Advice on the best course of preparing for primary schooling for english children

During my last visit to our house in Lamalou les Bains (34), I took the decision to enrol my 5 and 3 year old boys into the local schools. We have had the house for 8 years but I have never been in the position to try to make a permanent move. Our eldest will be 6 in September so he will be in CP. Our youngest will be in Maternelle, Moyenne Section.

A friend of mine is from the area originally but teaches in England. She had suggested to me that it might be a better introduction for my eldest to go back to the final year of Maternelle so he can get a better grounding of basic words, as she felt the CP was really hard work, particularly for a foreign student.

I am in two minds - the teacher does speak English and is particularly experienced in teaching foreign and special needs children. That said, I still dread the first day when he will definitely not want to go to school, having only been in Reception in the UK where the focus is on play and not really serious learning.

I only have the experiences of a couple of people to go by and wondered if other members have had to make special arrangements or decisions to make their child's transition much smoother.

Many thanks

Carly Nunn

My advice is probably not as relevant as that of the others as we're a French speaking household and so mine don't stand out at all (except for their surname Mouysset-Hearne!) but there are a couple of Dutch kids at our school, the same age as my kids (3 +5) and they've been thrown straight into the system and although there is a period of adaption, kids are kids and they adapt very quickly. In the long run it's soooo much easier doing it when the kids are young - collège or lycée is far more difficult and often (but not always) too late to get them truly bilingual or settled. I'm probably repeating a lot of what's already been said - sorry I haven't got the time to read the thread (no disrespect but thing's are incredibly busy and stressful at the moment with our entire project/future in the balance and out of our hands!) but wanted to put forward my 2 centimes' worth - go for it!

Yes Carly, as Val says do keep us posted. I think you have struck lucky with the variety of people responding, only missing Andrew who normally would have but has important and complicated things going on. We have all been here differing lengths of time, either have children born or with experience of some of their growing up elsewhere, we are in different parts of France which is important because of sometimes enormous differences and, of course, probably have very different experiences ourselves.

Tracy gave the game away a bit, my wife and I do academic child research but that tends to be areas like child labour, street children or trafficking rather than anything to do with education. I was educated in London, my Swiss wife in Bellinzona in the south of her country, our children began school in Swansea, so we are comparing using different standards. However, we tend not to be too much involved because teachers are there to do that and we watch from the sidelines. However, as regulars to SFN may have noticed, having one daughter in special needs education I have carefully looked at education laws and special needs provision here in France. One thing leads to another and I have looked at mainstream in terms of laws and regulation, partly to know and partly to compare. So whenever there are questions I tend to respond. Indeed, yesterday somebody became a friend because she needs advice on special needs and as and when I shall try to respond to questions she might have. However, I think the various advices you would get from Andrew, Nick, Tracy, Val and myself combined (and others of course) will be as supportive as we can possibly be. Part of you keeping us updated is to inform us in turn so that we can aid others and keep on exchanging info. Apart from that, SFN people are a friendly bunch who will support you as best we can this way. That goes for other issues too. So Carly, I guess we all wish you the best of luck with your own transition too.

Please do keep us posted, Carly. I admit at least 80% of my worries about moving to France were taht my son would absolutely hate school, the French language would cause insurmountable barriers to him making friends etc. His being happy has made me happy (and a little more relaxed!). As far as your son's spelling is concerned, I wouldn't be overly-worried at this point. For the 3 months Twerp has been in CE1, the main focus seems to be on the children's writing skills, ensuring they become accustomed to the French cursive, so there is quite a lot of repetition of writing out individual letters or words - that is how he will learn to spell French words, not phonetically. The only thing that went against my son is maths. He has always been very good at sums etc but of course he is now receiving instructions in French and doesn't understand what's being explained. That obstacle we will overcome in time through his picking up more of the language and my trying to help him at home.

There is usually a kids' club somewhere in the locality plus flyers in the intermarche, boulangerie etc for local classes - see if any of them offer something creative. As well as following his passion, it may also help with his French.

Very best of luck and keep us posted.

If she has special needs experience she is an asset. Go for it. Boys can be much like girls, but usually have many more peer pressures than girls who are far more competitive at school. I've never worked that one out, but what seems to be 'normal' never applies to everybody. Anyway, it sounds like you should go for CP straight away and keep close liaison with the teacher to see how you can help.

Thank you for all the kind replies. I suppose most of the success stories I had heard to date were about girls, who from my experience, on the most part seem to take to any form of learning, much more so than boys. My son is a bright lad who is reading at a good level in English but has some confidence issues and conflict with spelling after learning to read using the phonics system. He has ended up wanting to spell everything phonetically which is great if he just wanted to text! I am hoping more than anything that the French system will offer him much more focus and direction, which I have found lacking in his UK primary. The only real concern I have for him is that he loves to draw - much more so than anything else - so I just hope that I can find him some extra curricular clubs that will allow him to carry on this interest as opposed to just at home.

