Is the French education system better than the British one?
I recently read a very interesting blog post by Stressy Mummy which talked about testing and ranking school children, and on separating children into sets, and it got me thinking about the differences between the French and the British education systems for secondary schooling.
In the UK children are generally separated into different sets per subject depending on ability in that area, which is usually based on tests or exams taken.
In France there is no such separation – you stay with your class through every subject, no matter what level you, or the others in your class, are. So what happens to those who are not as able? Simple. If you don’t get the “average” grade – in French schools everything is marked out of 20, so they call the average 10/20 – then they have to repeat the year (redoubler).
Now that wouldn’t too bad if they were given extra help second time round, or if it were acknowledged where they went wrong the first time round, but all that happens is they repeat the exact same curriculum for a second year running, but with a different set of classmates, who are a year younger than them. I personally couldn’t think of anything worse.
Another thing to bear in mind is that this average is across all subjects, so they might have got 19/20 in English, but 1/20 in Maths which then drags their overall average down. Hubs and I have long debates over the two systems, and whilst, as a bright child, he faired well in the French system, I think it would have been a disaster for me, and I did pretty well in school over here.
I went to a very so-so primary school where I was in the top few of my year, I then went to an ex-grammar secondary school where the children came from far better primary schools and I suddenly dropped down. I was average across several subjects, poor in maths and sciences and only excelled in French.
At the end of the first year we were put in sets for English and Maths – I went into the top set for English and the bottom set for Maths. I was devastated and embarrassed about being put in the bottom set for Maths until the second year rolled round; in this class I could ask questions, things were explained to me and I started to improve (something that hadn’t happened in the first year when all abilities were mixed up). When it came to exams at the end of the second year I did so well that I got moved into set 2 out of 5 sets for maths. As for the sciences I was in set 3 out of 5 sets, and again I was in a group of those with a similar ability, and again I progressed.
My strengths were English and languages, and I found myself in set 1 for English, French and German, meaning I was pushed to the maximum of my ability. This set separation worked out brilliantly for me as I went on to get 2 As at GCSE (for French and German), 3 Bs including a B in Maths, and 4 Cs including in the sciences. I am convinced that had I not been put in classes with pupils of my level I would have got far lower grades at GCSE.
I also believe that had I been in the French system I would have had to repeat at least one year, which must mess with your head, seeing all your friends moving on and knowing you’ll never be with them in class again, instead finding yourself in a class with those a year younger than you.
It is such a regular thing in France to repeat a year that recently we skyped my MiL, L’s French gran, and we told her that we had L’s end of Year 1 report and she’d done really well. To which my MiL replied, “so is she going into Year 2 then?”!! Can you imagine repeating a year, aged 6, based on your ability?!?
This obviously gets worse the further you go through school as the work gets harder; Hubs talks about doing his “Bac” (A level equivalent) with 19, 20 and even 21 year olds, some of whom were attempting it for the 3rd time! Talk about demoralising.
So, whilst I don’t think testing children in order to rank them in the top or bottom 10% countrywide is a good thing, I do think that ranking them per subject, per school, so they can be put in classes of similarly abled children is an excellent idea.
If only schools and the government could enforce decent hairstyles and school uniforms on children too: