The French have had a midweek break/half-day in primary schools on Wednesdays dating back to the 19th century. It is a government concession to the Roman Catholic Church, which wanted children to study the catechism (Catholic book) on their Wednesday afternoons off. In today’s secular (schools not connected with religion) France, Wednesdays afternoons are used for a mixture of sports, music, tutoring for families of means, or a scramble for working parents struggling to get by, who must either find a sitter or send their kids to a full day at a state-run leisure centre.
Despite long summer breaks and the four-day school week, French elementary school students actually spend more hours per year in school than average — 847, compared with 774 among countries in OECD. But the time is compressed into fewer days each year. They get about 2 hours a day for lunch and the French school day begins around 8:30 and ends at 4:30 p.m., even for the youngest, despite studies showing the ability of young children to learn deteriorates as the day goes on.
But many parents are afraid that the changes will force them to figure out extra childcare five days a week, especially at schools where the after-school program amounts to sitting silently at a desk for two hours or near-chaos in the play areas.
Hinnant, L. (2012). School schedule: Reforming traditions in France. [Website]. The Christian Science Monitor. Available at: https://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Family/2012/1005/School-schedule-Reforming-traditions-in-France [Accessed 21/03/18].
In French primary schools they have three breaks in their school day; a break in the morning, a lunch break and a break in the afternoon. This is different from Scotland, as we only have two breaks – a morning break and a lunch break. But the difference that shocked me the most was their extra long lunch breaks. They allow two hours for their lunch! In Scotland our lunch break in barely an hour. The French have a long enough lunch that some teachers even go home for a nap!
So why do the French have such long lunch break, in all types of jobs, compared to other nationalities? With accordance to a survey from The Local, 45% of French workers, in all types of jobs, spend over 45 minutes eating their lunch each day. This was the biggest percentage from all the countries surveyed. You are not likely to see a worker eating with one hand whilst still typing with the other hand during their lunch break in France, which is commonly seen in other countries, as they have so much time to do both separately.
Between only 3%-10% of workers in the UK and America eat for 45 minutes in their lunch break, whereas in France this percentage is at 34%. 28% of workers in the UK take less that a 15-minute lunch break; therefore they barely leave their work building to enjoy their lunch.
To the French, the reason for their long lunch breaks is to them this is one of the most enjoyable parts of their day, which they rarely miss. It is an important social time of which worker and friend relationships are built upon. Food is a way of connecting with people.
The French also do not snack like we do in the UK. So they are starving for lunch when it arrives. They also have much bigger portions for their lunch, compared to us in the UK, which keeps the French going longer without snacking.
In my placement school, the teachers spend the first hour doing work and the second hour eating and socialising.
Ditton, H. (2016). Why do the French take such long lunch breaks? [Website]. The Local. Available at: https://www.thelocal.fr/20160428/why-do-the-french-take-such-long-lunch-breaks [Accessed 28/03/18].
One of the general principles for the education system in France is that public schools are “laïque”. The ‘laïque’ principle was introduced to separate the civilian for their religion whilst in school. The aim was to equalise every pupil, there is respect for all beliefs equally. In school is there should be no recognition of any of them. By not showing any signs of your religion everyone is seen as equal, there are no differences and discrimination and racism is avoided. Religion is kept to ones private life. The Catholic church (Christians), make up the greatest majority of those living in France. Because of this principle, Religious education is not a subject taught in school.
This is a great contrast to Scotland as a large majority of public and private schools let you show your religious beliefs openly and freely through any ways, may that be how you dress. They have religious assemblies and do work in class about religious holidays and ceremonies. But I believe this isn’t defining equality as in Scotland we teach mainly about Christianity and don’t touch on other religions, forcing those who don’t believe in Christianity to sit in and listen. It is only in the topics of R.E. that a school may touch on other religions around the world.
n.b. (2018). Laïcité. [Website]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laïcité Accessed [12/03/18].
Frenchentree Staff. (2017). La France : un état Laïque. [Website]. Available at: https://www.frenchentree.com/living-in-france/culture/la-france-un-etat-laique/ Accessed [12/03/18].
The first thing I noticed about the pupils in the French school is that there are a wider variety of races within the school than there is in Scotland.
In 2011, In Scotland 96% of the population was white and only 4% of the population were from ethnic minorities, which includes minorities such as, African, Asian, Black, Caribbean and mixed groups. Whereas in France 85% of the population are white, 10% are North African, 3.5% are Black and 1.5% are Asian.
This also leads to a wider variety of religions and ethnic backgrounds in the school. But as I have spoken about previously, the school I am in is a ‘Laïque’ school so there is no sign of any religion allowed. There is without a doubt loads of different religious beliefs in the school but I would not be able to tell which pupils believe in what as they show no sign through clothes, accessories, personal objects, etc.
