bane of every parents life wherever you live. It normally takes us 45 mins per night and as time has gone on I’m having to supervise less. He has to copy the homework off the white board himself and in the beginning this was quite difficult.

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A typical nights homework all written by my Buddy aged 7

My youngest will get about 5 pieces per night – just like the UK the most amount in the household! He does get Wednesdays off so at least we leave Tuesday and Friday night’s homework. It looks something like this:- normally some grammar, learn the poem (oh my this is a right pain), learn new words (which get tested all in one go weeks later so you have to keep going over them to stand any type of chance), read out loud and sometimes some maths. I mean it’s quite boring stuff but it does help my French as well as the little fella. He’s learning the ending for etre/avoir. Now I’m pretty sure in Year 3 no one is learning I go, she goes, he goes, they go and we go. Also for a long time in UK schools spellings were not corrected in story writing as children learn phonetically. This would never happen here. If it’s wrong it’s getting corrected.

In the UK, my son would get weekly spellings of 10/15, read a chapter book every night, some maths and creative homework during the holidays. You had all week to do this.  There is a lot of testing in France and everything is marked out of 20. My son will get assessed every term which is pretty much the same as the UK but it’s far less stressful. I feel children are tested far too much in the UK and it’s all about passing the SATS rather than learning.  In his recent assessment he got 13.5/20 which I thought was pretty darn nifty.

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Keeping up with the English and Maths UK style. I see little point of them being fluent if they can’t read or write in their mother tongue

I’d also say that the work for both primary and college is two years behind that of the UK school. This is because they start later so if you are moving children they will have a head start. Obviously French history will be new to them but certainly maths is very basic for my youngest and regularly gets 20/20 for that reason. Also division and actually everything is worked out differently. So guess what? Maths isn’t maths in any country as I was frequently told. Maths is different here and youtube is your friend on this one.

I like to keep up with the British curriculum. Who knows what the future holds? I am a ‘just in case’ kind of gal. We spend 10 minutes a week doing these (when we remember) and an absolute must is to read every night in English. I love books and I love the children reading books. Reading makes for excellent learners. It’s a proven fact and one thing I think is lacking in French schools as well as creative writing – writing stories but we do this at home and I actively encourage it.

I actually thought I would loathe this system but I don’t. I don’t mind the longer hours – they have a longer lunchtimes and much in line with their militant striking ethos – children can only work so long without a break! I love this. Yes, the focus is on grammar and doing things properly and getting a good grounding. And like Mr Normandy said “never did me any harm”. Given that he went to a grammar school and has a wealth of general knowledge and me being the first lot to be experimented with the GCSE’s he might have a point.  The trips are great, the school coach takes the little ones to the canteen, they get a healthy decent meal everyday, there is less snacking now and we eat later at 6pm normally.  They have wonderful long holidays and wear their own clothes to school. Which I don’t mind too much now.

Yes, there’s no world book day, dress up, cake sales, manic Xmas week that you really don’t need on top of Xmas or just before the summer holidays. British schools really crank it up. So whilst sometimes I might feel nostalgic for those things – I’ve yet to meet a parent who doesn’t sigh and moan (before presenting a fancy dress masterpiece of epic proportions) about all of those things.

Now if you got to the end of this then give yourself an A+!

If you want to find out more about French schooling here are some good links:-

Journal Des Femmes – find local schools and ratings

French School System

Official Schools Website for Caen – Normandy

National Government Website for Schools including Holidays

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “French School v British School”

    1. Ahh thank you you’re too kind! They’ve worked so hard and we are so proud of them. They now snigger when I speak French and tell me what I’ve just said in English i.e wrong word order!

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