The new 9th edition of the AAWE Guide to Education in France features a directory of hundreds of bilingual and international schools.

As overseas Americans, we are far away from the 24/7 coverage of the protests in the U.S around Black Lives Matter, and missing out on the face-to-face discussions with American family, friends, and co-workers on this issue. For each of us in our own way, the recent events that started with George Floyd’s murder may be more difficult to process at a distance.

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AAWE member, Asma Darwish – BBC interview

AAWE member Asma Darwish was recently interviewed for the BBC World Service “Witness History” series. You can hear the episode at www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3ct1x45

A History of the French Baccalauréate Exam

Any attempt to understand the French ​Baccalauréate (Bac) and the near mythic status it holds on the French national conscience should begin with a quick look at its long, illustrious history. Established in 1808 under Napoleon Bonaparte as part of his plan to make French society more egalitarian, the Bac​, as it is often called, was designed to provide universal opportunity to anyone who possessed the talent and intellectual prowess to pass its rigorous exams. It’s no accident that it was developed in the wake of the French Revolution, and it also reveals important lessons that Napoleon himself acquired during that tumultuous period of French history.

But first, let’s go back to the Revolution itself and what occurred in France, particularly during the Reign of Terror under Maximilien Robespierre. Robespierre – himself a distinguished graduate of the prestigious ​Lycée Louis Le Grand​ – understood the role of educating the young to solidify the hard-won lessons and achievements of the Revolution. Only through teaching the younger generations about the glory of the Revolution, Robespierre reasoned, could this momentous period of French history take permanent hold of the national conscience.

For this reason, Robespierre created a national curriculum, which oversaw the education (others would say indoctrination) of French schoolchildren in the accomplishments of the French Revolution. Teachers were issued the 18th-century equivalent of lesson plans, with text and instructions on how to impart to young children the glories of the Revolution and the great changes it had wrought. Ultimately, the purpose was to keep alive the ideals of the Revolution, to perpetuate them from generation to generation.

Robespierre may not have survived the Revolution, but his idea of a national curriculum did. By the time Napoleon Bonaparte became emperor, Robespierre’s initiative, along with Bonaparte’s personal experience during the Revolution, inevitably led to the creation of the ​Baccalauréate.

It was through having played a key role in the Revolution and witnessing several key events that the future leader of France came to understand how society in general functioned. A fervent supporter of the Revolution, Napoleon saw first-hand the result and the dangers of a stagnant society, the lack of opportunity for social and economic advancement among its more able citizens, along with the need for well-educated military commanders and a contented middle class. In essence, he understood the essential role the middle class played in the creation of a society free of discontent and revolutionary fervor. After all, wasn’t the legacy of the Revolution the abolition of the monarchy, the aristocracy and inherited privilege? The basis for a happy, productive society, Napoleon reasoned, was the chance for social advancement – most particularly, for those deemed eligible and worthy of it – and it was this thinking that translated into affording people the opportunity to access the middle class. Such access would help in the creation of a truly happy, secular society – giving hope and opportunity to anyone who wished to set their mind to it. Family connections and birthright had no place in this new society – rather, it was through merit and hard work that anyone, regardless of upbringing or social status, could nurture the dreams and aspirations of a better life.

The subsequent creation of a national system of education and the ​Bac​ quickly followed. With nation-wide standards setting educational objectives, and a national exam to gauge knowledge of those objectives, France was on its way to creating an egalitarian society with access to the kind of opportunity that Napoleon had envisioned. In line with Napoleon’s vision of creating a meritocracy, the exams are taken ​à l’anonymat​ – the name, and identity of the young person taking the exam being masked from the view of the person grading it. What’s more, successful completion of the ​Bac​ promised much – guaranteed acceptance to university and with it, advancement up the social ladder.


Today, the ​Bac​ still holds this special place in French culture and society, offering the first crucial step to university and social advancement for generations. However, concerns have grown recently over its ability to produce future university graduates, ready to compete in the global marketplace. Citing the fact that the average drop-out rate for first-year students in French universities is 60%, the current French president, Emmanuel Macron, vowed to bring reform to this venerable exam during his presidential campaign. ​Baccalauréat 2021, created under the direction of the Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer,​ is the result.

Adrienne W. Covington

Director of the American Section of the Lycée International de St. Germain-en-Laye.

After graduating from from Brown University with a simultaneous B.A. in Classics and an M.A. in Asian History, she spent two years as a metro reporter for the Washington Star, turned down a modeling offer in New York, and moved to Paris as a styliste stagiaire at Christian Dior.

Back in New York three years later working for a menswear designer, she helped her employer win the Coty (the Oscar of fashion). After working with a few more designers in the US and Japan, Adrienne once again changed direction and enrolled at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. She has taught history in three schools over thirty years, first in New York and then in Paris, finally arriving at her current position as director of the American Section at the Lycée International in Saint Germain-en-Laye.