Demographics of France. (2018). [Website]. Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_France#Ethnic_groups [Accessed 07/05/18].
Scottish Government. (2011). [Website]. Scottish Government. Available at: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/People/Equality/Equalities/DataGrid/Ethnicity/EthPopMig [Accessed 13/03/18].
The French classroom discipline is quite different to the discipline preformed in Scottish classrooms. In Scotland you are not allowed to physically touch a child for a sanction you can only verbally sanction a child. If you were to physically sanction a child there would be uproar on the parental side. Verbal behaviour management is also preferably made positively. For example, instead of saying “don’t do that”, put emphasis on what you would like them to do rather on what they are doing wrong.
From my French classroom observations the teachers can be quite firm and hands-on when giving children sanctions. They are not afraid the drag a child by the arm, whether the child is on their feet or on the ground. I was shocked when I first saw this, as it was so different to the Scottish classroom discipline.
Once article exclaims that the French teach children to “sit down and shut up” and mistakes are pounced upon and punished. I can relate to this statement as I observed in CE2. A boy drew a diagram for a science experiment but is measurements were a centimetre off and the teacher grabbed his work, dramatically scrunched it up and threw it in the bin. It wasn’t seen to her as a case of a little mistake that could be rubbed out and fixed.
A study based on students performance in schools along side a study based on children health and well-being in school, show that within all the countries compared, French school children are seen to have high percentages of low self-confidence and anxiety.
Hyslop, L. (2010). Sit down and shut up – that’s the French school way. [Website]. The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/expateducation/7989939/Sit-down-and-shut-up-thats-the-French-school-way.html [Accessed 05/04/18].
In France the public schools do not wear uniform. This is different to Scotland as all schools; whether they are public or private wear school uniform. The children are free to choose what they wear as long as it follows the laïque principle. This includes football strips, which is band in many schools in Scotland on non-school uniform days and in physical education.
Up until 1968, French schools had a uniform to be worn by the pupils. It was needed to protect the children clothes and hide socioeconomic differences. But since that date, the uniform in France has been phased out and only military schools, a few private Catholic schools and one state school still make is necessary for pupils to wear uniform.
There is a debate to bring back the school uniform. There are number of reasons for this; integration, bullying, peer pressure and provocative dress. Uniform disguises any discrepancy towards privileged and non-privileged backgrounds; no rich kid can flash around their expensive, in-trend jumper at the poorer kids. Everyone is physically seen as the same so is treated as equal. The rationale for wearing school uniform is to create a level playing field.
It is believed that school uniform improves behaviour in the classroom. Perhaps uniform helps pupil achievement, school pride or reduction in fighting. Some studies show that a change from no uniform to the introduction of uniform changed the level of respect seen in the school and also pupil’s ability to learn. One study that used data from 39 countries found that wearing school uniform did increase achievement.
Uniform creates the absence of choice. In the morning it is similar for a child to pick what they are wearing as they only have one option.
One article disagrees with the wearing of school uniform. The blandness of a uniform doesn’t allow one the right to self-express through clothing. Some of the highest academic achieving countries have no school uniform, for example Finland.
One article identifies the strictness of some uniform, enhancing the non self-expression allowed. Shorts are for boys and skirts are for girls, boys hair must be short, skirt length must be below the knee and socks and shoes must match the correct uniform colour.
“Scotland has the uniform without the stunning results”
I secondary education around exam time, no one student would rather sit a 3-hour exam in their tight, uncomfortable, button up shirt than a comfy choice of clothing. Maybe comfort could increase achievement?
In my opinion I think uniform should be worn in schools. It creates the difference from being at home and at school. Home is where you can relax but school is somewhere where you should be engaged and prepared to work. Uniform gives a child a sense of membership to their school. I also agree with all the point about no discrepancy.
I believe though in France that the Laïque principle helps with no discrepancy. This then creates a balance between the arguments of wearing no school uniform and wearing uniform. There isn’t discrepancy about ethnicity backgrounds while wearing no school uniform as they have the Laïque principle in place.
Oppenheimer, M. (2017). The downsides of school uniforms. [Website] The New Yorker. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-unquestioned-goodness-of-school-uniforms [Accessed 05/04/18].
Jacobs, E. (2014). Wearing a school uniform doesn’t help us learn. [Website]. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/07/wearing-school-uniform-doesnt-help-us-learn [Accessed 05/04/18].
Mergler, A. (2017). Why do schools want all students to look the same?. [Website]. The Conversation. Available at: http://theconversation.com/why-do-schools-want-all-students-to-look-the-same-75611 [Accessed 05/04/18].
