Preparing for Collège

My youngest son is in CM2 and going to Collège next September. He seems to be remarkably unmoved by this impending change except for the idea of taking the bus which appeals tremendously.

Last night there was a meeting for parents of these future collegiens to introduce the Principal and present the curriculum. I nearly didn’t go. My eldest son only left last year and I didn’t feel there was much I could learn. Then I remembered how they keep mucking around with education and thought it best to attend just in case.

In the end I was glad to make the effort. I arrived 10 minutes early which meant I got the penultimate car parking space (officially at least) and, armed with my Kindle went in to wait and read. Have Kindle, will wait happily. Actually I could have spent my time saying hello to other mummies I know (and some dads) but I’m an anti-social bugger so after a bit of that on the way in, I sought peace in my book.

There must have been about 300 people there; the room was packed in fact. The Principal introduced himself and started talking about courses and options. In 6e the kids can do the usual run of subjects plus English or ‘bilingual English-German’, no Spanish which is bizarre considering how close we live to the Spanish border (when my eldest son was in 6e there was Spanish but no German!).

In 5e they can take one of two options if they like - Latin or French Sign Language because there are about 20 mal-entendant kids in the school and the idea is to get other kids to able to talk to them. I thought this a remarkably good idea, but I want my son to do Latin. He is not keen to put it mildly, but he is so ‘inculte’ (and proud of it!) that I want him to make the effort, especially as at least half the course is based on historical and social study which is really interesting. My youngest has Playmobil Roman soldiers and even the amphitheatre. When I pointed this out, he said that he just likes getting them to kill each other as gladiators, just like he enjoys battles between his modern soldiers.

My eldest son decided to stir the pot by adding that it would help with history lessons so he’d be able to get easy marks because he would already have studied some of the material. Anyway, as I said to my youngest, I don’t often put my foot down absolutely, but I know what’s good for him in this case, and he will study Latin in 5e. End of.

Back in the room, one parent was asking how he could prevent his child from having Mr B, a French teacher. When the Principal (unwisely) asked why, the dad said that his eldest child had suffered from two years of this teacher’s regular absences, got no effective teaching from him and had had to have two years of private lessons to make up for the lack of teaching. You can imagine the ripple of murmuring discontent that swept across the sea of parents. The Principal was not more than mildly put out, considering the seriousness of the charge, and responded that while Mr B might have been absent for training ‘from time to time’, the Principal was not able to have him covered so it was basically just tough. And there was nothing the dad could do to avoid his second child having this teacher. There was no uproar from the rest of the room. Everyone knows that the education of kids is sacrificed to the alter of union power which years ago negotiated total job security of teachers making it impossible to sack them, and budget issues.

My eldest son, who also had Mr B, said that this teacher was forever ill in fact, but not all the time, and covering for patchy absences is not as simple to put in place as a one nice long regular absence. If my youngest has Mr B, I’m not going to stand by and do nothing. Every single missed lesson will be noted and I’ll then send in a report to the Rectorat with a complaint. If I can get hold of other parents to do the same then the volume of complaints might end with action. Some hope, but I still think it’s important to complain.

I heard another bad teacher story on Sunday when we were celebrating my youngest’s birthday (which is next week) at Paintball with 12 of his friends and brother. They had a lovely time while I looked on with a couple of mothers. One of them told me about her son who is having a terrible time in school at the moment with a toxic teacher. He is also in CM2 and this teacher has been telling him he’s an idiot and incapable. From being a content kid happy to learn, he is now a wreck, wrings his hands when he has to do his homework and is anxious all the time when he goes to school.

Naturally the parents are appalled and have started to take action, going to the school to talk to the teacher, but coming away frustrated because this teacher won’t let anyone finish a sentence. She interrupts the whole time and dismisses all discussion (and it’s interesting to note that she is going through some personal problems at the moment so could be taking it out on this kid?). They were due to have a meeting with the teacher and the head yesterday to ask the teacher to ‘fouter le paix’ - leave the kid alone until the end of June. I hope they got their message across.

Teaching is not supposed to be about demoralising kids and destroying the desire to learn, but as many people go into teaching in France for reasons other than to teach (job security, long holidays), the result is some stunningly bad teachers who leave a wake of destruction and emotional wreckage behind them.

It only takes one bad teacher to ruin a kid's desire to learn.

I understand your pain Lucy! Mine is just starting to wake up (to the necessity to do more than the bare minimum). I'll post here the higher education blog I wrote a couple of weeks ago.

Hi Sarah - Think mine may be challenging yours for the title of Captian Lazy!! Does the bare minimum - and not always that much!!! So frustrating as he is obviously bright and capable (according to his teachers) but just doesn't bother!!

It was over-subscribed Lucy, so he was an easy one to take off the list. I don't think he minded too much, it would have meant more hours work and he is Captain Lazy.