Dearest Reader

Most of us are very good at seeing what we don’t like about a system that is not our own. Those of us who attended high school in an Anglophone country will find major differences between our experience and that of our teens today in France. And if our teens attended an Anglophone school before entering the French school system, we (and they) may find the differences to be even shocking.
I would like to ask you to look at these differences from the perspective of a coach. And that would mean looking without any preconceived notions; leaving judgment and assumption aside.

Consider the following…

A 17-year-old American boy visited his 17-year-old Franco-American cousin in France this summer. He told him that his school day in the United States lasts less than seven hours, that he practices sport, piano, and guitar ten hours a week, and that he holds a 3.4 average (85 percent), which puts him in the second quarter of his class. His cousin told him that he tries to practice five hours of sport a week, but often can’t because the length of his school day in France (up to ten hours) and homework don’t leave him enough time. He has a moyenne of 14 out of 20 (70 percent) and is in the top quarter of his class. His grade of 10 (50 percent) in math is above the class average.

Some teachers in France read each student’s grade aloud to the class, beginning with the lowest. The assumption many of us make is that encouragement and good grades build self-esteem. The judgment many of us make is that the French system is unnecessarily tough.

Yet assumptions and judgments are limiting; both close the door to more profound reflection.

Resilience

A word mentioned more and more among Anglophone educators is resilience: “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” If anything, the student in France is given the space to fail. It is what it is. For better or worse, it is not something that is hidden. The benefit in this is the student in France must grapple with failure and figure out how to succeed; and how to toughen up. With practice, many of them do. The cost is that some just can’t, some give up, and some never get over it.
Perhaps the assumption that the French school system makes is that a teen is not too fragile for honest grading; that a teen has the intellect to understand that top grades are not a right, and the logic to accept that academic ability is not distributed evenly.
With proper support from parents, our teens educated in the French system can benefit from it. Parents who focus on the learning process rather than grades will empower their teen to keep trying.

Next time you find yourself wanting to bash the French school system, and especially if you are within earshot of your teen: tourner sept fois votre langue dans votre bouche avant de parler! (Translation: Turn your tongue seven times in your mouth before speaking!) Consider this: unlike you, your teen has no other school system. The French school system is a key part of his or her identity, and if we bash the system, we are bashing our teens. We are confusing them too, because after all, we are the ones who chose to raise our teens in France.
Bash the French system for students that do get their backs broken by it, but remember to praise the system for believing that teens are strong enough to handle rigor, detached honesty, and failure. After all, this is the real world they will encounter as adults.

Sincerely,
Jane Mobille, PCC, CPCC

This article was originally published in INSPIRELLE (September 24, 2015) and has been republished here with permission of the author.

Jane Mobille

Jane Mobille is a Professional Certified Coach who counts young people and families among her clientele. She and her husband have raised three bicultural children in France. Their children attended semi-private bilingual school, public nursery school, Catholic primary school, and public secondary school with international sections. Two of them struggled for many years before encountering success.

Getting Permission to Change Schools – Part 2

This is part 2 of a series on getting permission to change schools within the French public school system. In case you missed it, here’s part one

The first part of this series discussed some general things to consider when asking your city for permission to switch schools and the procedures to follow in maternelle and primaire. Here I will tell you about when your kids are older, in collège and lycée, and I will also give you some Paris-specific information and a few more important things to keep in mind. 

Collège

In the spring of CM2 (US 5th grade), your child will be assigned to a middle school based on your current home address. This means that if you received a dérogation to attend a different primary school, or have since moved to another district, your child may not be assigned to the same middle school as his/her classmates. Geographical perimeters are set on an annual basis for each collège by your Conseil Général (in Paris, by the Mairie), and these determine all secondary school assignments. Each year slight modifications may be made to this carte scolaire, especially concerning streets on the edges of a given sector. You can usually find your assigned school online; the Académie de Paris, for example has a street-by-street search tool. https://www.paris.fr/pages/colleges-2090

If your child has not been assigned to the collège you prefer, request a dérogation by completing the second page of the Affelnet 6ème sheet, which will be provided by your school. Check with your school principal or rectorat for specific procedures. If there is room in the desired collège once the children assigned to the establishment are enrolled, your request will be accepted. 

