Our French Life, Our School Life

Lycée – It’s All A Bit Weird!

It really is. In fact everything that surrounds lycée is a bit panto-ish. The school bus, the enabling a lifelong generation of smokers and a kind of bizarre university approach but it’s not university in any way, shape or form. It doesn’t really know what it is and I’ll be darned if I know what it’s all about that’s for sure!

Sorry but for an outsider, from a very different schooling system, I still think lycée is a bit strange. Now, I’ve written about the structure of lycée here so if you don’t know how it’s structured, then please do take a look.

Recently Macron, much to the dismay of many home schoolers, announced his intention to ban home schooling next year – 2021. This is on the back of radicalisation but instead of sorting that out, he just thought a blanket ban on teaching kids at home is much better. Yes, let’s just hand over our kids to the state shall we. This is more of a worry isn’t it? The continued erosion of our civil liberties. Will we ever get them back after Covid?

Now, I’m not going to get into a home schooling debate but I, for one, believe that it has to make more sense than using a one stop shop approach for 30 children. It is actually logical to teach a child one to one. Generally speaking, the people that home school tend to be bloody good at what they do and have the means, resources and the inclination to do so. For me, I would suspect a UK based home schooling system – creative, engaging and thought provoking would actually be an excellent way to learn.

Turning back to lycée – where to start on this one? Well let’s start at the beginning. Firstly, the age range of the students varies enormously. So, in theory, your teen should be 14/15 years old when they start their first year at lycée conveniently called ‘second’ to give it full on panto effect.

Now the French really do believe that by holding back a student that did not get the curriculum the first time around that this, in some way means, they’ll get it a second time around.

That to ‘redouber’ or as I like to say redoubling (doing the whole year again) they won’t lose the will to live, totally zone out but actually take an interest in what they are being taught and all of a sudden improve their moyenne (average – another obsession) and are quite the star pupil. Hilarious if it wasn’t so ridiculous.

I’d actually like to see the statistics on this. Did they really significantly improve by learning exactly what they learnt the previous year? I mean how demoralising. Not only that, some children are simply never going to get it. By making them repeat it over and over is not going to make them learn it. It is cruel and unnecessary and not only that it does not help them socially. Mentally they would have matured more during the year compared to that of their peers.

My son is about the only one that does not smoke at break time. So in order to chat to his friends he has to stand in a cloud of cigarette smoke. French students do not perceive this to be ‘chavy’ in any way – quite the opposite – just like our cultures!

(Photo : Tangi Leprohon) Les lycéens, ici ceux du lycée Renan à Saint-Brieuc, fument désormais à l’extérieur de l’établissement. Pause tabac .

Perhaps, and am just gonna throw this out there, that if you have a school system that results (excuse the pun) in children not being at a standard when they finish their school year, then perhaps just perhaps it’s not the child that is the problem? Maybe the system needs to ask itself a few questions and take accountability rather than laying the blame squarely at the feet of the child that is being taught?

Not only that there is a fear of having to redoubler. Surely better to have a system that is based on enjoyment. Can we not learn and enjoy at the same time? Why must the driving force to do well be tempered with the fear of having to regurgitate the same stuff you learnt the previous year?

So in France you have kids who can be a year, nearly two years older than their fellow classmates. At this age, it is a huge difference and in my view should not be an option. I’ll give you a very real life example which involved my son aka Master Normandy.

Thankfully none of my kids have ever been in a position to redoubler and even if they were it ain’t happening. Nope. Sorry.

Thankfully this was banished by the time I was at school – just the standing in the corner which has also been seen away with. But repeating a year? I think I’d rather wear the dunce hat for a day.

Master Normandy is one of the oldest in his year group. The school year age of the child goes from January to December in France and not September to August like is does in the UK. My son joined his first year at lycée at 15 and a half. We thought, given the time of the school bus, (more of which later) it would be best for him to board. This is very common in France and again is more akin to university – it is quite young in my view for young teenagers to live away from home. I digress as that’s what I do best.