Interesting that your eldest son wasn't able to join the "Classe Europeanne" - whereas mine was welcomed. It was ideal as he was able to study English at a (slightly) higher level than "normal" and to start learning ANOTHER language in 6ieme instead of waiting until 4ieme!

My eldest son was not allowed to do the Classe Europeene in English as he is bilingual with an English mother and it was reserved for French speakers so they could improve their English. Places were limited and he was considered too good.

interesting book on the French education system, by the Englishman Peter Gumbel - it's available in both French and English. Book description on Amazon:

Peter Gumbel is a veteran foreign correspondent for Time Magazine and The Wall Street Journal who was named “Journalist of the Year” by the London-based Work Foundation. He’s also the father of two daughters who go to school in France.

Why is France the only country in the world who discourages children based on what they are not, instead of encouraging them to "be" based on their inner talents and virtues?

71 % des élèves sont régulièrement « sujets à de l’irritabilité ».

63 % souffrent de nervosité.

Un sur quatre a mal au ventre ou à la tête une fois par semaine.

40 % se plaignent d’insomnies fréquentes.

Pourquoi la France est-elle le seul pays au monde à décourager ses enfants au nom de ce qu’ils ne sont pas, plutôt qu’à les encourager en vertu de ce qu’ils sont ?

mary.. we are told it is a question of 'leadership'. good director and all can be near as possible to perfect and then there is the other extreme of course.

lucy, replacement here gets my goat and my swiss wife cannot believe how it is approached. my sister-in-law has been virtually a career replacement secondary school teacher because the swiss system has a permanent reserve system so that if a teacher goes sick, within an hour or two somebody with the precise level and skills is there in place. tell her about it here and she refuses to believe any system can be so slack.

My son was in 5ieme last year and missed NINE weeks of FRENCH lessons due to staff absences. The "real" teacher was on Maternity leave - so the spot was empty for 3 weeks before they found a (useless) replacement. She only lasted about a fortnight. Then there was another 3 week delay before another (brilliant) replacement was appointed. Sadly he left at the end of the Trimestre and there was another 3 week delay before the "real" teacher reappeared!! Staff absences seem to be the norm - and a nightmare when it is in a "core" subject! My son is also getting private tuition to try to help him catch up all that he missed!!

There are lots of things that I don't miss about the English Education system - but I do think that the way that staff absences are handled is MUCH better!! Actually that should probably be "were handled" as I have no idea whether it still works the same way!!

Hi Angela! Yes, we are very lucky to have this type of bilingual education so close by. I take my kids for 2 months every summer to the states (from their young age I told them that as soon as the plane landed in the USA it was English for two months). My kids are truly bilingual. The get bored learning English with non English speakers.

@ Brian-interesting...never heard about these views on private schools. We must be incredibly lucky. The 2 years in the public school system was when my 3 year old was slapped. I learned lots of new words on class trips with the petit section in the public school too: i would come home and ask my husband - "what does villain mean? "What does mechant mean?" Because the teachers would look the kids in the eyes and tell them "tu es mechant or villain" on a regular basis. With 8 years in the private sector, 4 kids now...not once has a teacher raised a hand to my kids. The only bad thing was that the cantine lady would pull many of the kids ears if they were misbehaving. We talked to the directrice and she stopped. I am sure my kids have been yelled at for various things...but not to what i saw at the public school. I was scared of the teachers and I was supposed to be helping the class! I think we had a really bad experience at the next door public school and a really great experience at the next door private schools. The best is to visit schools and get a feel for things and how the teachers are. You can often get good feedback also from parents and just the feel of the school and how the kids are walking around. Only my two cents....

hi Mary & Gretchen

You are so lucky having a bilingual section in your childrens' collèges!

I would love that. Apparently the public collèges locally have a classe européénne from 4èmewhich I think means some of the lessons are taught in english during the week.However my daughters' private collège doesn't have one.Yhey will be starting Latin & Spanish next year though. (I would have preferred German,but apparently it's seen as a plus to do Latin & helps their spelling too)

There are so many pros & cons to weigh up when we make our choices, I think it depends on the local context.I also find a big difference between private primary & secondary school atmosphere, especially the attitudes of the parents; most of the secondary school ones don't talk to me- it is like a closed club. But my daughters love their school so that's the main thing I guess.

hope everything goes well for you & yous son, Sarah

On the smacking, hitting or other forms of physical force against children look for Jean-Pierre Rosenczveig's site and look at what he says or ask him. He is a juvenile court magistrate near Paris and has been part of the international children's rights world (but is really only good on France) since I can remember - which is a long time. If in doubt ask him or Defense des Enfants International (Fr) that he chairs and they will explain what should be done.

