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So what's afoot in the French education system?

I enjoy keeping up to date to some extent with the education world in France thanks to Philippe Watrelot's informative blog in which he summarises recent events as reported by the French press (see the blog roll to the right).

It looks like France will be abandoning Saturday morning school (it's already gone in many regions anyway). The new minister Vincent Peillon looks happy to go along with the results of a previous consultation which favoured the week of "neuf demi-journées". Why not ten, you ask? Fair question. It seems that because the school day is so long, it is still felt that a half day on Wednesday is desirable. The obvious question is: why not shorten the day and have five full days as we do in the UK?

Monsieur Peillon is doing some rapid recruiting of new primary school teachers and assistants in order to cope with rising cohorts and to stick to an election promise. Primary education is the priority and this is surely right. Reminds me of Blair's policy from 1997.

A curious idea which has been put forward by the ministry is that retired teachers should be made available to advise new recruits to the profession. Philippe Watrelot's analysis is apt:

Pour ma part, je voudrais poser ici cinq points qui, selon moi, limitent la portée de ce dispositif proposé par Peillon :
- tout comme “enseigner”, "former" est un métier qui s'apprend (et qui ne s'improvise pas dans l'urgence). L’expérience ne suffit pas à faire une expertise.
- ce qui est important pour éviter les routines, c'est d'offrir la possibilité d'avoir plusieurs référents et pas un seul qui, aussi bon soit-il, conduira à une imitation ou à une opposition.
- pour pouvoir se former, il faut surtout du temps ! Du temps pour ne pas être dans l'urgence, avoir du recul...
- tout autant que des enseignants expérimentés, ce dont ont besoin les stagiaires c'est d'échanger avec leurs pairs, leurs semblables qui vivent les mêmes difficultés qu'eux et qui leur permettent de relativiser.
- enfin, pas sûr que des retraités aient envie de “remettre ça” et de retourner dans leurs établissements !

I've never heard that idea put forward in the UK and it should be given short shrift in France.

Interesting to note that the allocation de rentrée scolaire is to rise by 25%. I've often thought this benefit (given to all parents at the start of the new academic year) is a good idea, although it is true that expenses on books and materials are a bit higher in France than in Britain. On the other hand, our parents have to shell out for uniforms of dubious worth. It has sometimes struck me that more fuss is made about the rentrée in France than "back to school" in British stores.

And to finish.... a survey has been carried out about the happiness of French schoolchildren. Here is Philippe's résumé: (my emphasis)

Dans ce sondage, la grande majorité des parents d’élèves (85 %), du public comme du privé, affirment que leurs enfants sont plutôt heureux d’aller à l’école. Mais il faut nuancer : seuls 21 % des parents estiment que leurs enfants sont « tout à fait heureux », et 64 % « plutôt heureux » . Et ce sentiment décroît aussi avec l’âge : un collégien sur cinq et un lycéen sur quatre ne sont pas heureux en classe. On note aussi que le "plaisir d'apprendre" s'érode avec l'âge.Ce qui démotive, c'est aussi la peur de l'échec. 79 % des parents sont d’accord pour dire que beaucoup de compétences des élèves ne sont pas suffisamment évaluées et valorisées. 60 % d’entre eux pensent aussi que l’enseignement décourage les élèves en soulignant leurs faiblesses au lieu de valoriser leurs points forts, et 67 % estiment que la peur de l’échec les paralyse. Une refonte générale du système s’avère nécessaire pour la majorité d’entre eux : 57 % estiment également que les méthodes pédagogiques sont dépassées et les journées scolaires trop chargées.

I wonder what the results would be of a similar poll in Britain? There have been surveys suggesting British are generally among the least happy in Europe, but I have seen nothing specific on happiness in school. Best guess: we try harder to focus on happiness in UK schools and more children would say they like school.

Qu'en pensez-vous?


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