A commission de dérogation meets in the late spring to consider requests, and the DSDEN will make the final decision. If your dérogation is refused, you have two months to contact your académie and contest the decision. Note that the most strategic time to request a dérogation is for the class of Sixième, as there are relatively few openings in subsequent years, especially in the most-requested collèges

Lycée 

At the end of Troisième (US 9th grade) all students receive their décision d’orientation, established by the conseil de classe and submitted to parents for approval. This determines the child’s future educational path (general, technological or professional baccalauréat) and, coupled with place of residence, dictates which lycée is your child’s école de secteur

Affelnet is the computer system that assigns Troisième students to public high schools in most areas of France. Depending on their académie, students request three to eight different high schools, and Affelnet makes assignments based on the académie’s pre-determined criteria. This includes the student’s home address, and depending on the académie, may also include their knowledge of the socle commun (common core) and their academic results, as well as the recommendation of school principal and/or the commission d’affectation. Bonus points are often awarded to students who receive financial assistance (élèves boursières) and those who have been in REP (réseau d’éducation prioritaire) school. While students may request any lycée, it is highly recommended that one of their wishes be the école de secteur that corresponds to their home address. If their other requests are not granted, they are guaranteed placement in this school. Students make their request in concertation with their collège in May, and decisions are made public in late June/early July. 

As with collèges, if there is room in the desired lycée once the children assigned to the establishment are enrolled, your derogation request may be accepted. You should address requests to the DSDEN of the desired département

A special word about Paris

Lycée assignments within the city of Paris are more complicated, as students do not have one assigned (and guaranteed) school. Currently students must rank 8-10 schools. They receive 9,600 points if a requested lycée was in their assigned district, and up to 9,600 points based on common core knowledge and academic results. 4,800 bonus points are attributed to élèves boursiers and to those coming from a REP school. There can be quite a bit of strategy involved in ranking schools, and students are strongly advised not to put only the most prestigious schools on their lists for risk of not getting into any in the first round of proceedings and being relegated to a lycée with a poorer reputation in the second round. Note that this point system makes it very difficult to obtain a place in a school outside of one’s district. 

Other important considerations and tips to keep informed

Every year a number of magazines and newspapers publish high school rankings, the palmarès des lycées, based on the percentage of students succeeding on the baccalauréat exam, the school’s student retention rates from Seconde through Terminale, and the socio-economic make-up of the student body. The schools with the best reputations, those that tend to be most sought-after, are usually those best rated in the table, often with 100% bac success rates. Be aware that in order to maintain a 100% success rate, some schools weed out students along the way who may not be able to pass the exam. Also, due to the weight of academic results in the Affelnet algorithm, students with higher academic results are often concentrated these schools, which can result in more competitive, stressful environments.

Deciding whether it is worth seeking a dérogation to change schools is about planning the best educational path for your child, being aware of the possibilities, and setting a strategic course. Keep your ear to the ground for the “off-the-record” information from informed teachers and parents, and check for the latest official information though your mairie or Académie/Rectorat, parent groups such as the PEEP and the FCPE, or by subscribing to publications such as La Lettre des Parents, which informs parents of educational reforms and changes in official procedures.

Margaret Jenkins

Margaret Jenkins is the Assistant Director of the American Section of the Lycée International in Saint Germain-en-Laye. She has been at the school for past seventeen years and has worked in nearly every aspect of school administration, notably piloting the growth of the school’s advancement program, integrating communications, community relations, development, and alumni relations. She also works closely with secondary students, including leading a long-standing community service and culture exchange trip to India. In her spare time, she serves on COGNIA accreditation teams for schools worldwide, and is involved with local non-profits, such as AAWE, USAGSO, and the Wellesley Club of Paris. 

Getting Permission to Change Schools – Part 1

This is the first in a two-part series of articles on getting permission to change from one public school to another. Here I will give you an overview of this process, reasons that are valid to request a change and reasons that are likely to be rejected, and some specific information about the procedure in maternelle and primaire. 

Students in France are assigned to public schools by means of a geographic zoning map, known as the carte scolaire. However, families have the right to request another school via a system of dérogations. In addition to requesting a dérogation, some parents resort to more radical means to get their children into their school of choice, including falsifying their address, buying a maid’s room in the coveted neighborhood, or pulling strings (note that we in no way condone these methods!). 

Reasons for Requesting a Dérogation

For a dérogation request to be accepted, it must be made for a compelling reason. Requests citing reasons of personal convenience (the school is on your way to the nearest métro, for example) are usually refused. 

At the maternelle and primary level, here are a few valid reasons for requesting a dérogation:  

  • The child’s caregiver living near the school 
  • The school’s location is close to the parent’s place of work 
  • Both parents work and the school must have a cafeteria (cantine) or a before/after-school program (garderie/ étude

Certain files have priority: 

  • those of children with medical problems or handicaps
  • students receiving financial assistance (élèves boursiers
  • those with a sibling already in the school 
  • those whose home address is near the desired school 
  • those wishing to study a foreign language or be part of a special option that is not offered in their assigned school

Certain schools, such as those offering international and European sections, or special music and sports classes, are subject to specific recruitment procedures. These often involve application files, tests or auditions, and interviews. If you are interested in such a school you are encouraged to contact the school at the beginning of the transitional years (GS, CM2, or Troisième) to inquire about requirements and deadlines. 