He disliked it immensely from the off. As, you see, with this bizarre mismatch of not quite being university and also being secondary, they are on the one hand treated older than their years and on the other hand treated like their age.

So after school had finished they were not allowed to kick around a very safe town nor were they allowed to return to their rooms until 8pm. My son said it was like waiting at an airport for your delayed flight to eventually take off. However, phones are allowed (not allowed in secondary) so everyone can ignore each other at break times.

And yet they could all smoke at every break time – with the added bonus of ash tray facilities. Great stuff. Enable further generations of smokers rather than start with perhaps curbing this 70s phenomenon. Even at secondary school in the UK it is not cool to smoke. It wasn’t actually cool in the 80s even when I was at school it certainly isn’t in 2020. Knives yes. Cigarettes. No. Which is worse? A life time of smokers or the real danger of being stabbed whilst going/coming home from school. You decide.

So, Master Normandy was put in a room with two others – one of whom was nearly 18 years old. Yes that’s right. This nearly adult was sharing a room with my first born baby who was two and a half years younger than him. Now, I am sure I don’t need to tell you the life experiences that this older boy had compared to my son. Not only that he was emotionally unstable. He had come from a home that had lots of problems (he has my sympathies) and had lost his father recently. He was struggling to manage his anger. So not only had he redoubled at least twice, he had also been expelled from two schools. This was his last chance salon and the school thought it was okay to put this troubled young adult in with minors. I did have concerns but my son assured all was fine even when I questioned him about a huge bruise on his arm. High jinks I was reassured.

How I feel about the lycée school timetable! Full on panto season!

However, as the term progressed my son became more and more withdrawn – depressed. Ghostly white when I picked him up on a Wednesday (we had allowed him to come back mid week), his moyenne dropped dramatically, he hated lycée even though everyone assured us it was much better than college. He said it’s just like college – more of the same boring repetitive work but just longer. Here was a student that had previously had great enthusiasm for learning, highly intelligent and very driven. He now could not have cared less about education and any enthusiasm had been sucked out of him. He was done with French schooling and France.

Ironically one of the very reasons I felt that my son would do okay in France was because I knew he was very intelligent and could cope with content and all that a new language would bring. Little did I know that the system, whilst not hard for him, would actually turn him off to learning in its entirety. So much so that my son has said he would never put his children through the French schooling system. Harsh words but I am not the one sitting in lessons that start at 8.00 am in the morning am I?

Just before the Xmas break, I noticed another bruise and again was told all was well. I pushed a bit harder and then my son said he “could take it no more” the students were like animals at night. He had just assumed this was just how the French were.

He could not sleep during the night and it was certainly not a calm environment conducive to learning. They trashed the rooms, threw cold water at midnight if it was your birthday and other juvenile antics which support my views that these teens are not mature enough to be boarding away from home. This is like when Year 6 primary school kids have their grown up 4 day school trip away from home. The first for many. They normally come back absolutely shattered – lycée is like this in the first year. They are not mature enough to think I need to get sleep etc and there’s always some dick who just won’t shut up.

These are banned in secondary school even at break time. Not so at lycée where you can check your phone whilst having a cigarette.

This is not university this is like secondary school but with the students having to self regulate themselves from home.

It also transpired that the soon to be 18 year old was guilty of creating a game that involved pinning down students and punching them hard. Sounds like a whole lot of fun said no person ever. However, everyone was too afraid to say anything. I immediately emailed the school. Ordinarily, I’d have been able to go mental over the phone but, alas due to my level of French I had to compose an email. Failing as a mother #34 on my epic mum fails list.

The school responded straight away. They had no idea that the young lad in charge of the students was not doing his job properly eg keeping them in check and not treating them like uni students. The 18 year old eventually left to join the army. I removed my son from the boarding and got a full refund. He still goes to this lycée. Asides for these unfortunate events it is a good school. The teaching is good (so says my son – the best judge) and I was satisfied that they did everything they could to rectify the situation and were as horrified as myself. I am pleased to say this is not the norm and just how French students at lycée are.

