Teaching quality

I have two daughters in primary school. One is in a CLIS class which is almost certainly an issue for another time. It is my other daughter's teacher who worries me.

My nine year old daughter is in CM1, she came home rather fed up yesterday and explained what happened. It appears they had an English lesson, then moved on to geography whereby the teacher chose the British Isles as her topic. Both were a mess. Because we moved here after my daughter had only had two classes of primary in Wales, she had not learned English grammar. Therefore we bought books that teach it from the point of view of learning from the French. So yesterday it started with them being taught how to write the date: 'Monday, the 12th of November, 2012'. My daughter knows that this form was taught to me in the 1960s and that by the end of the 1970s was more or less redundant and thus she said that it is better as: 'Monday, 12th November, 2012'. When she came home we spent a while online together really thoroughly checking and established without doubt that the old habit of always having the day of the week is long since gone except in particular very formal letters that require it, the 'th' (etc) optional and the comma also. How far out of date could this teacher be?

Then it went from bad to worse with use of 'got' which is problematic enough without it being taught wrongly. The teacher was telling them an example that was 'I have got a sister'. My daughter knows that got = to get and that is prendre or obtenir, so that one can say 'I have got an apple' but only ever 'I have a sister'. I have made a note to the effect of all of that in the contact book with reference to the English homework last night.

Anyway, geography. Firstly she said the countries of Great Britain are England, Scotland and Ireland. Three hands went up. My daughter, Corentin who is totally into everything about England and London and Matthew who is Welsh. She was informed that she had forgotten Wales. My daughter threw in that Northern Ireland is in the UK but not Great Britain which is the name of the island on which the other three countries are found (I had just been having a debate about that on a heated post so my hackles rose) and that the Republic of Ireland is not part of the UK. The teacher said that her dictionary said that it was the four countries she had named, not admitting forgetting Wales or correcting to Northern Ireland, so therefore it was right.

So she came home and we started all over again. I say that because recently we had homework with a map that showed the border of France along a line of the Rhône and Rhine conjoined. My Swiss wife firstly laughed her head off and pointed that the two rivers are far apart and there is no imaginable way that they could join. So wrong. Then she also pointed out that in recent changes to the French language the circumflex in Rhône should be replaced by an unaccented 'o', thus Rhone.

During that same week, English lesson and days of the week and her insistence that the class prounounce the middle day: Wed-nez-day, not the modern form which is Wens-day. Oooof!

Then she did a class that totally confused all children who had done the topic last year. Charlemagne. She referred to him as a French king! Sorry? Was he not king of the Franks, born in what is now Belgium, ruled from Aachen where he is buried that was then the capital of Franconia? It is now in Germany and was never French apart from during the Napoleonic occupation. At least, when I helped my daughter last year and bothered to find out, that is what we found out. He contributed to the founding of what is now France, and only part of the country at that, but what he never was is a French king. So terrible teaching, low marks there for her.

On the English she is up against it because she has too many parents she knows speak or have a good working knowledge of the language, plus others she does not know about. One is a colleague in the school with a child in her class, his English is fluent. So she has decided to minimise the classes and not evaluate which some of us find incredibly unfair on the rest of the class and undermines the curriculum that stipulates a minimum of 54 hours of a 'modern language' over the school year.

The school has had terrible problems getting parent-governors this year and CM1 has no parent at all. The teacher has also refused to see parents who are similarly disturbed by the quality of her teaching and she has made it clear that if anybody complains to the inspector she shall exercise her right to refuse to have him/her in her class or examining her preparatory work. We are now finding out that these are errors she has made in previous years and that to put it in the simplest terms she appears not to be preparing her teaching although that is required of her.

Do other parents see these things happening. French education is not the most creative in the world but by far from being the worst. Teachers are public servants with a job for life so if they are as bad as she appears to be there is little that can be done about it. I think it is a topic worthy of discussion and comparison on this forum.

I challenged a teacher friend on Charlemagne recently and asked the name of his capital and where he is buried. He could not answer. Aachen is neither Belgium nor France, 60% of what was later in Karl de Große's Franconian (Frankish) kingdom was in what is now Germany, then Austria, the rest were conquests that took in most of France, down beyond Rome in Italy and large chunks of the Czech, Polish, etc modern territories in his lifetime. It was much like the Second World War defeat of France. They accept the fact and truth of neither - that is bad history.

