La Remise de Brevet.


We have just celebrated the Remise de Brevet with my 16 year old daughter.

Who would have thought, only three years ago, we could have so proudly watched this moment. I was only sorry that ‘Husband à l’Etranger’ had to miss the event. In three years my daughter has gone from wordless, to literate French student and I am so proud of her achievement.

Settling next to me, some other French parents took their seats to watch the 132 strong year group receive their certificates. How did she do, they whispered. But then the proceedings were underway and there wasn’t time to answer. They didn’t have long to wait however, we are amongst the ‘A’s in the alphabet!

First, our lovely, and ‘so chic’ headmistress talked of the achievement of the year group. A 100% pass rate, 34 with Mention Très Biens, 52 with Mention Biens, and 24 with Mention Assez Bien.

anabel brevet 003

And then one by one she called up the students to the award table,

anabel brevet 002

Before I had time to focus the camera, my daughter was receiving hers!

anabel brevet 001There was quite a buzz when word got out that she’d passed with a Mention Bien, and the applause resounded.

Then we all settled in to watch the rest, and giggle at the new  ‘lycéen’ girls’ liberated foot attire. Some could barely walk in heels that defied gravity…and the distance from seat to award table!

Having left for different Lycées, the hubub of student ‘catching up’ threatened to drown out the ceremony. But everyone was too good humoured to mind that, or the popularity cheers as each student rose in turn.

Wisely the headmistress directed the students to the alcohol-free table of refreshments before everything really got out of hand, and we parents savoured the champagne, canapés and Macarons on offer.

anabel brevet 004

I’m sure my O’level certificate just got sent in the post !

anabel brevet 004Champagne and Canapés – sigh!

anabel brevet 005Secretly, I think I was shortchanged!

Cour d’Assises or Parents Meeting?


Yesterday I headed out in the chill wind to my first Lycée parent meeting. As ever, the meetings were behind time, and there was a quantity of parents grumbling outside the door. I had been suprised when my daughter had only handed me one meeting time. I should have been forewarned!

Inside the classroom, the tables had been turned to form a wide ‘U’ of 8 professors, intimidatingly seated side by side, whilst some three metres away on the other side of the room, a lone table and two empty chairs lay in waiting for the unwary parent. The table was in fact so far removed from the professors that I looked for reassurance from them that this was indeed my intended seat;

With an inward snort, It was all I could do to refrain from declaring,

“Guilty as charged, your honours”

…before throwing myself at their mercy.

Remembering that this was my daughter’s educational future at stake, I took my seat meekly.

My daughter has a place on the OIB (Option International Brittanique) in which History/Geography and English Literature are taught in the English Language. One of my little perks through collège has been to ‘test’ the quality of the various English teacher’s command of the English language at parent/ teacher meetings, giving them a minor attack of stress whilst at the same time giving myself a much needed break from the intense French conversations with the other professors.  Imagine my delight when I was offered the choice of the entire 8 professor/parent meeting in the English language for the first time in three years.

Barely had I uttered my agreement than the French teacher not only disagreed, but point blank refused to speak English before launching a french tirade against my daughter’s mastery of the French language. The result was that all the other professors were forced to follow suit. The language reverted to French. Had I been in the individual man to man meetings which so identify the collège privé, it would not have mattered that one teacher preferred to speak in a particular language, everyone was at liberty to make a personal choice. However the ‘assises’ method guarenteed that the most forceful professor held sway and dominated the proceedings, rail-roading any other voice in the room.

“Elle manque les bases” she declared. Her declaration that I should find my daughter a private specialist French teacher was generally underlined by the opinion that if one has not mastered the intricacies of the French language then one is stupid. Was Madame Française not meant to be the French teacher? I have read about this attitude suffered by other non- maternal French speakers, but this is the first time I have been a recipient in all my time in France. The intimidating layout of the room did nothing to encourage a conversation though I had a good attempt at arguing my daughter’s corner, inwardly amused that my own mastery of the French language, so much inferior to my daughter’s was in all probability excruciating to her ears. But at the end of the day it was hierarchy verses the subordinate.

Guilty as charged for the murder of the French Language!

