Wrapping up the summer!


The sky is still a clear blue with little puffy clouds scudding across it; The stripey awning over the kitchen window is protecting the kitchen from overheating. Half of me can’t believe we are at the dawn of a new school year, but the fact that it’s dark by 9pm is unequivocal. Looking at the piles upon piles of ‘fournitures’ (stationary for the uninitiated) on the floor, and for any non french resident who hasn’t gone through the rentrée process of buying up an entire supermarketful of exercise books (cahiers), coupie double and copie simple (filepaper), lutins (file of plastic sleeves) and classeurs (files), there is no dispute; The new term is nearly upon us.

It’s true: I bought the shop!

Until this year I had spent a considerable amount of time worrying about the madness of carting four non francophone children across the channel and expecting them to ‘just get on with it’. But this year I really feel I can sit back and enjoy the peace that will reign in this house when they all depart on monday morning bags in hand. And ‘Yes’ we have had to endure the ‘my bag’s no longer cool’  issue too!

All this anticipated peace of mind is grace to my daughter, now 15, who arrived 3 years ago without a word of French, and who has gone from strength to strength! Let me tell you a secret, to all those considering such a move –

It can be done!

I’ll take you back to May – the beginning of the summer, when stress and anxiety were our middle names. Having arrived at school drop-off where my daughter was sitting her final Brevet Blanc with ‘Tiers Temps’ (extra time), I was precipitated into the office of the Directrice of our Collège to be told that the Academie Française had changed their mind. There was to be no more ‘Tiers Temps’. Not being fluent in French for a French exam was not considered a handicap! Having sat every exam to date with an extra hour, my daughter was to sit ‘the real thing’ in the standard allotted time after all. You can imagine the ensuing panic!

For the following weeks there was wistful hoping on her part that she might pass; a great deal of pushy mother syndrome (24 hours of revision a day is not enough); a little adolescent rebellion and a few ‘being caught out on Facebook’ issues; And when the exam days dawned we had tripled checked her ID was in her bag and yes, we arrived for the exam a good hour early!

Need I have worried? Well actually ‘No’. Two weeks after the final exam, and out of a possible list of scores – ‘Aquis’, ‘Mention’, ‘Mention Bien’ and ‘Mention Très Bien’, she scooped a ‘Mention Bien’, and received her acceptance to the OIB at her chosen Lycée.

Unlike those poor UK students who have to sit through their entire summer holidays wondering how they did and if they were ‘In’ to their higher education, we set off on holiday, happy, reassured and relaxed…

Which is a bit how we are starting out our new school year.

But this year it’s more than that… after a steep uphill struggle, now we feel that we’ve carved a niche, we’ve concreted our first foundation and we are starting to build…

 

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)