I did really like his teacher - she had brought in a huge moth she had found on her house at home and had prepared a class all about it that morning. She has a background of teaching at a special needs school so I hope she will have more patience than others, perhaps.

I will keep you posted on how we get on!

Many thanks again!

Hi Carly,

I hope this doesn't end up sounding abrupt but I have dinner on downstairs! Thought I'd do a quick note before the peas boil dry tho. We arrived at the end of February this year. My little boy is 7, 8 in October. I had hoped to arrive at least a few weeks earlier to give him an extra term but c'est la vie and all that. Anyway, he's had one full term in CE1. His teacher was a little nervous saying that when it's time for rentree in September, she'd like him to stay in CE1. I said absolutely, totally agree with her. He can start from the beginning and learn from scratch.

In preparation, I'd paid for private lessons for several months before we arrived but he basically lacked interest because France was not real yet in his mind. I expected tears, tantrums, nightmares because of new country, new school, losing old friends etc. Not a drop. He has been getting a little bored but that's purely because the teacher's talking away in French so he doesn't understand a word. Yet. But almost every day he comes home with a 'Mum, what does xxx mean', then he usually remembers it. So he came with nothing, he's learning daily, he didn't have a complete freak out and he's settling in, to me, wonderfully.

The day is not too long for him - only about an hour more than he had previously - but here he gets 2 playtimes instead of 1, plus a nice long break for lunch.

Yours will do superbly - I have no doubt. And I say that sincerely.


Think it would be understood as that and my second one does not drift away too much.

Brian, my comment was in reply to your first reply, seem to have got out of sync

Tracy, good point about the school year. Here it is September to July, finishing on Thursday in fact. Check on the year where you are. Tracy, right to a point except that apart from being used to hearing different languages she had no skills other than English. If it is Jan to Dec where you are Carly then think about that and I think in that situation we might have gone for GS too. However, we took the plunge for and with her. She had done Year One at a primary in the UK and did not want to go back down a school level. Whilst the rest of her class did maternelle certainly, as Tracy is saying in effect, not all coped and some still not now.

Bottom line, and again following Tracy with this, do take your son's personality into account but I shall add that if you can talk to him about it at all then do so, it helped us to do so, and also take advantage of the fact you have an English speaking teacher; at CP level there are far too few of them around.

OK, the other side of the coin!

Our children (now age 7 & 5) were born here so have been through the system from the beginning, my little one will be 6 at the end of November, so is the youngest in his class. He is currently in GS and has spent this year learning how to write each individual letter beautifully and also the sounds of each letter. When he goes into CP in September, he will be expected to read and write completely by Christmas as happened with his sister. It is total immersion and I suspect for the average foreign child, a baptism of fire, knowing my son, it will be a shock for him and he is already bi-lingual. If your child will be Ok with that, all well and good, if not, I agree with your friend that it would be a lot kinder for him to start in GS and give him time to get to grips with the totally different French education system and the language.

By different, I mean the very long day, the fact that they sit in 2 by 2 desks all facing the blackboard and the amount of learning by rote that they do, not to mention homework - CP is very hard work. Brian's daughter has coped very well but he omitted to mention the fact that she is exceptionally bright and comes from an international family of linguists.

The school year here runs from January to December, so with a September birthday your son would be one of the youngest in the CP class and there would be no difference if he stayed down a year. I would rather my kids stayed down a year at this age to get a good grounding in the basics, than when they are older and more conscious of it. Also at this stage, it will be easy to make friends and it would be a shame if he made friends, then didn't make the grade at the end of the year and was kept back while they moved up to the next class.

In the end, it is good to collect everyone's opinion then take your sons personality into account and make the decision according to that - only you know him well enough.

I second Brian. Don't spend too much time worrying about it. Children are children and very adaptable. I would say, get them into school and see how they get on. Maintain a good dialogue withe teachers too and I'm sure they'll be fine.

Our youngest, then just turned six, went into CP of a September. We had arrived in July. It was hard work. She is now three years in, fluent in French with an assessment of 18.5 out of 20 for French this year, came third in her class although at the very top for a while. Our older daughter is Down Syndrome, so not in mainstream school but after three years is bilingual, is reading and writing and learning other things.

There are two Welsh children who arrived without French and have just completed this year, their first, one is CP. Their mother says they are doing very well and that she is amazed how good their French is. They came as Welsh first language speakers and whilst most of the teachers have almost no English, I suspect none of them knew there was such a language as Cymru.

NO special arrangements but keep on the ball with the school, especially the teachers and they'll be fine. Whatever they do, the education laws demand they follow a set curriculum which means that if you look for some kind of 'special school' that will cost you, they still have to follow the same curriculum. Hard work, for sure, but it is real immersion and seems to work pretty well.