On orientation for Premier, the French teacher clearly believed the Bac L (literature) choice would be a ‘mauvais idée’ (bad idea), Monsieur Math speculated on a choice of the acclaimed Bac S (science) since the proportion of marks allotted to literature subjects and essay writing were reduced, but there was a squawk from Monsieur Chimie (chemistry)at the far end of the table. Like me my daughter is not keen on things exploding out of test-tubes! Bac ES (economics and sociology) it was then! Discussion over! A happy medium for a happy daughter.

It was our first experience in the state sector, and it was a far cry from the accessibility of the private one. Perhaps this situation is universal or perhaps each school is unique in it’s approach. Certainly the layout of the room gave no room for confusion about the way the meeting was going to proceed. Sadly I left the room at the end of the allotted time knowing only the feelings of the French teacher. My daughters progress in all the other subjects remains a relative mystery.

“Elle est mignon” – offered Monsieur Math as I got up to leave, (she’s cute)

“Well thank heavens for that” I thought as I left the room….

…..If all else fails at least she’s pretty!

Did none of them remember her Brevet Mention Bien?

 

Mention Très Bien – 17/20+

Mention Bien – 15/20+

Mention – 12/20+

Aquis – 10/20+

Large Glass of Wine Required!


Can you see the lovely sheen!

One of the French national obsessions, along with stuffing entire bars of Milka chocolate bars into chunks of baguette in an attempt to give schoolchildren a quasi-healthy after school snack, and having very small dogs (in handbag optional),  is to send schoolchildren home on the first day of term with at least 15 text books apiece to be covered with clear plastic film. The obsession necessitates that French mothers always buy their children a new school bag each for the rentrée, and at great expense, to carry the mountain of books back with since the ropey old one from last year will undoubtedly collapse under the load!

Even a very good glass (or two) of chilled white wine is not enough to relieve the tedium of this job, nor will the addition of Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg or Camilia Jordana reassure the failing spirit that the pedestal on which we have put “all things French” has not got a wobbly leg.

It is not enough that the text books are covered, but at the rentrée French supermarkets also abound with shiny coloured plastic sheaves in which to place and protect exercise books- the so called ‘Protège Cahier’. Woe betide anyone who has left their shopping too late and finds the much needed yellow ‘protège cahiers’ have run out – because no other colour will do!

I have in the past attempted to cheat. One year I tried to claim that the Cellophane cover from last year (which to be fair did have a couple of compass stab marks) was my own. It wasn’t really in such bad condition at all and the thought of ripping off the older cover to replace it for newer identical cover was too much! It was returned the next day for recovering by an unimpressed ‘maitresse’.

Another year I bought sticky-back plastic covering. This stuff is notoriously impossible to use but looks great once mastered. It took a while to ensure that I hadn’t trapped half the atmosphere in the form of annoying little air bubbles as I stuck it to the book in question. At the end of a VERY long evening I had been very satisfied by the pile of immaculate, and may I say perfectly finished books at my side.

This time the ‘maitresse’ sent the entire pile home again because they were SO perfectly done that she hadn’t been able to tell they had been done at all. After a week or so of ‘backward’ and ‘forwarding’ of my perfectly covered books for re-covering my, by this point very anxious and faintly hysterical child, begged me to back down.

Through gritted teeth they were recovered- again; unsticky clear film ceremoniously wrapped over the earlier adhesive film…. but not without one or two compass jab marks thrown in for good measure.

I’m just off to refill my glass!

The things you wish you knew about Troisième – Applying for Options International, Européen and Anglophone.


Troisième is a year of choices, options and decisions. Today, the culmination of all these decisions took a unforseen twist.

For those that remember my last post on the subject of Troisième, they may remember that there are three basic choices for the Baccaleaureat General once one has decided whether to follow the Science, Literature or Ecomomic route. Broadly these are the OIB (Option International Baccalaureat in which the student will gain not only the bac in the leaning of their choice, but also A levels), the Option Anglophone or Européen (which follows essentially the same course with one subject studied in the English language and receives a ‘Mention Européen’ but no A levels) and the standard Baccalaureat.

