La Rentrée

La Rentrée has just taken place here and it is a big event in France which is probably why they have a word for it and we don’t, relying instead on the rather more prescriptive phrase ‘back to school’. But here it doesn’t really just refer to the children, rather for everyone returning to work after the summer. Of course, not all of us have had the luxury of taking the whole of July and August as holiday like the children but most friends and neighbours here seem to manage to be off for August and even those who are working tend to do so in, shall we say, a rather relaxed and laid back way! There is no doubt that the summer months here have a very different feel about them to the other months of the year which is no doubt why it is important to have La Rentrée to snap everyone back into a slightly more dynamic work mode.

When we first moved to France, it was two days before the rentrée and the first experience of French school for our eldest daughter who was six at the time; I don’t know who found that first day more traumatic, her or her parents. As it turned out, the children adapted to life in France remarkably quickly and easily which usually tends to be the case. When worrying about moving children to France, it is probably worth bearing in mind that children are pretty resilient and very flexible; they are less self-conscious than adults and will mix with local children without worrying too much about their language abilities.

The French school system, albeit very traditional if not old-fashioned, is generally renowned for setting high standards for its students, as the French take education very seriously.  School is not compulsory in France until children are 6 years old although almost all 3 year old children are enrolled in the voluntary écoles maternelles, often attached to the primary school. Primary school hours are generally from 8.30/9 am to 4.30/5 pm with lunch between 12 and 2pm when many children go home. On Wednesday afternoon there is no school and in many departments schools have Wednesday off completely. The good news for working parents is pre and after school clubs are the norm in France and usually excellent.

At college (secondary school for 11-15 year olds) maths and French are still the most important subjects and practical subjects that we are used to in the UK, such as home economics, woodwork and drama are not common in France where they concentrate on more academic subjects. Homework increases dramatically at this stage but Wednesday afternoons are still free for sports and other activities. As in the UK, students can leave school when they are 16, but approximately 94% go on to further education. At the end of the 3ème (aged 14-15), students take an examination known as the Brevet which, like GCSE’s, is a knowledge test for the end of this section of the child’s education. The results and choices made at this stage will affect the type of Lycée (sixth form) to which your child will next progress.

The final school years (15-18) are taken in the Lycée culminating in the final Baccalauréat (Bac) examination which is an automatic entrance qualification to French university. Students also have the option of working towards vocational certificates such as Certificate d’Aptitude Professionnelle (CAP) and Brévet d’enseignement professionnelle (BEP), which either lead to a job or a vocational technical Bac.

To go to university in France, the only entrance requirement is normally to pass the Bac and universities must accept anyone who has passed. As a result, there is generally high competition to enrol on the course of your choice at the university of your choice. University students don’t pay tuition fees and many attend the university closest to their home.

School this morning

Like any education system, the French method has its strengths and weaknesses but, if nothing else, surely the one of the most important parts of bringing up children is to open their eyes to other cultures and help them to understand that different countries have different ways of doing things; that there is not necessarily any one right way. Thus hopefully, moving children to France at least widens their horizons and expands their aspirations. And, if nothing else, it gives them the great advantage of being completely bilingual with a perfect French accent – something us parents can only dream of.

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