In each classroom they have blackboards at the front of the class. They do not have whiteboards on the walls. They only have a couple of whiteboards, which are moved around the school on wheels. They do not have interactive boards or projector boards either. When they do want to use a power point they have to use a portable projector and project onto the blackboard, putting pieces of white card on the blackboards so that the projection can be seen. This is very different to Scotland as we don’t really have blackboards in schools anymore and we have predominately white boards and interactive boards.
This change of boards was an interesting experience for me, as I hadn’t taught with a blackboard before and was used to interactive boards and computer based lessons, which were projected on a board.
A huge difference between the French primary school and the Scottish primary school is the handwriting. In Scotland the handwriting of a lot of children is un-neat and the letters are not joined up. There isn’t a big emphasis on ‘joined up writing’ in Scotland. However in France from age 6 the children are taught to use ‘cursive’ handwriting. ‘Cursive’ is another word for joined up writing. A child’s handwriting is an important part in their education. Cursive writing ensures a neat flow of words, a ‘running hand’. The French handwriting appears elegant and mistaken to take a lot of time and effort to write but in fact it isn’t as they practice it everyday and it is the norm to them, they don not know any different. It is an art.
Most of my generation learnt the looped cursive way of writing at some point in school, which required all letters to be joined with loops and joins. But children got to choose how they wrote, as joined up writing wasn’t an essential. Therefore my writing isn’t joined up but rather manuscript. There was a longing to learn ‘joined up’ writing when you were young as it felt grown up and sophisticated.
In the 1960s, ballpoint and fibre tipped utensils were introduced to many countries, replacing the fountain pen – except in France. This action may explain why the French retain such elegant handwriting. A fountain pen requires fewer lifts between letters, allowing this ‘flow’, and this results in the slanted cursive and looped letters.
“Handwriting is an imprint of the self on the page”
According to Bernhard, with this generation of mobile phones and text messaging, children are not writing as much as before. Handwriting shows originality and expressiveness that a text message can only approximate. It is our identity, similar to our clothing and our voice. Children of the younger may not see the point in cursive writing anymore and children’s writing is become more and more similar to each other’s. Soon enough it will be difficult to identify the nationality of the writer.
There is an argument, which states that early readers read books that are printed in manuscript so why would we make children’s learning more difficult by asking them to learn two ways of writing. Another argument states that you will not write faster in cursive than in manuscript. You do not need to write fast until after primary school and you will join up letters anyhow if it is needed to help with speed. Cursive doesn’t need to be taught for this matter. Another argument says that when writing in cursive hand, children are less likely to mix up letters or write them backwards.
One cant help but wonder why the French insist that children age 6 must learn all the loops and tails of cursive writing when this way of writing is so different from the text in books they are learning to read. What if they are not ready for it? Writing and reading is one of the hardest early-learning task a child will face and the French are putting the children through this twice, with two different sets of rules, as the French believe that only the writing they teach is “beautiful”.
Ball, P. (2013). Curse of cursive handwriting. [Website]. Prospect. Available at: www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/cursive-handwriting-philip-ball/ [Accessed 05/04/18].
Bernhard, A. (2017). What your handwriting says about you. [Website]. BBC. Available at: www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170502-what-your-handwriting-says-about-you [Accessed 05/04/18].
Within a few of the classroom that I had observed, I noticed the use of a traffic light behaviour system, similar to the ones used in Scotland. If the child is badly behaved they are asked to move their name from green to either amber or red.
This is effective as the child moves their name, which makes the sanction real.
In the French classrooms they have a roles chart of their walls. This is also seen in the Scottish schools. Each day the teacher assigns the classroom roles to different children. The roles include jobs such as; jotter hander out, blackboard cleaner, messenger, line leaders, lights, cloakroom monitor and blackboard writer.
Assigning pupils roles in the classroom boosts their self-esteem, as they feel valued by the teacher as they have been picked and trusted to take on an important role for their classmates.
The primary school has a close connection to their local community. For their physical education they use the gym at their local secondary school, as they do not have an indoor gym themselves.
The school also took part in a ‘marche’. This was a run through the local community that the school took part in. The different stages of classes ran for different lengths. They trained weekly for the run in the playground, which I got to observe.
CP Classroom Differences
I clear difference that I noticed in the youngest classroom was that there were no playing activities around the classroom. In Scotland, when a child goes to school for the first time they are in a P1 classroom. The typical P1 classroom has lots of play activities around the room, including; play/house corners, sand/water trays, dress up, puzzles, games, a library corner and a child friendly computer.
In my schools CP class there is none of that. They only have a few puzzles and board games at the back of the class, of which I have never seen be used.
I feel in France that as soon as a child is in school they are made to feel they are in a grown up school and they are learning like the bigger kids. There are no more toys to play with as that was left behind in nursery school.
In Françoise Monclere’s CP class the chairs are fitted with tennis balls on the end of the legs. I thought this was a good idea as it avoids the chairs scratching and making a noise on the floor and it also avoids accidents occurring.