School in France: the good, the bad and the strange.

College middle school in France

We are now back in France after 16 years living abroad! We see many things with a different eye, especially with children who were born in Sydney and have never lived in France ever! They now attend the local public school, although we once considered a bilingual Montessori school for the younger one.

What helped though, is that the kids have been attending French schools outside of France for the last six year: in Sydney, Zurich and Oslo.

Also we didn’t end up in a random place in France. We picked a pretty place near the international Sophia Antipolis technopolis, so inhabitants are pretty open minded, come from many other countries and are fairly well educated.

Despite that fact, the boys are noticing several things that wouldn’t come to mind of the locals here in South of France.

The Strange

OMG it’s raining!

It doesn’t rain often here, but when it does, what a panic! Everyone drives the kids to school creating such traffic jam that you arrive quicker on foot.

The kids said :

  • ” wow other kids are scared of the rain!”
  • ” no one would play with me in the rain at recess!”
  • ” they just run in panic and look for shelter whereas I was just walking slowly, no problem!”

Fact is, on the Riviera, locals don’t pay attention to weather forecast. With 300 days on sun in a year, they just assume that every day is dry, so when rain comes, they just discover it on their doorstep and it’s too late.

They also don’t have such things as “regndress” that lets kids jump up and down in muddy puddles while keeping them dry!

Oslo rainy day in October 2015

No school on Wednesdays ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What a pain in the neck for working parents. Primary school is off all day and middle school is off in the afternoon. So that’s where you cram all your extra curriculum activities like sports, music, etc…

The beautiful thing here is the choice activities due to the amazing and consistent weather. All you need is a soccer mum, to drive them around…

The Good

La cantine!

What a blessing for parents who no longer need to prepare lunch boxes in the morning. For kids, it’s different. They discover different food, some they like, some they don’t. Although it’s fun for them to try and guess what will be served each day and report back to me what they had at the end of the day.

The local schools do their best to offer organic food, diverse meals (tacos, fried spring rolls, even sushis!). They some time have french fries or chicken nuggets. I don’t ever remember having fried stuff at my cantine in Paris 🙁 Middle school also offers a salad bar as a way to reduce wastage fro teenagers.

It also makes the lunch break much longer to they finish at 4.30 pm instead of 2.45 pm in Oslo. This art-de-vivre will then explain the typical French work hours. The French are used from the younger age to taking a 2 hour break and eat out, while other cultures will just have a sandwich at their desk but leave much earlier in the afternoon. Read what Norwegians have for lunch.

Insulated lunch box to keep food warm (Norwegian Matpakke)

The choice of activities

Here we are quite blessed as the boys can play golf and go sailing ALL YEAR ROUND! As for me, I’ve resumed tennis and found a Zumba class. Frankly, after dropping off both kids, I’ve made 7,000 steps already!

Our small town also offers martial arts, music and the town next door offers a chess club.

In winter they could go skiing on a day trip or we can go up as a family for the week-end. This location is pretty unique.

Golf, sailing, music, martial arts, you can have it all!

The Bad

Teachers are more strict

” Teachers scream and tell you off!” that’s what the kids reported to me. Fact is French teachers don’t act as if each child is unique like in the Nordics. And in the French public system, there a way too many pupils in a class to pay special attention to each of them.

31 kids in my younger son’s class. His primary school is the biggest one in the whole district (département) with almost 500 children between 6 and 10 years old. That was the size of the entire French school in Oslo and Zurich including kids from kindergaden up to high school!

There is nothing to play with/on at recess

Last year, the French School in Oslo built a whole playing and climbing field in the middle of the courtyard with slides and monkey bars.

Lycee Francais d’Oslo

Here, in public schools in France, you have a couple of trees and benches. That’s all.

Parents are not allowed in the school

You just stay at the gate. At primary school, you only see the teacher when you come after school and pick up the kids, at the gate. It was quite hard the first few days, but you get used to it. Then there is one meeting to meet the teacher and see what the classroom looks like.

In Oslo parents could wait in the courtyard, stay there for the kids to play and chat with other parents.

My son calls his middle school “the prison”. The gates are very impressive as they implemented turnpikes that only let one child in or out at a time with a badge system. What stress when he misplaces his badge! Same, one meeting to see all teachers and the classroom.

And you, what do you find brow raising in the French school system? Anything ugly?

Lou Messugo

14 thoughts on “School in France: the good, the bad and the strange.”

  1. Wow what a big change in education system both in Sydney and Oslo even though it’s still French schools. If they finish at 4:30pm, what time do they start? Do the boys feel its such a long day?

  2. Although my schooling was only in UK my 18yr old only attended school in France. The days are long, but so are the holidays and that was something we LOVED. I also found Wednesdays to be special, just me and him while Daddy was at work. I also think the Internat boarding at Lycee was the making of him in terms of finding himself and finding a great group of friends, hopefully for life. Going away to uni was much easier for both of us after Mon to Fri away at lycée. #AllAboutFrance

    1. Agreed days are long and just yesterday my eldest son came back saying the head teacher doesn’t care if she give so much homework that it doesn’t allow kids to spend time with extra curriculum activities 🙁 one month in I see we are spending way too much time in homework

  3. My son started started Maternelle this week, we moved to France properly last week and to be honest we’re jot sure what we think of it but don’t have the best first impressions #allaboutfrance

    1. Yeah I can understand that. Mine cried for the full first week, well minus Wednesday of course. I had to be patient and spend a lot of time with him listening to his griefs. Much better now.

  4. We found all of the same ‘good, bad and different’. Talking with one of my daughter’s teacher’s one afternoon outside (yes) the school gates, I was commenting that not much seemed to have changed since I had been an assistant teacher in Grenoble some twenty years prior. She laughed and suggested that it was more likely to not have changed for hundreds…of years. At least she was personable and had a sense of humour. That wasn’t always the case.

    1. Glad you share the same experience. Yes it didn’t change much from when I was a kid except for what they eat at the cantine and that we are in a pretty leafy area here and not in Paris.

      Agreed sense of humour is what sets teachers apart!

  5. I’m French and we live in Ireland, and one of the reasons for not going to live in France is, I don’t want my kids to go through the French education system. Although I hate making lunchboxes with a passion, schools here tend to be more welcoming and parent-friendly, which makes a world of difference. Best of luck readjusting to life in France!

  6. How interesting! Although both my sons were educated in the UK, I have had the experience of teaching in a French middle school for a year. I exchanged my job in London with a French teacher. I loved it and had the most brilliant year, although I was very surprised by the differences between the two systems.

  7. All very true, and I can relate completely as you’re writing about my own sons’ schools (as you know!) However, I do think both the maternelle and collège in our town are more caring and open-minded than plenty of French schools. The system isn’t for everyone but it’s not all bad! Thanks for linking up to #AllAboutFrance

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