FOR this section of education I am concentrating on the basic set up of the French state education for nursery and primary school pupils. Later I will look at secondary education and further education as well as alternatives to the state education.
As parents we all want is best for our children, whatever country we live in. We all hope they will do well, thrive, gain qualifications and be set up for life.
Moving with children inside ones own country is hard enough but moving to a different country, where they possibly don't even speak the same language, is another matter all together.
For whatever reason for the move we want them to settle and it is therefore easier if, as parents, we have a little inside knowledge before we make the final decision.
The French state education system is of a generally high standard and is well organised and well funded.
It has been compulsory since 1967, that all children between the ages of six and sixteen to attend school. Since the 1970s there has also been an increase in preschool education for children aged between three and five years.
The reforms made to French education in the 1990s divided nursery and primary education into cycles (cycles pedagogique.) These consist of three cycles, each of three years duration. These were designed to allow pupils to develop at their own speed and therefore reduce the number of years repeated.
It is not compulsory for children to attend Nursery (Maternelle) although around 30% of two year olds and almost 100% of four year olds are attending Ã©cole Maternelle. They are divided into:
Les Petites: 2-4 year olds
Les Moyens: 4-6 year olds
Les Grands: 5-6 year olds
Maternelle is a place children can be introduced to the social environment of school and learn basic social skills. These include sharing, working together, playing together and developing basic skills of coordination.
Children are encouraged to develop self awareness and are introduced to group activities. They learn through art, crafts, music, games, listening and discussion. The final years at Maternelle introduce the rudiments of skills required at transition to Primaire; reading, writing and arithmetic.
The years from three to six are included in the cycles pedagogique.
Cycles des Apprentissages Premier:
The first three years at Nursery School (Maternelle) ages three to six years
Cycles des Apprentissages Fondamentaux:
The final year at Maternelle and first two years at Primary (Primaire). These are CP (Cours Preparatoire) and CE1 (Cours Elementaire 1)
Cycles des Approfondissements:
This covers the balance of the time spent at Primaire CE2 (Cours Elementaire 2), CM1 (Cours Moyen 1) and CM2 (Cours Moyen 2)
The French education system is structured toward traditional teaching methods, with techniques that are designed to help pupils attain the required standards and pass examinations. There is a strong emphasis on maths, reading, writing, science and the French language.
The system has brought some criticism from British parents regarding the structure of teaching methods, mainly due to, what they consider, the lack of creative self expression seen in some British schools. Children from CP upwards are given homework and the expectation from teachers is high.
With the stricter environment it becomes evident more quickly if pupils are falling behind. However, schools can arrange special learning programmes for children experiencing difficulties and children who do not have French as a mother language.
Children who fall behind may have to repeat a year to catch up, although this is built into the cycles pedagogique and it is felt that the emphasis put on examinations and their results means that almost every pupil will have the opportunity to study for a degree, diploma or a trade. Any decision for a child to repeat a year is discussed fully between the school and family.
Another criticism by British parents is that French state schools do not tend to provide the extra curricular activities expected at an English school. The Arts, Music, Drama and Sports are left to the parents to decide what they feel is appropriate for their child and where they wish to spend their money.
There are many clubs and associations open to young people and a list can be found at the mairie, the MJC (Maison des Jeunes et de la Culture), l'Office de Tourisme and notes sent home from school about activities.
Some activities start around the age of six but others don't start until the age of eight, this will depend on the type of activity you are looking for.
At the start of the school year there is a request for parents to be nominated for the parents' association. You then receive a voting list, the committee are the liaison between the parents and the school over major issues and, in our area, arrange various events.
Before the end of the summer term there is les portes ouvert at Primaire when the children are enrolled. It is then that you receive a list of items needed for school. Our list was: a pencil case, eraser, pencil, pencil sharpener with reservoir, scissors, glue stick, four pens red, green, blue and black, double centimetre ruler, 12 coloured crayons, 12 felt tip pens, flat ring binder with 3 pockets, eyelet reinforcers, ring binder, slate with either a foam blackboard cleaner or rag, text books, gym shoes, a diary and of course a bag to put them in.
Many children now use a bag on wheels, like you use for your holidays as, with the homework, they can be heavy. Bear in mind this is for a six year old.
The diary is of a specific type as it is in it that their set homework is recorded and the text book is a cahier de liason in which specific information is sent home and messages are sent to the teacher. It is invaluable as a liaison between school and home.
Transports scholaire is provided, especially in rural areas, for children to travel to school. At the portes ouvert we obtained the form for the children to travel on the bus, until then we had been ferrying the children to and fro school. You can also obtain the form from the mairie.
The form is completed and a photograph of the child is required. The maire then has to sign it and stamp it with his official stamp. The school will send it off for you and you receive a bus pass which is given to the driver who keeps it.
There is a telephone number to ring if your child is not taking the bus but we usually have one of them using the bus and the driver and their companion are very kind hearted accepting a message. On one occasion our granddaughter was sick at lunch time.
We took our grandson to the bus and explained she would not be returning that afternoon. We rang the school and explained and on collecting our grandson the school had sent her bag back on the bus complete with the homework to be done!
There are grants available for parents on low incomes to assist with the purchase of school materials for children aged between six and 18. The grant is called ARS (Allocation de RentrÃ©e Scolaire) and my daughter received â¬272.57, which she found a great help. You can apply for the grant at your local CAF (Caisses d'Allocation Familiales).