My son is now doing great at lycée. He got his mojo back just before confinement and was suitably motivated to crack on with his French learning. His goal – to pass his Baccalaureate so he can go back to the UK and study in English. To give you an idea – Oxford University require a 16/20 for a Bac general (academic).

My son has accepted that he has to make the best of his education here and dare I say it he is beginning to enjoy his friendships at lycée. We can’t change this system so we have to get the best out of it.

Lycée is this weird mixture of secondary and university and it needs to decide what it wants to be which, I can tell you, is a secondary school with a touch of 6th form for the reasons I have explained. There is no logic to impose rules of not being able to go out at lunch time in their first year, to not to be able to go back to their rooms before 8pm. But yet they can smoke and start lessons at 8.00 am and get up earlier than most full time working adults at 6:00 am in the morning to catch the one bus that goes to their school.

Yes you did read that right. Lessons do frequently start at 8.00 am. Sorry, but there is no need in any universe or world as we know it, for a lesson to start at 8:00 am. That is f*@*@d up! Nor does a the day need to ever finish at 6.00pm which it does once a week. Nor do we need the faff with the half Wednesday. The whole school day is a bit farcical and quite frankly chaotic. There are weeks where lessons start at 10.00 am but only one bus in which needs to be caught at 7.10am and one bus out so when lessons finish at 3 pm you can’t even escape your long day. Would we as adults put up with this? Just lay on buses that correspond with the timetables of the schools which they could sync.

I feel quite strongly about the nonsensical approach to lycée school hours that I will send this to Macron and await his response – some time never!

Lycée needs to come clean, fess up and admit it is not university and start acting in that manner. The statistics in league tables does not make France the world leader when it comes to education – so its hours are not lending itself to better results. These young teens are enduring a longer day than most full time working adults and for what reason? To coincide with working hours except they don’t! The bus does coincide with mum and dad working but the timetable does not. Shorter days are called for and dump the half day Wednesday faff for all ages.

If you’re freaking out about your choice to move your children to France – please don’t. It really is first world problems and ultimately my children are being educated. They enjoy their friendships in a safe environment, have great school trips, lunch at my son’s lycée is better than anything I rustle up (so I’m told), the teachers are nice, the students used to greet each other with the normal grown up handshake and bisous pre covid, they go out to the kebab shop for lunch and can pass the time together.

My son is fluent in French, is happy, enjoys his chosen specialist subjects of the maths and sciences so is enjoying his second year of lycée much more than the first. The class sizes are small as it’s a private catholic school. The fees are nominal compared to the UK approx 800 euros for the year. There are merit grants available. He would have gone skiing – as standard for the students here and you ain’t a Normandy student if you have not walked across the bay of Mont St Michel. My son is gaining a more open minded, cosmopolitan view of the world by experiencing living in France. Experiencing a completely different culture that he may or may not run away from in a few years time. We totally changed the course of his life by moving him here and who knows if even having an education will mean anything in a post covid world.

So he cracks on with it, getting up at 6 am (as do I who drives him to the bus stop) in the morning coming back at 7pm once a week, learning what he needs to in French. I think the Baccalaureate is a good qualification. It is not easy. And it will certainly surpass any kind of qualifications I managed to get out of my gritty 80s secondary school. I was chatting with someone who helped me with my French a few months back, similar age, who went through this system and his general cultured knowledge on all matters put my own UK education to shame.

I just think the structure could be evened out over the course of college to prepare it’s students for the sudden jump in work. It is an internationally recognised qualification and is well respected.

Yes, for us lycée is a bit weird but it is what it is and I don’t think I’m going to change this institution any time soon. But I do hope that some day, the French powers that be may take an objective look at their system and perhaps update it somewhat in the coming years.

What do you think of lycée? I’d love to hear your views.

You have been reading Our Normandy Life!

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