If your request for a dérogation is denied, it can be renewed as often as you wish. 

Procedure for Requesting a Dérogation

Maternelle or Primaire

The carte scolaires for maternelle and primaire are determined by municipal councils. Your town hall (mairie) website should provide this information. 

Your child must be enrolled in a public school before a dérogation is requested, even if you are new to the district or the child is beginning school. Once your child has been enrolled at the mairie of the town/arrondissement in which you live, you should inquire at the mairie of the school in which you wish to enroll your child to find out the proper procedure, as each town/arrondissement manages its own registrations.  

Often requests for dérogations can only be made at specific times during the year, usually in February or March. Wherever you live, inquire well in advance, and respect all deadlines for the best chance of success. You will most often be asked to download a feuille de dérogation, which you will complete and join to a letter of motivation outlining your family’s particular circumstances and significant reasons for changing schools (your motif). Be sure to include corroborating documentation if you have it, such as your assistante maternelle’s work contract with the address indicated.

The procedure for submission of the paperwork varies from town to town. Some simply require that you submit your completed request to the town hall. Others stipulate that you take the form to your assigned school, where the school principal will sign the sheet then forward it to the directeur of the school you wish to attend. The file will then be sent to the Inspecteur de l’Education Nationale.

At the end of May/beginning of June, a commission de dérogation, made up of the mayor’s representatives, representatives from the Direction des services départementaux de l’éducation nationale (DSDEN), directors of the district’s public schools, and representatives of parents’ associations meet to review all dérogation requests. If you are a member of one of the parent associations, you might wish to contact your local representatives and explain your case, so that they may advocate on your behalf during the session. Requests are either granted or denied depending on local circumstances, and they are contingent on space availability. 

A word to the wise – always be diplomatic when completing these formalities. You don’t want to burn any bridges should your request be denied. Also, be aware that while requesting a dérogation is possible, it is not encouraged. Some towns, such as St. Germain-en-Laye, make absolutely no mention of it on their website. The 18e arrondissement in Paris states that if your request is denied, your child no longer has priority in their assigned school, and will be assigned to a third school if the école de secteur is full. Know as well that if you are requesting a school in another town, the town where you live will have to pay a sum of money to the town where your child will attend school, which may motivate a denial. School officials may also deny requests if the drop in student numbers could provoke a class closure.

Are you looking for information about changing schools in Collège and Lycée, and some special aspects to consider if you live in Paris? Look for the second half of this article to be posted the first part of November.

Margaret Jenkins

Margaret Jenkins is the Assistant Director of the American Section of the Lycée International in Saint Germain-en-Laye. She has been at the school for past seventeen years and has worked in nearly every aspect of school administration, notably piloting the growth of the school’s advancement program, integrating communications, community relations, development, and alumni relations. She also works closely with secondary students, including leading a long-standing community service and culture exchange trip to India. In her spare time, she serves on COGNIA accreditation teams for schools worldwide, and is involved with local non-profits, such as AAWE, USAGSO, and the Wellesley Club of Paris. 

What is inclusive education?

“Inclusive education means that all students attend and are welcomed by their neighbourhood schools in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life of the school.”(1)

What does this really mean? It’s simple.

All children can learn, but all children learn differently. Every child should attend mainstream school in a common learning environment with their same-age peers regardless of perceived ability or level of disability. All children benefit from inclusive education because all children belong.

One of the most important features of inclusive schools is that all students of different abilities are taught in a common learning environment for the majority of regular instruction hours. In other words, simply housing children with disabilities in the same school building as their peers but keeping them segregated for the majority of the day does not count as inclusive education. Curriculum development that assumes competence and sets high standards for all students while developing learning goals that are in accordance with each child’s abilities is a key feature of inclusion. The cookie-cutter approach to teaching and learning is obsolete. Children do not all need to have the same educational goals to learn and grow together in a regular classroom.

We must shift the perspective from how to best educate children with disabilities to how to best educate all students in the same environment in ways that are meaningful to all. Inclusion is about considering the whole child, from academics to emotional intelligence, social skills, and more, and finding ways to include every student in the classroom. All aspects of the school environment must be considered, from the physical school building, to teacher training and support staff, curriculum design and implementation.

But does it work?

One of the most frequent sentiments expressed when inclusive education is discussed is that of “It sounds great, but does it actually work?” 

The short answer is YES, and there is over 30 years of research to back it up. 

