In keeping with my What’s The Deal With Lycee and using 1980s American Teen speak, I thought this might be a handy heads up (stop with the 80s Teen talk!) for any of those trying to make sense of the French schooling system.
The Brevet is the diploma all students in college (high/secondary school for us Brits) leave, in theory with, at the end of college. Its a general certificate of education. People say its like the GCSE’s and it is in a way but also not at all. It is meant to be the equivalent of about 4 GCSE’s. Firstly, I’m going to go out on a limb here (because I can) and say that GCSE’s are a bit harder than the Brevet in the subjects that are taught. You are looking to get a level 9 (old A system) in individual subjects rather than a general I’m good at it all.
I have spoken about this before – children in the UK start school approximately 2 years before their French counterparts. This is changing but this is some of the reason (not all) that the content of what they are studying is a little behind. It is most noticeable in maths. Master Normandy had completed Y7 and Y8 of secondary school in the UK.
Master Normandy is 15 and completed his final year of College here in France. This is called 3 ème (troisième) or in English 3rd (third). Year 10 in a secondary school.
He is one of the oldest in his year as he was a January baby and the French school year goes from January – December rather than the UK September – August. So, in his year group, there are still students who are 14 and some that are 16 (the ones that had to repeat a year). I don’t actually agree with this (which happens frequently) if a child doesn’t have over, say, a moyenne of 10, they have to repeat the whole year again.
I doubt very much that they suddenly get the things they didn’t get the previous year. Plus not everyone is academic. All it does, in my opinion, is turn that child off to learning plus shouldn’t the style of teaching be accountable in some way? The onus is on the child not working hard enough, having to re-learn the stuff they didn’t learn the first time around. Shouldn’t there be some accountability on the way in which the subject is taught? You decide. Either way I think it sucks.
The Brevet is marked out of 800 points. The French schooling system is obsessed with the child’s average mark ‘moyenne’. So, in every subject that is taught, they receive marks out of 20. So, if you child is rubbish at music (which mine was) their score on this will bring their overall moyenne down. By the way, in his music class they never once played or learnt to play an instrument. Go figure. Equally, if they are not artistic (mine isn’t) again this will bring the moyenne down. In the UK, if you don’t like these subjects you can drop them and concentrate on getting a good exam grade in other subjects. Obviously the core ones have to be taken.
My son had a very good moyenne when he first arrived 17/20 this was 15.8/20 when he left as he’d just lost the will to live. More of which later.
During the final year, the students are marked on their competences i.e how well they understand etc and its worth 400 points. My son got 350 points which meant he had already passed the Brevet. This actually had a detrimental effect as he decided, being a teen, to down tools. He was so bored (he is exceptional at maths and they were going over things he’d done in Year 5 at primary). He also missed the style of teaching in the UK which, as I understand it (and hope to god!) this is what lycee is all about. He also believed they couldn’t change his competencies. Wrong. They changed it a week before the exam.
Despite nagging and telling him to just slug out the final terms – he didn’t. He barely revised for anything for his mock exams but he still got a tres bien. He got complacent saying the Brevet didn’t matter. In some respects it doesn’t as based on his notes and previous moyenne he got the lycee he wanted and is able to do the Bac General (the academic one). If you don’t do well academically they will not allow you to do the Bac General! The student has to do the professional Bac which is vocational.
In any event, to get a tres bien (the highest mark) in the Brevet you need 640 points. The students, therefore, have to get as many points as they can in the actual exam. The points for the taking are as follows:-
French 100 (this includes reading, writing, dictee (where someone is reading French and they have to write it down) and something else.
Oral 100 – this can be done in English and is on their work experience ‘stage’ earlier on in the year
Now Master Normandy did revise for all his subjects but couldn’t for French. How can you revise a second language? I was happy he had done the best he could. I said to him I didn’t care what he got as I knew he had put in the work and it was a credit to him how he stayed motivated for as long as he did. He was climbing the walls to leave college. However, he had left himself a huge task and he nearly, just nearly pulled it off.
My son missed out on his Brevet Tres Bien by 11 points! A combination of all of the above but also the school decided to reduce his competencies (based on his downing tools attitude) by 20 points.
I did go in to argue the toss but the Head was insistent it was fair and reasonable and I don’t genuinely believe it was done with any malicious intent. Had I been able to articulate myself better than a toddler I’m sure I could have reversed that decision. I would have darn well done my best in the UK. Sometimes I feel I let my children down in this regard. I am not the fearless lioness I can be in English. That’s something that upsets me but equally my children have to learn I can’t fight their battles for them as much as I want to.
In that same meeting, the head told me my son had a panic attack during his oral examination. He had got 90/100 in the mock exam. He said they allowed him to do it again and got slightly lower. He got 80/100. This was very nice of them and is why I don’t believe they were anything but supportive of Master Normandy.
Now, as mentioned above, he really did have his work cut out. He did revise and got 37/50 for the science and history/geography. Had he been writing in English I know he would have got top marks. He got an amazing 91/100 in maths and had left a question. The same maths that the internet was a wash with how hard it was – the level of lycee they said. The average, the maths teacher told us later, was very poor for this exam. Just like he did in primary (sats level 6) he was in a tiny percentage of students who nailed the maths. By the way he does. not. get. this. from. me. at all.
His French marks (56/100) let him down. Let down? I don’t think so. A language he had only learnt in just 2 years. He decided last year he couldn’t be bothered with extra lessons. Lessons that were excellent – thank you Julie. You got them off to a flying start and had he continued he would have nailed the French as well. The marks don’t really reflect the awesomeness that is Master Normandy. This is why I so willed him to get a tres bien as I know he is worth it!
This is how the Brevet result system is calculated:-
- Tu obtiens ton brevet si tu cumules au moins 350 points
- Tu obtiens ton brevet avec mention Assez Bien si tu cumules au moins 480 points
- Tu obtiens ton brevet avec mention Bien si tu cumules au moins 560 points
Master Normandy obtained 629 points!
- Tu obtiens ton brevet avec mention Très Bien si tu cumules
I think its a shame they don’t get individual certificates for exams and levels. But there you go.
We are immensely proud of Master Normandy. I think he is incredible. I think all my children are. I was bursting with pride when he got his results. In particular, the maths. He still had to read the problem in French and answer and they work things out differently. And as Mr Normandy said..
“you’ve got 24 hours to save the earth – no one is saying quick who can write what I’m saying down in French. They want the mathematician!”
Master Normandy chuckled at this and said “yeah, what’s all that about, the dictee?!”. My sentiments exactly. The French schooling system is fine and we enjoy living here but seriously no one needs a dictee in any circumstances.
I hope you have enjoyed my explanation and why Master Normandy’s Bien (an understated ‘good’ in French) is undeniable extraordinary. Possibly the greatest Bien in the world ever! Said by that boys mother.
You have been reading Our Normandy Life!
The Brevet points system explained via this website