In April we filled in our application form for consideration for the OIB. There are only two Lycées in Normandy which provide this option, Lycée Gustave Flaubert at Rouen, and Lycée Privée St Joseph at Le Havre. Each lycée has only 35 places and it is considered an elite course. The application was detailed and required a ‘Lettre de Motivation’ from each potential student – in English for the French applicants, and in French for the English applicants. Included with the application were the last three years of school reports and a personal report and declaration from the Directeur/ Directrice of the current Collège, as well as from the Professor Principal for the student’s class and also from the English teacher. There was also a score card (1-10) assessing the student’s ability in reading, writing, oral and comprehension.

A fortnight after the application was submitted, all the applicants were called to sit an entrance exam. This consisted of a written paper and an oral exam, thankfully for us in English, and which I imagine was the most daunting part of the process where the French students were concerned.

Before one starts to imagine that the oral was a ‘piece of cake’ for the English students, factor in conversing in English with a French examiner with a heavy French accent, and aged 15 answering these type of questions –

“If the price of oil rises in the Middle east, what will happen to comodities in Europe and why?”

The other terrifiying aspect of the whole process was the parental ability to misread the timetable and documentation and to forget to arrive at the exam hall with the student’s passport. No passport – no entry! Having lived on the edge of my nerves desperately trying to meet all the deadlines, I was hugely thankful when the process was over and the wait for results could begin.

However, there was never going to be just one option and just one application. With an initial starting point of 500 interested applicants, there needed to be a ‘fall back’ option.

In January we had interviews at two Lycées privées to register for the Options Anglophone and Européen. At both Lycées we were welcomed with open arms. Our daughter was a prime candidate for their  Anglophone and Européen courses, they said. In front of us they read the three years worth of ‘Bulletins’ (school reports), ticked all the appropriate boxes on the Inscription forms, handed us the registration form to be completed at home and gave us a deadline for its return along with it’s obligatory ‘reservation of place’ cheque for 150€. It was in the bag. If the OIB didn’t work out we had an excellent ‘fall-back’…

or so we thought!

Suddenly in early June, a letter arrived in my letter box from one of the Lycées requesting that we filled in an application for the ‘Option Anglophone’. Hadn’t we done that already, I mused to myself -but knowing that France likes its paperwork, I sent the form into Collège to be duly signed and completed by the Directrice, the Prof principal and the English teacher. My daughter sat down to write another ‘Lettre de Motivation’ and we rushed it to the Lycée with a day to spare before the deadline.

On the 22 June I received an identical letter from the other Lycée Privée requesting the exact same procedure for the Option Européen. The deadline was the 21 June. You see my problem! It had been lost in the post. It was friday evening and would have to wait for monday before I could ring the Lycée to explain what had happened, and the French are  strict on their deadlines.

On monday I returned from work to find a letter in my mailbox for the Option Anglophone. My Anglophone daughter had been refused a place for the Option Anglophone. It dawned on me that I had paid 150€ in the belief that I was reserving a place for an Option which in fact was not a certainty, and had only been offered the general bac instead, but not only that, thanks to the postal situation I had also paid 150€ reservation fee for the Européen option for which I had missed the deadline for application. And would she have got onto the option if she had applied in time anyway?

The good news is that we have heard verbally that our daughter is accepted for the OIB at Gustave Flaubert which is where she really wants to go. So all in all it’s a financial loss we had been prepared to take anyway, even if right at this moment we feel a little misled.

But I won’t rest easy until the confirmation letter is in my hand.

You might also like to read:

Troisième – Brevet Blanc
et Tiers Temps

Troisième –
Choosing Lycées

Troisième –
La Stage d’Observation

Troisième, Tiers Temps and the Brevet Blanc


I’ve had a bit of a break from writing for the last few weeks as my time has been taken up with the ‘to do’ list for troisième.

Back in December, I was approached by the prof principal for my daughter’s class. It turns out that for all those kids who have any disadvantages in the French school system, whether Dyslexia, or in our case being  ‘Anglophone’, there is help at hand. It is possible to apply for ‘Tiers Temps’. Now because I only received the infomation by phone, this got translated onto paper as ‘tearton’, and whilst grateful for the obvious dedication on the part of my daughter’s prof, I didn’t really get to grips with what form this ‘help’ might take.

