Educating our children in France
Educating our children in France.
A negative experience.
Our children were aged eight, six and one when we moved to France. Where children go to school depends on where you live, of course, and in our case it was a back-water. The result of this was that the village school was in a back-water village with back-water children and teachers.
I am just trying to describe it honestly.
And the result of that was, in turn, that we were extremely unhappy with the education our children received.
The Charente Maritime was, till fairly recently, called Charente Inferieur which, to all extents and purposes, means back-water. I therefore do not feel I am denigrating the local people by referring to their land as a back-water, for that is not my intention.
My intention is more to illustrate that the education our children receive really does depend on where we live.
The village school had about 130 children ranging in age from three to twelve. There were just three toilets, all of them the hole-in-the-ground type, accompanied by the essential septic tank which smelt to high heaven, especially in the summer.
There was no such thing as art, drama or sports, let alone Sports Day or Open Day or anything similar. They did once, in the four years we were in that area, put on a kind of show which consisted of each class singing a song (yes, the same song) in turn, and doing a few little hoppity circles as they sang. It was dreadful. Worse, parents and teachers alike talked through it and over it, unlike the enthusiastic and encouraging clapping we were used to.
School reports were simply lists of numbers out of ten. Homework was learning things off-by-heart and, because the school had very little in the way of books, I used to find out what the history subject was and do a few drawings for the teacher to illustrate her lesson with. Apparently those same drawings were used for years!
From there we moved to the coast where the French world had entered the 21st Century, though there was still no Drama, Music or Art, and Sports was an extra-curricular activity. The new school was privately-run, but extremely inexpensive compared to the UK. It was a bit of a drive for me every day, particularly as I was working, but – like all parents – I wanted the best possible for my children, not least because I didn’t trust what little I had seen of the new village school.
Our daughter only recently told us that she was never called by her name by any of the teachers. She was always called l’anglaise. Our boys, when I asked them, said the same thing. I wish I had known at the time ! There were several “injustices” like this – they were not allowed to do English once they got to secondary school because they had what was considered to be an unfair advantage over the others. The fact that they had spoken no French when they arrived, and that all lessons were in a foreign language for them, appeared to be beside the point.
There seemed to be one struggle after another. We found that our middle child (tested by a specialist in the UK) was not only dyslexic but also dyspraxic. Specialists in this area don’t exist at all in France as far as I am aware, and no special help, not even a tad of patience was allotted to him. He was simply branded as naughty, lazy and perhaps stupid.
In some ways the worst thing was being spoken to myself as though, simply because I was not French, I didn’t understand. Now, my French is fluent. It’s as good as it gets if you are non-French and living in an English household (ie we spoke in English as home). By that, I do not mean that they – the teachers or whoever – thought I didn’t understand what they were saying, because it was clear that I did, but that I didn’t “get it” because, after all, I was only a foolish Englishwoman. If ever I tried to point-out something to a teacher s/he would invariably reply,, “ah, mais ici c’est la France!” and smile indulgently. Silly me. This is la France… ! So …?
There was not only no pastoral care at any level but there was no concept of pastoral care either. Children who were struggling simply went to special schools. There was no idea of examining why a child behaved this way or that. The child was simply bad. Mechant. If the appropriate marks were not achieved the child was kept back, which is why you find young people of nineteen and even twenty still at school.
Our middle child, the dyslexic one, didn’t make the grade (or anywhere near it) and so was kicked out of school and told to go in to an apprenticeship. The only available course anywhere near where we lived had just a painter and decorator apprenticeship available. Our son was miserable and lost. After one term I removed him, now aged 16, and sent him to a college in Canterbury.
It had nothing to do with language, for his French was (and is) 100% fluent. The problem was in the attitude of the school staff and the overall system. In Canterbury, with vastly (vastly!) more broad-minded attitudes and a vastly more cosmopolitan way of life in general, our son took and passed three A-levels in one year in what to him had by this time become a foreign language. He is now a successful businessman.
Our daughter got a place at Poitiers University to read law, but decided to get pregnant instead – well, they do, don’t they ? How do we survive it I wonder ? She later trained as a nurse. We removed our younger son from school when he was eleven. My plan was to home-school him, but we moved back to England. Lord knows, there were ups and downs there too, but he went to University and now has a very good job.
We now spend some of the year in the UK and some in France. I often look at kids, both British and French, and my feelings remain the same. For us, the French schooling system was not a good experience. But whether that was because it was French or whether it was because it just didn’t suit us I cannot say. It was not good, that is all.
Catherine Broughton relates a lot of her French experiences in her book “A Call from France”, available from Amazon or can be ordered from most usual sources.