Friday, November 24, 2006


Depending on who you're talking to, you'll get a completely different idea of where your child is able to obtain a good education.

This week, I've heard two conflicting views: one French, one British. A friend of mine who lives in one of the villages around Montpellier has sent her eldest daughter to the UK to attend a public school for a term. Normally, this school would charge £4,000 per term for a day pupil, or £20,000 full time per year. A staggering amount. If I was paying that I would certainly expect my child to receive a very fine education and lots of extra-curricular activities.

This child attends a private Catholic school in Montpellier mainly because the local school was so crappy she was getting nowhere fast. It was a very small pond and she was neither stretched, nor motivated to do her best. In desperation, then, her parents decided to send her to a private school, 400€ per term. For that she gets, as her mother was telling me, an education that is made up of the most boring material possible, no extra-curricular activities, but a strict work ethic and encouragement to do her best.

To show her another side to education, she has been sent to the English boarding school for this term, staying with her grandparents. Apart from the fact that she is homesick, she is loving it. She is part of acting groups, the choir and anything else she has time to do. The teachers are top notch and she is taught creatively and with enthusiasm. It sounds like the English education system at its best.

A woman I met just yesterday at my youngest's school; a French woman married to a Welshman, told me they decided to come to France, to Montpellier where her mother and grandparents live, because she wanted to be near them, and also because a French education is better than an English one.

It's perhaps unfair to compare the best of British with the ordinary of French, but, while infant and primary education may be fine, in my experience, the problems start with collège and lycée. My children are lucky. We live in a comfortable area where the well-to-do parents are happy enough with the local schools to send their little darlings there. They might receive an acceptable education, but it's a shame the schools only cater to their academic success. All extra-curricula activities have to be undertaken outside school. There is no sport, no music, no drama. Nothing to bring the school together. No sense of belonging through sporting triumphs; musical or dramatic productions. The result is that children have ambivalent feelings about their school.

I would never send my children away to school, but I do wish the best of the different education systems could be studied and adapted to local needs for the benefit of all types of children, and give them a solid reason to feel they belong to their school in heart and mind.


  1. It seems to me that to consider the small élite English private schools, as ‘the English system’, is misleading since it only represents a very small percentage of the population. They do provide excellent education, but you have to remember that the resources are much greater per pupil. The boarding system has quite a few drawbacks and is not favourable for the stability of family units.

    The French private system is open to all. The agreement made between the private sector and the state is that in exchange for following the national curricula they receive their prorate portion of the taxes. If you are poor you finish up paying nothing. Private schools are increasingly favoured by parents because they are reputed to be better for discipline. Though since they are open to all, they have the general problems of society as well. Some public schools are excellent; the most famous Lycée in France, Henri IV in Paris, is public. As always it depends on the area. My children went to both public and private; I can’t say I noticed much difference.

    Certainly for English people the lack of extra curricula activities in the schools needs adapting to. Debating societies, sports, music are not part of school activities. As Ségo said recently it would be nice for the teachers to spend more time in the schools and perhaps supervise additional activities. But then it will be necessary to have additional resources, when not teaching the teachers are not inactive. They are preparing lessons and marking tests. If they are not in the school it is probably because they have nowhere to work.

    The children do no not lack facilities for the non academic activities. Near my home there are excellent facilities for the children t to learn all manner of activities. My children did football, rugby, tennis, swimming, riding, squash, orientation, scouting. Sports facilities are marvellous and there is excellent coaching available. Each year all the associations hold a fair in the village hall where you can find out what is going on.

  2. I don't deny, Richard that there are some very fine associations in towns and villages. However, I have to take Wednesday afternoons off to ferry them about, and I am lucky I can do this. Some workplaces are not so flexible.

    Schools have a ready-made source of potential sporting teams and creative groups. School competitions were one of the highlights of my school career.


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