On the subject of Charlemagne, my son (English, in CM1 also) has just told me that Charlemagne was the king of the dynasty Merovangian, which was France and Belgium (I am repeating his words!). On the subject of Ireland, my husband is from Belfast and in the course of trying to get all our paperwork straightened out I was constantly told to contact an office in Dublin. Despite making it clear that this is in a different country, I was practically ordered to do it! I dread to think how it winds up our (Southern) Irish cousins, an entire nation, it seems, thinking they are from the UK! Our conclusion? Some teaching is good, some bad, but the bad is truly terrible.

1966, via postgrad until 2004, John's, but later Darwin Fellow/Tutor, starting during your time there. Kings, well I am allowed to walk through without paying tourist entrance money ;-)

But SocAnth always met in the bar in Kings after Friday seminar, so may well have been there at the same time as you.

In the classroom we are using orally acceptable forms (which would have got a red line through them and See Me in the margin when I was a girl) more and more in written English - because of the Bac reforms which demand much greater oral communication skills whether in Bac Général, Technologique or Pro. I am often asked (by my less insecure colleagues) for vocab or expressions and am regularly amazed at the stuff my pupils have been taught before I get them because it is sometimes shockingly out of date or simply wrong.

I have various pet hates which neither my colleagues nor my French pupils use but are the prerogative of the native speaker eg I was sat, and you was etc, it sets my teeth on edge. The French equivalent "le stylo à Chloé"hasthe same effect.

Brian I see you were at Cambridge, may I ask where & when? (I was at King's from 1983-87)

Exactly the same as you Tracy!

Maybe it's an age thing. I remember my teacher many years ago, insisting that there was no such word as 'got', so I try never to use it in written English. Mind you, she also said there was no such word as 'can't' and that one I still live by!

Thanks Andrew, phew!

I naturally use have got but will revert to have for more formal or written English and taught both.

Despite rumours to the contrary, like most languages English is difficult to get absolutely correct. I most certainly do not in spoken English, but when I am writing for peer reviewed publications do so to quite fine detail. The preterite is a serious pain in the posterior because very few but the elite education level English speakers have a chance in many of getting it right. English regional accent and dialect speakers are very much more lead by those variations and whilst I cannot do so, English language socio-linguists I knew would look at somebody's written word and say to a fairly high degree of accuracy where people came from. Use of the preterite was always one of the clues. It is ironic that an assistant from Washington (DC rather than near Sunderland I assume) would find something backwoodsy when American English is closer to that, having retained far more from the time of Shakespeare than its European cousins. There are now hundreds of Englishes with no equivalent of the Académie française to moderate the language. That makes is very difficult for those teaching English, so perhaps text books are perhaps the best guide and not the 'guesses' of teachers. If colloquialisms are used then fine and if variants on 'posh' English also fine but factual matter should be correct. I have a similar trajectory to you the Véronique, I am of Scots origins whose education began in Germany, continued in England and then later saw me with a foot in the German university world, where I occasionally taught. Not languages mind you, so no point to make there. But as I came over time to know there are very many 'Germans' too, little Switzerland alone has numerous, but there is no absolute standard because each is stubbornly held as a little language rather than a dialect. Tucked away in a corner and for centuries under pressure of several of those Germans my wife's Ticinesi differs from Italian across the border in Italy and back over this way there are two dominant forms of Romande, one of which she studied in in Fribourg, the other in Geneva where she lived and use of either of which she is told here is incorrect French. Language is as language is, takes us round and round in circles. Taught badly it is disastrous which is what the present generation everywhere who should be given languages fall victim to.

Rant over. Back to finishing my plate of electric eels!

We are obliged to teach 'have got' because the programmes say so. That said, as a Scot educated in Scotland and then Germany & England I don't find it odd to ask "Have you got any brothers and sisters?" rather than "Do you have any brothers and sisters?" even though my classroom assistante from Washington finds it very backwoodsy.

I don't mark anyone down for whichever they choose! Where it becomes confusing is the preterite where we say "did you have" rather than "had you got" depending, but I suppose that's a whole other kettle of electric eels.

Hi Heather, yes it is worth it, especially under the AE scheme, I had some very good years but things dried up a little and my OH's school (lycée privé agricole) is in the throws of closing and we both wanted a new challenge/change so that's why we made the very drastic/dramatic change and investment.

Had I stayed with the CCI in Rodez, I would still have had plenty of teaching but the IUT where I was teaching was coming under more and more pressure not to give over a certain very small number of teaching hours to vacataires/prestataires de service... It's all about being in the right place at the right time, pushing and getting yourself known. Bonne chance ;-)

The use of Supply teachers that you mentioned puzzled me, my youngest in 6th last year missed 10 weeks of french with no supply teacher at all...that is how important they seemed to consider this subject! The only supply teacher that I was aware of was to 'stand in' for a teacher who was killed in a gas explosion at Easter!