A common fear of opening up classrooms to children with disabilities or behavioural concerns  is that their needs will affect the learning environment and negatively impact the academic achievement of their peers. This has been proved to be false several times over. A 2013 study compared the achievement of 202 low, average, and high achieving students in classrooms in which students with disabilities were present, and an equal number of students in classrooms where they were not. There was no significant difference in the academic achievement progress of any of the students from classrooms with or without inclusion of disabled students.(2)  

Earlier research found similar results. In 2007, researchers from the University of Manchester systematically reviewed a set of studies from 26 studies from the United States, Australia, Canada, and Ireland, and found that 81% of study findings indicated that nondisabled students either experienced no effects (58%) or experienced positive effects (23%) on their academic development as a result of being educated alongside students with disabilities,”(3)

The impact on disabled students when included in mainstream classrooms was overwhelmingly positive from an academic and social standpoint. A study of over 1300 students within 180 school districts in the United States showed a strong relationship between the amount of time spent in general education classes and achievement in math and reading. A different study looking at the outcomes of 11,000 students in the United States showed that regardless of disability, more time spent in a general education classroom correlated with fewer absences, fewer referrals for misbehavior, and more post-secondary and employment options.(4)

What are the benefits of inclusion for all children?

As most school brochures will tell you, school is about more than just academics. It is  a place to learn to be part of a community, to make friends, and to learn the rules of society. Schools offer activities outside the classroom such as sports, artistic activities, field trips, and other social activities that are often off-limits to children in segregated special education classrooms. Likewise, inclusive education practices result in benefits that extend beyond that of academic achievement. For ALL children, the benefits of inclusion include: opportunities for diverse friendships, improved social skills and wider social networks, peer modeling that works both ways, problem solving skills, positive self-image, acceptance and respect for others, increased understanding and acceptance of difference, shared learning opportunities, and better readiness for inclusion outside of the school environment.(5)

If one of the functions of school is to prepare children for life in society as adults, the importance of inclusion for all becomes even more apparent. If disabled individuals are segregated in the mainstream education system as children, what place is there for them in society as adults? Inclusive education prepares all students for adult life in an inclusive society, by affirming that disabled individuals are full members of society with their own individual strengths, weaknesses, needs, and gifts to offer the world just like their non-disabled peers. When every individual is supported to achieve their full potential, everyone benefits.

Resources

  1. What is Inclusive Education?
  2. 7 New Research Studies to Help you Win the Fight for Inclusion
  3. The impact of placing pupils with special educational needs in mainstream schools on the achievement of their peers.
  4. 7 Research Studies to Help you Win the Fight for Inclusion
  5. The Benefits of Inclusion in the Classroom | Community Living Toronto (cltoronto.ca)
Kathleen Sperduti

Kathleen Sperduti is a wife and mother of two boys, Xavier and Etienne. A former high school teacher, she currently works freelance part-time and dedicates the rest of her time to supporting EKIPP and the families it serves.

Erin Reeser

Erin Reeser is a wife and mother of two children, Lucie and Felix. She works full time in study abroad and dedicates the rest of her time to supporting EKIPP and the families it serves.

EKIPP

EKIPP–Extraordinary Kids in Paris…and their Parents too! is now an advocacy and support network for anglophone and multilingual individuals and families of children with complex learning, medical, or physical needs. We celebrate diversity in all its forms. More importantly, it is a lifeline for parents like us, looking for social connections for themselves and their children. The best part? Through EKIPP, we have found our tribe.

For parents, facing concerns about a child’s development or learning can be scary and confusing; doing it in a country known for its bureaucracy and administrative maze of paperwork can be overwhelming. While parents and professionals agree that there is plenty of room to improve supporting and including children with developmental and learning disabilities in public schools, France has made improvements over the past 15 years since the loi de 2005 affirmed that all children have the right to receive an education and that parents have the right to be involved in developing educational plans.  Educational plans, financial support, and dedicated educational supports in schools are available for children diagnosed with a developmental, learning, or other disability. 

Developmental disabilities

Early detection and intervention are important to get necessary support for children with disabilities. Parents can bring up concerns with their child’s pediatrician who can do a brief screening and determine whether a visit to a specialist or specialized hospital for diagnosis is necessary. Parents of young children concerned with their development can go directly to their local PMI (service de protection maternelle et infantile), a useful resource which provides support for pregnant women and children up to age 6 and is the equivalent to Early Intervention services in the United States. These PMI centers provide free medical care including developmental screenings, and are connected to other services that provide support to children with developmental disabilities and their families. For children in a daycare, for example, the PMI can work directly with the crèche to determine that appropriate materials, supports, and adaptations are in place.

Learning disabilities

In primary school, when a child is having difficulty in the classroom, ideally teachers will recognize the need, speak with the parents, and try to provide extra support or modify or adapt the schoolwork. The first step for students struggling in class is to put in place a programme personnalisé de réussite éducative (PPRE). The PPRE allows the teacher to put a plan of action in place, with appropriate accommodations and support, directly in the classroom. The teacher may consult with the school director and the Rased (réseaux d’aides spécialisées aux élèves en difficulté), a team of special educators and school psychologists. It is important to note that not all public schools currently have a Rased team working fulltime in their building. 