I received a fiche from school with the request that it be filled in with as much evidence as possible regarding her difficulties and that the form be signed by her doctor. This was duly done, and the medecin generalist signed that she was Anglophone, but wasn’t really in the position to specify what actual aid she would need or be entitled to.

It was only later that I learned about the existence of the ‘Orthophonist/e’, and I suppose that anyone moving to France with children already suffering from difficulties such as Dyslexia would be wised up on this one. It could never be said to be the case for my 15 year old. An orthophonist/e is a specialist who pays special attention to a child’s ability to comprehend  and articulate spoken and written language and information. We were hugely fortunate to have the ability to approach one direct for an appointment without a reference from our generalist, who in fact hadn’t pointed us in that direction anyway, because whilst working ‘à l’etranger’ (abroad) my husband’s Mutuelle (health insurer) allowed it.

My daughter passed a good 40 minutes with the orthophonist after an initial meeting ‘en famille’. The Orthophoniste gave us the ‘low-down’ on the ‘Tiers Temps’. This is the addition of an extra third of time, relative to any individual exam taken, to allow children with difficulties to have a respectable opportunity to succeed in their exams. For those with writing difficulties, for example speed, a physical disability, or those with comprehension difficulties, for example children being examined in their second language’ , Tiers temps gives them the time and ability to overcome their own particular issues. The Orthophonist was careful to check that the awarding of ‘Tiers Temps’ was not going to be held as a long term record against the child’s future.

Several days later I received a report from the Orthophonist noting where the specific problems lay which I was able to print out and include in our application in the knowledge that putting a ‘cross’ in the box ‘handicapé’ would not be a lifelong marker on our child’s education record.

In February the Brevet Blanc, the GCSE mock equivalent was upon us, the difference being that the Brevet Blanc exams actually do contribute to the final Brevet mark. The subjects examined were Maths, French, History/Geo and Education Civique, all 3 hours but adjusted to 4. My daughter reported that there were about 30 students, approximately 1/5 of the year group, who had been allocated Tiers Temps for one reason or another. We had been able to request access to a French/English dictionary as a comprehension aid and my daughter reported that one or two items of the exams were modified from the mainstream exam, mainly in French where the dictée was completely different.

There are another set of Brevet Blanc exams in April, covering the same subjects before the final Brevet Exams are taken in June.  The Brevet Blanc exams are marked externally and the results issued within the month.

I was impressed by the ability to register for this ‘third extra time’ allocation. It certainly made a difference to us, if nothing else than for taking the pressure off my daughter, and giving her the ability to read each exam question more than twice, and to write down the answers knowing that she had understood the questions. It’s not everybody who can go into a formal exam situation after two and a half years in a foreign country and come out with 60% in each subject, with the exception of French Grammar. But as the Orthophonist said – that is exactly the point – French grammar will ‘come’ in time, but making a intelligent child feel a failure by not providing them with room to cope with a passing disability would be a very bad educational ‘call’.

What is also of great benefit to me is having an expert highlight the difficulties experienced by my child, and I do feel that this would be a very beneficial ‘test’ for all my anglophone children to take. A problem identified is a problem on its way to being resolved!

If only they could dispense ‘Tiers Temps’ for struggling mothers so that they actually could get various pieces of paperwork in on time – but that’s another story!

The 2012 Brevet Blanc Papers will be uploaded shortly.

You might also like to read this:

Choosing Lycées

Images supplied by google.

If they had told me about Troisième – Choosing Lycées!


If any one had told me that I would have to choose  ‘secondary’ school again whilst still attempting to heal the scars of the last time in the UK – I would never have driven through the channel tunnel. I would have taken the stationary M25, and flashing oil warning light as a sign that it was not meant to be.

Troisième, or year 10 is a year charged with pressure. There are major hurdles to overcome and it is not easy to maintain the calm chic dignity of the average French woman, when you’re a slightly crazed, manic englishwoman running around in circles in a state of partial comprehension.