I am afraid it was mainly the education that made us 'bang out' of France. Our eldest started 3rd with about moyen marks but was then getting 0's ans 1's, he was bored silly,fed up of his english being incorrectly marked ( he would lose marks for writing the date in English format, not American) and they had just 'lost' him. He is now about to take his GCSE's and loving learning. My youngest, did not want to leave, but he is now really enjoying his education and talking so much more about what he is learning, in France he would never tell us what he had learnt.

My son was diagnosed with ADHD, we saw the school doctor who told us he could ask the teachers to give extra help for instance give out the lessons notes so they could be followed and highlighted rather than writing it all down. The teachers did not ned to do this and in fact only one teacher did , and his marks went up by 5 points most of the time. All of the others just seemed to write him off! Back in the UK he has not problems with with his attention at all.

Have a look everybody, the book looks bit unserious for my liking but nonetheless the sample is interesting reading. The French education ministry/government links are very useful too.

Lifted from today's facebook, from whence comes all original wisdom.......


I honestly think it depends on the child / home background and how much they read (in English). My youngest (10) was never taught English but reads widely (Private Eye to Perfume - currently enjoying The Iliad) and spells almost perfectly - way better than his contemporaries in the UK. His French teacher commented on his creative writing skills at the last parents evening.

I find this a very interesting discussion, as I teach English to English children here in France. All of them are fluent English speakers and most of them are fluent readers in English. But we find that most of them have problems with spelling. Their grammar & punctuation is good, but when it comes to creative writing, they fall behind their UK counterparts.Our lessons help them develop creative writing skills as well as the GPS skills. Their work is beautifully neat, but they seem to need our 'permission' to be imaginative/creative when writing.

Martha, you are exactly right, but forgot to mention the 4hr exam our children will have to sit to pass their chosen bac - after living in 5 other European countries, our older children have had all varieties of education from state/International to private schools. I'm afraid the quality of teaching here comes bottom of the class - and apparently 30% of French students are failed by this system (sorry cannot confirm figure officially) but I can believe it through our own experiences and the comments here! It is a real shame for the committed teachers but sadly, they seem to be in the minority - let's hope that things change for the future - but it will be too late for our children!!

Yes, we knew the role of heads, but as the administrator she is supposed to know what is going on but this is a lady with about two years until pension who is her second year into the job, so why get too involved?

We UK academics have absolutely no teacher training either and plenty of them are much like the people here. Especially in Cambridge and I presume the other old univrsities as well. I started with one to one supervisions, worked up to groups and with conference papers and the like during that time took the plunge into lectures but never full time. My OH is going through the process of getting herself recognised as an academic here. Fortunately she has been published academically by l'Harmattan, her degree and postgrad were French language (OK, Romande in CH) and now recieves regular bulletins with jobs on offer. I have though, four teaching sessions at a university after Christmas because I am in France and nobody in this country works in my field but they want to. If I was younger I would actually go out to look for a job...

Martha, sad isn't it? My son went though the German school system where talking in class unless answering a question or taking part in a discussion was forbidden. But on the other hand, teachers' raised voices or physical chastisement and they were told to look for a new job and, by the way, do not expect a reference.

Because we have teachers involved in our issues, we are only doing things in writing but to the inspectorate because the director has said it is not her business and the maire has made it clear that they want nothing to do with any of that.

However, according to the huddle of parents outside the gates yesterday, it seems our 'source of complaint' has last week punished a girl by forcing her to stay in the toilet all afternoon for wanting to go too often. She was taken to the doctor by her mother and found to have a small cyst that caused the problem. That complaint is with a lawyer, supported by the doctor as health endangering so before we act we shall let that one run. Then we will write. She may well be doing Martha's point 7 for much of this year, but there are several parents with younger children who will have a sharp eye on her later.

The government has got to do something to change education, even the new école supérieure plan is too vague to bring in real change. The big problem is that unless things are brought in line with the times and children in France given a good intellectually creative education, what little status and credibility France has left as a wolrd power will be totally diminished. Talking to my teacher friend last weekend about the decline of French universities in both teaching and research leagues from top five 20 years ago to end of 30s now and sinking, he admitted that the root of it is primary school. He is a committed teacher and also a prent who has hopes for two of his three children but accepts that the other is simply not interested and because of the way the system functions will probably never get back on track. Isn't sad when one can already say that about an eight year old?