If it is suspected that the child is not keeping up with the curriculum because of a learning disability, the school will most often suggest that the child have an evaluation by an orthophoniste, the equivalent of a speech therapist. To have the evaluation reimbursed by social security, parents can talk with their child’s pediatrician, who will prescribe the evaluation. However, it is important to keep in mind that any standardized assessments should, whenever possible, be done in the child’s mother tongue. It can be difficult to find anglophone specialists whose services are reimbursed by social security, though there are several in the Paris region. SPRINT, an organization for professionals working with children with special needs, can provide resources for anglophone parents seeking information or referrals to services for their children. 

Once the school receives the assessment, which will be reviewed and approved by a médecin de l’éducation nationale, a plan d’accompagnement personnalisé (PAP) is put into place based on observations by special educators and a school psychologist. This document will define measures decided on by the teacher, director, and Rased team that will allow the child to continue following the national curriculum. A PAP is reviewed every year and has a standardized form. 

MDPH

A child with a developmental disability or severe learning difficulties that may require specialized services, in-school support, or any material or financial support may be referred to the Maison départementale des personnes handicapés (MDPH). This public agency officially recognizes a person’s disability which then allows the family access to additional services and support, both material and financial. Once an evaluation by the MDPH is requested by the family, a multidisciplinary team will meet along with the family to analyze the needs of the child using a standard form called the GEVA-sco. An enseignant référent will be assigned to the child and work with the family and school during the process and for future re-evaluations. Once the child’s diagnosis is officially recognized by the MDPH, a team will create a projet personnalisé de scolarisation (PPS), similar to an Individualized Education Program (IEP), is a legally binding document. A PPS is for children who meet the definition of a “handicap” according to article 2 of the loi de 2005 and whose dossier has been accepted by the MDPH.  Although the entire process can take over a year to complete, it can be hugely beneficial to children needing a place in an appropriate school structure, an aide in the classroom (known as an AESH), specialized equipment, transportation, or a financial stipend to pay for specialized services and therapies. Unlike in the United States and the United Kingdom where schools have on-site staff providing most therapies directly in the school, in France they are most often external and in private practices. Parents are responsible for arranging these appointments and taking their child to these therapies. 

Private schools hors contrat

If your child is in a private school hors contrat, first discuss with your child’s teacher any concerns about their learning and development. Smaller private schools may not have the resources to have a special educator on staff. However, the school director and teacher will likely refer the child to an orthophoniste. Parents can also ask the school director for references; most know of psychologists, speech therapists, and other professionals with whom they discuss questions and refer children. Finding a specialist who already has a relationship with the school staff can make the process smoother. 

If, after an assessment, the school determines that your child needs additional support during the day, the costs of these services like a classroom aide are usually at the expense of the family who hires the aide, unless they have completed the process with the MDPH. If a child is enrolled in a school that does not feel capable of effectively accommodating their needs, the school may refer the parents to the public system or a larger private school that has a special education department. However, there are organizations in the Paris region working to advocate for smaller anglophone and bilingual schools to include children with special educational needs. EKIPP advocates for and supports parents of anglophone children with diverse learning, medical, or physical needs. The Learning Collaborative provides a network of support and continuing education on child development and disabilities for teachers, as well as resources for parents and professionals. Message Paris also has many resources, workshops, meet ups, and forums for English speaking parents in and around Paris. Joining an association such as AAWE brings valuable support from fellow parents and helps you build a network of bicultural families.
You can also purchase a copy of the latest edition of the AAWE Guide to Education in France, with its glossary explaining terms and acronyms relating to special needs, schools, and education in general.

While the French system of special education is not yet as accessible and developed in every public school as in many anglophone countries, the system has a variety of supports available from assessment to intervention. No matter the age of your child, as soon as you suspect a possible delay or notice a learning difficulty it is vital to seek support from professionals. The earlier you are able to detect and intervene with appropriate supports, the better the outcomes for your child.

– Jill Clément

Further Resources

General Special Ed France
https://www.education.gouv.fr/bo/14/Hebdo31/MENE1418316C.htm?cid_bo=81597
https://cache.media.eduscol.education.fr/file/guide_pratique_directeurs_d_ecole/00/1/Guide_direction_ecole_3_accompagnement_des_eleves_429001.pdf
MDPH
https://cache.media.eduscol.education.fr/file/guide_pratique_directeurs_d_ecole/41/1/Guide_direction_ecole_3_fiche_scolarite_des_eleves_en_situation_de_handicap_360411.pdf
PMI
https://www.caf.fr/allocataires/vies-de-famille/futur-parent/naissance/handicap-les-pmi-au-soutien-des-parents

UK
https://www.gov.uk/children-with-special-educational-needs/special-educational-needs-support
US
https://sites.ed.gov/idea/?src=policy-page
Rased
https://www.education.gouv.fr/les-reseaux-d-aides-specialisees-aux-eleves-en-difficulte-rased-11312
Quel plan pour qui
http://cache.media.education.gouv.fr/file/12_Decembre/37/3/DP-Ecole-inclusive-livret-repondre-aux-besoins_373373.pdf

Jill Clément

Jill Clément has lived in France since 2011, working in international schools supporting children with special needs and training teachers on inclusive practices. She has a BS in psychology and education and an MA in child development with a focus in clinical developmental psychology. She lives in Paris with her husband and son.