Some time in September I attempted to pin down our school secretary to make an appointment with the head of  Collège, firmly believing that being slightly ahead of the game, I had a better chance of success if I had the process explained to me by a reliable source. The school secretary smiled sympathetically at me  stating “Mais Madame, C’est vraiment trop tôt”. However by now she is well used to me in a stew, and finally agreed when I announced that my husband was just off to Nigeria again and there was absolutely no way I was going to go through this alone! At very least he needed to know just how much organising I was going to be doing over the next few months so that I could be assured that he would sigh reassuringly and groan sympathetically over the phone at a later date. But vastly more importantly, when it comes to official tasks, two heads are definitely better than one when it comes to total comprehension!

That done, We were informed about the key things; All the marks (or notes) for tests and homework assignments in Troisième counted towards the final grade of the  GCSE equivalent, in France known as the Brevet; that if a student didn’t achieve an average of 10/20 in every subject they wouldn’t be entered for the Brevet at all, and that the final exams were taken in June.

Secondly that all Troisièmes are required by law to undergo a ‘Stage d’Observation’ , a sort of work experience lasting a week in February in their chosen field of career.

Thirdly, immediately after the Christmas holidays all the students of the Troisième sit the Brevet Blanc, the equivalent of mock GCSE’s, only the grades count towards the final Brevet in June. The key subjects tested are Maths, French, History and Geography and last but not least Education Civique.

And finally, and scarily that the time had come to select a suitable Lycée for continuing education on to the Baccalauriat, the French equivalent of the A’level.

I discovered that there was such a thing as a Bac Option Internationale Brittanique, A Bac Mention Européen, and a Normal Bac . These were then all subdivided into three varieties, the Bac L, the Bac S, and the Bac ES.  It was necessary to select the correct Bac, either Literature, Science or Economics and Sociology, then whether to take the standard Bac or the supplementary Bac. The supplementary Bac (IOB, Européen and Anglophone versions) included 3 additional hours of the English Language to that of the standard Bac, with one non linguistic subject (usually history or geography, and occasionally science) studied in the English Language. What it was necessary to understand was that all three Bacs, L, S and ES all follow exactly the same program of 8 core subjects, simply the weighting of hours and marks lean in the direction of the chosen specialism. Therefore, more weighting in the languages, history and arts subjects for Bac L, and more weighting in the science subjects and French for the Bac S, and so on. And did I mention that this was just the choice for the Bac Generale et Technologique!

Having studied all the Lycées in Rouen I Immediately put pen to paper to ask for further details and true to French style – four months on and absolutely not one school has replied! I was later told that whilst French state schools will definitely not reply, Catholic Private ones might possibly. Sometime! If I’m learning one thing from my french life, it  is that the french don’t respond to letters, well not unless they’re love letters anyway (though sadly I don’t have nearly enough experience of this to definitively pass judgement) – And considering the mess engineered by Valmont by his letters in “Dangerous Liaisons”, I’m not actually surprised that responding to letters in France is a big ‘no no’ – I should have known really, if a year of futile  letter writing to our letting agent is anything to go by  – still it was good practice for my written French!

If I haven’t made it clear enough yet how the telephone, the instrument with which I would gossip for hours and hours in the UK, has become an instrument of  semi-torture here on French turf, let me do it now! But taking my role as a sometimes ‘efficient and organised’ mother seriously, I proceeded to phone them all, receiving from one and all a standard reply, “Mais madame Axton, C’est bien trop tôt”. Now where have I heard that before!

I endeavored to re-ring the Lycées in December with vastly more positive results. This time I succeeded to secure interviews with all of our shortlist, and my daughter and I made our way to the first ones before Christmas.

How fantastic to find myself let off the hook, although sitting in the directeur’s office with her,  the Directeur only wanted to speak to my daughter, and other than interjecting the odd comment here and there, I was happy to take the back seat and listen to her answering all the questions with an accent vastly superior to my own, and to smile wryly when she corrected my vocabulary or conjugation  in front of the directeur! I think both he, with all her ‘bulletins’   (school reports) in front of him, and I both realised at the same moment  just how far she’d come since her arrival two and a half years earlier and how far she could go. With  moyen (average) of 14.5/20 it was unsurprising that he offered her a place right there and then. By the end of all three interviews she held three places in her hands. It could have all been so easy if she hadn’t set her sight on the highest target of all.