I was told recently, that if one can find a gendarme willing to act on a complaint and has at least two witnesses, then it is quite possible to go to the school, walk into the class and arrest the teacher or other on the spot for a common assault. Getting such a gendarme remains, in practice, the dream of the activists. Private schools adopt the attitude, I am also informed, that laws do not apply to them. Their record on physical punishment and coercion of children is, we were shocked to hear, probably the worst in western society. It is not only stunningly bad teachers but people with chips the size of trucks on their shoulders who go into teaching who leave that wake of destruction and emotional wreckage behind them. We are not specialists in this field ourselves but probably know many of the top ones worldwide and are no longer shocked when we hear where France stands in the world and how complacent politicians are to what was once a progressive, creative and caring environment for children. Our advantage is that school staff know what we do and it would be highly unlikely that any but the stupidest teacher picked on either of ours. If it happened then feet would leave the ground within hours, as one might say.

the 'corporal punishment' approach is actually not justifiable or legal and actually happens much more in private than public, as one of the french experts on the topic we know has written. it is one of our bigs problems.

brian, i will clarify that my 3 year old was slapped by the teacher. she left the profession after the year was over. the teacher just cracked up that day, but it really disturbed me. i couldnt stay in this school anymore. all the stories and bad karma!

hi brian, i can understand and respect your opinion. my kids used to attend the public school near our house. my 3 year was slapped in the face. my son was bored because he was born in january and was the oldest in his class and refused to go to school. parents told me about one of the helpers hitting her child (and other kids) in the vestiere (coat room) because he couldn't put his coat on right..etc...etc. it was out of necessity that i looked for another system. and we are very happy. i had to weigh all the options. the other public school 5 minutes away , which is smaller and very good reputation, didn't have a spot for both of my kids. all my kids are happy now. the private primary school is very diverse. tuition is affordable and many different social classes go to this school. the private college is a bit "elite" but it offers a good program and again, my daughter is very happy.

mary and gretchen, there are things about private education I think my wife and I dislike too much for some very complicated reasons that fit with our professions doing child research and our own education (both PhDs in the study of childhood at that) and that I have spent years at what is often measured as the best university in the world after a very ordinary public education. apart from that, our children have english already and one way or another that will go forward as too the french. so now is time for other languages on top and disciplines, for the younger especially, that suit where education should guide them in life. thus, so that study is not influenced by what a child has done most of (for instance languages) instead that child will go on to study (or not study, which I strongly believe we must accept and concede) what is chosen by the child rather than parental guidance. my worry is though, that french education does a bit too much guiding and too little assessing based on what children aspire to. a couple of teachers (both sport, but what the heck) fear the same for their daughter.

Hi Gretchen, Great that your kids also benefit from this type of education. The college offers 4 hours a week of English (with a native tongue speaker) and the rest of the classes are in French. My kids have always been in French school system, so this is fine. We discuss with them openly the positive and negative aspects of the French school system. (as an example, my daughter in 5eme got her grades last week, she did fine/well, but the two teachers giving her the bulletin were REALLY on her case because she talks too much in school.) I felt so "noir"(like a black feeling) being there with my daughter in front of these teachers reprimanding her, my daughter cannot help how her personality is. We try to help her to stay positive - and not to lose her confidence for her behavior issues (which i personally feel are minor, she is not talking to be mean-she really has struggles to be quiet...we all know kids like this)....Anyway, we live in Pau-there are a lot of expats (head quarters of TOTAL is here) and mixed marriage/cultures. So, at the college there are higher percentage of bilingual kids than at other colleges in Pau. The nice benefit for me is the 5 min drive away!

My son is in CM2 and will go to college next year. I have a daughter in 5eme already. The college they attend has a bilingual section for anglophones. Basically instead of doing english with the frenchys, the bilingual kids do english with a native english speaker. This is good! (and the extra plus is that my kids interact with other bilingual kids so they feel more "normal" as the see other kids who live in bilingual cultures. i am american/husband french and we celebrate/integrate both cultures as much as possible). This college is private. What is amazing is how little tuition you pay for private schools compared to private schools in other countries. My other two daughters are also in primary private school. We had been in the public sector and were disappointed. It appears to me that in the private schools you have less "greve" and it seems that the teachers (at least at my children's two schools) make that extra effort with the kids and parents. Saying that, there has been a recent incident of a teacher in the private school (don't want to mention more details) who has some personal issues and takes these issues out on the children. There is not much a parent or director can do to move teachers or establish some authority. But, i agree with you-take action as much as you feel comfortable, but don't expect to move mountains. Good luck with your son's transition to college!

I am perplexed by much of this. I have a daughter in CLIS but they have not yet decided whether she is kept back one year or goes to college yet! The other is two years away from that but in a group of people in her class who, according to their teacher who is a friend, could easily go to college now because they are already above the standard! Eh what? Does that mean the next two teachers need to take them down a few pegs or...? The UK standards are awful but at least transparently so, here there is almost no way to compare notes between schools because not just they but each teacher varies too much. Toughie, all parents have to deal with it and even our French friends who are teachers share our concerns.

Dear Jack, welcome to the forum. You seem to have picked some rather old threads to join.

Perhaps tell us a little about yourself and your connection to France, because you seem to be joining us from Montenegro so I’m a little perplexed by your interest in Survive France.

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