The American Library in Paris’s Children’s and Teens’ Services Manager Celeste Rhoads compiled this curated selection of recommended reading for ages 0-12 with input from expert librarians around the world.

The list includes award-winners, well-loved books that have been around for decades, as well as contemporary classics whose characters and settings have already become part of the cultural lexicon. Parents and educators might be surprised to see several graphic novels included here, but these books should not be dismissed. Graphic novels are full of text that readers must decode and analyze, as well as exciting and complex plots, characters, and conflicts. They’re also engaging! If you are not yet familiar with Jerry Craft’s Newbery Medal-winning New Kid, it’s a great choice for readers age 8 and up (even for tweens and teens). In his Newbery acceptance speech Craft gives compelling examples of the importance of offering all children mirrors and windows in their reading.

All of the books listed here are available in English (including several well-known translated works). Here, you will find picture books, including Maurice Sendak’s 1963 Where the Wild Things Are, and the contemporary Wild Berries by Cree-Metis author, illustrator, and artist Julie Flett, as well as illustrated early readers (Such as Mo Willems’ We Are in a Book), and novels for school-aged children to read alone or with an adult. As with all best-of lists, there will likely be titles that surprise some readers— and half the fun of a selection of this sort is debating about what did or didn’t make it on! This list can be used as a tool for discovery, and a starting point for those of you who are unfamiliar with children’s literature, as well as the go-to spot for anyone of who would like to grab a sure hit to take home or a gift to give to the young reader in your life, but most of all, please use this list to engage with that young reader, and find out what type of book they are looking for.