For biligual or  strong english students the most aspired to Baccalaureat course taught amongst the Lycées of Rouen is the Option International Brittanique. Only one  public (state) school, five minutes from the Rouen city centre offers this option. Students following this class follow essentially the advanced Baccalaureat with the supplementary English, but leave with the added benefit of 3 English A’levels as well as the Bac International. With 500 applicants last year for 37 places, the competition is tough with an additional entry exam to weed out those not strong enough in English to survive the course.

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel, well yes for my daughter anyway, since the entry exam is a test of  English. Lets not rest on our laurels, but this will be the first exam she has sat in her native language since moving to this country. For the first time since our arrival it seems that being English might actually be an advantage! Was it worth braving the french autoroute that very first time – well yes absolutely! Can I see the benefits of  taking up residence in this complicated land and learning the ropes as I go – Without a doubt!

To know that  my children than the opportunity to chose Mediterranean from Mountain, Thames from Tour Eiffel when choosing their futures and the knowledge that against all odds they can succeed? A reward indeed.

(Why the French actually learn to write, in particular with all those lessons dedicated to the beautiful cursif script that epitomises french orthography, whilst having such an antipathy to putting pen to paper by way of responding to correspondence is an entirely different question.)

I shall get to the bottom of it in time!

For information about the Brevet Blanc click here, and for the Stage d’Observation click here. (under construction)

Inauguration of the Crèche de Noel


Version Francais

This is the christmas term of our third year in France. Month on month our children have immersed themselves into the language and culture of our local french landscape and where their education is concerned I have no worries.

Ecole and College St Dominique has an extraordinary level of attention to detail, and  time-tested organisation which keeps the parents firmly in touch with their childrens’ progress and with the teaching and pastoral team. History starts at the ‘prehistory’ and works its way systematically towards the present day, mathematical challenge is rigorous and the methodical testing at each stage easily surpasses that of UK schools without the need to stop progress for revision in class time. Reassuringly, French pupils actually are taught grammar, a skill that has been sadly neglected in the standard English school. Parents are encouraged to participate within the school environment, anything from participating in ‘catéchèse’ (religeous studies), to reading out loud to children at lunch time in a wide variety of languages (from spanish to russian) or participating in various fétes over the length of the year.

If I had to highlight the one major difference between French and English school, it would be in the realm of creativity and sport. Whilst english schools have a burgeoning emphasis on art, technology and woodwork, on teamsports such as rugby, cricket and hockey; for France these play a significantly lesser roll. This is not to say that art and technology and sport do not play a role in french education, but that it is essential for french families to offer a supplement.

Being passionately absorbed in creative arts myself, the odd niggles of doubt as to whether my children were being “drawn out” where creativity and imagination were concerned were never far away. Imagine my delight therefore when my son in quatrième (age 13) began to talk about one of the parent’s mission to create an entirely new ‘vision’ when it came to this years “Crèche de Noel”

For those who have already visited my post A trip about Rouen they will be quick to note that the students of quatrième B, under the inspired eye of Madame Corruble have created a perfect model of the ‘Gros Horloge’ and it’s surrounding buildings with the archway of the clock tower representational of the lowly stable.

The model, entirely fabricated from modelling card, with multi-coloured tissue paper to form the stained glass windows is the scene for the clay figures crafted by some students from troisième.

On friday 25th November, the crèche was inaugurated by the local priest in the presence of friends, parents and pupils of St Do, and illuminated for the first time.

Congratulations to Madame Corruble and the élèves of 4ième B for their painstaking attention to detail and their celebration of the architecture of Rouen with this beautiful Crèche; I feel inspired for my own preparations for christmas and confident that whilst creative art is not high on any french school time-table – Here in Rouen, St Dominique can claim first prize for inspiration and creative vision.

Merry christmas!

You may also like to read this:

A trip about Rouen