  1. Actual Size: Written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins
  2. Ada Twist, Scientist: Written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
  3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Written by Lewis Carroll
  4. All the World: Written by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee
  5. Alvin Ho, Allergic to Girls, School and Other Scary Things: Written by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
  6. And Tango Makes Three: Written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole
  7. The Arrival: Written and illustrated by Shaun Tan
  8. Bark, George: Written and illustrated by Jules Feiffer
  9. Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon: Written by Steve Sheinkin
  10. A Bear Called Paddington: Written by Michael Bond, illustrated by Peggy Forthum
  11. The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners: Written and illustrated by Stan and Jan Berenstain
  12. The Big Orange Splot: Written and illustrated by Daniel Pinkwater
  13. The Borrowers: Written by Mary Norton
  14. A Chair for My Mother: Written and illustrated by Vera Williams
  15. Charlotte’s Web: Written by E.B. White
  16. The Crossover: Written by Kwame Alexander
  17. The Day the Crayons Quit: Written by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
  18. Brown Girl Dreaming: Written by Jacqueline Woodson
  19. Bunnicula: Written by Deborah and James Howe
  20. Cinderella, and Other Tales from Perrault: Written by Charles Perrault
  21. Coraline: Written by Neil Gaiman
  22. Corduroy: Written and illustrated by Don Freeman
  23. Each Kindness: Written by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
  24. Eat Your Peas: Written by Kes Gray, illustrated by Nick Sharratt
  25. El Deafo: Written and illustrated by Cece Bell
  26. Elmer: Written and illustrated by David McKee
  27. Eloise: Written by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight
  28. Esperanza Rising: Written by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  29. Extra Yarn: Written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
  30. Feathers: Written by Jacqueline Woodson
  31. Flora and Ulysses: Written by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K. G. Campbell
  32. Georgie: Written and illustrated by Robert Bright
  33. Ghost: Written by Jason Reynolds
  34. The Girl and the Wolf: Written by Katherena Vermette, illustrated by Julie Flett
  35. The Giver: Written by Lois Lowry
  36. The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials): Written by Phillip Pullman
  37. Grand Canyon: Written and illustrated by Jason Chin
  38. Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Written by the Brothers Grimm
  39. The Gruffalo: Written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
  40. Guess How Much I Love You: Written by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram
  41. Harold and the Purple Crayon: Written and illustrated by Crockett Johnson
  42. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Written by J.K. Rowling
  43. Hatchet: Written by Gary Paulsen
  44. I Will Not Ever Eat a Tomato: Written and illustrated by Lauren Child
  45. Inside Out and Back Again: Written by Thanhha Lai
  46. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat: Written and illustrated by Simms Taback
  47. Just a Minute!: Written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales
  48. Knuffle Bunny: Written and illustrated by Mo Willems
  49. Last Stop on Market Street: Written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
  50. The Little Engine That Could:  Told by Watty Piper
  51. The Little Prince: Written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  52. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Written by C.S. Lewis
  53. The Lorax: Written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss
  54. Lost and Found: Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
  55. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers: Written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein
  56. March: Book One: Written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, Illustrated by Nate Powell
  57. Merci Suarez Changes Gears: Written by Meg Medina
  58. My Happy Life: Written by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
  59. The Name Jar: Written and illustrated by Yangsook Choi
  60. Nancy Drew: The Secret of the Old Clock: Written by Carolyn Keene
  61. Neighborhood Sharks: Written and illustrated by Katherine Roy
  62. Nelson Mandela: Written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
  63. New Kid: Written and illustrated by Jerry Craft
  64. The One and Only Ivan: Written by K. A. Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao
  65. One Crazy Summer: Written by Rita Williams-Garcia
  66. The Paper Bag Princess: Written by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko
  67. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief: Written by Rick Riordan
  68. Peter Pan: Written by J.M. Barrie
  69. Peter Rabbit: Written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter
  70. Pippi Longstocking: Written by Astrid Lindgren
  71. Please, Baby, Please: Written by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
  72. Press Here: Written and illustrated by Hervé Tullet
  73. The Princess and the Pony: Written and illustrated by Kate Beaton
  74. The Princess in Black: Written by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
  75. Room on the Broom: Written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
  76. Rosie Revere, Engineer: Written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
  77. A Sick Day for Amos McGee: Written by Phillip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead
  78. Stella by Starlight: Written by Sharon M. Draper
  79. Stellaluna: Written and illustrated by Janell Cannon
  80. A Tale Dark and Grimm: Written by Adam Gidwitz
  81. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes: Written by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
  82. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing: Written by Judy Blume
  83. This is Not My Hat: Written and Illustrated by Jon Klassen
  84. The Runaway Bunny: Written by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd
  85. The Snail and the Whale: Written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
  86. The Snowy Day: Written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats
  87. This Bridge Will Not be Gray: Written by Dave Eggers, Illustrated by Tucker Nichols
  88. Toilet: How it Works: Written and illustrated by David Macaulay
  89. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs: Written by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
  90. The Velveteen Rabbit: Written by Margery Williams
  91. The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Written and illustrated by Eric Carle
  92. The Watsons Go to Birmingham: Written by Christopher Paul Curtis
  93. Weapon: Written by Steve Sheinkin
  94. We Are in a Book: Written and illustrated by Mo Willems
  95. Where the Sidewalk Ends: Written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein
  96. Where the Wild Things Are: Written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak
  97. Winnie the Pooh: Written by A.A. Milne
  98. The Witches: Written by Roald Dahl
  99. Wonder: Written by R. J. Palacio
  100. A Wrinkle in Time: Written by Madeleine L’Engle

Celeste Rhoads

Celeste Rhoads is originally from John Steinbeck’s hometown of Salinas, California, where she read on the beach, in trees, on road trips, and everywhere in between. She moved to Paris in 2005, and immediately found a home at the American Library in Paris, volunteering in the Children’s and Teens’ Services Department.

Celeste was hired as the Children’s and Teens’ Services Manager in 2010 to oversee the Library’s collections, policies, and programs for ages 0–18.

Celeste has a master’s degree in Library Science from Rutgers University, where she focused on digital libraries, and children’s literature. She enjoys connecting people of all ages with great reads—especially contemporary titles. She has served on numerous book selection committees, including the Young Adult Library Services Best Fiction for Young Adults Commitee, and Great Graphic Novels for Young Adults Committee, and she has written for the BnF’s “La Revue des Livres Pour Enfants” about American children’s literature post-Sendak.

Might a bilingual education be the best preparation for a bicultural child, whose playing field covers more than one country? Perhaps, if you are in the position to take advantage of it. The reality is that some of us aren’t.

When in Rome Do as the Romans Do

As much as we may want to, we can’t pick up and move back to our home country. What to do?

The key is trusting an educational system. Sometimes it is hard to do this, I know. In France, my kids have suffered from long school days, inconsistent quality of teaching, and teacher absenteeism, despite carefully choosing our schools. I remind myself, however, that France, as a nation, scores high. Micro-managing takes power away from those responsible for delivering a result. Trust the French educational system and let its qualified people deliver.

And Find Common Ground

When parents from two different countries hold a different view of education, perhaps the best they can hope for is to find some common ground. I remember being horrified by the inhumanity of my son’s 0/20 on a dictée (my French husband didn’t bat an eye), yet delighted that each vacation his French teacher assigned an enjoyable short novel to read. We both agreed that valorizing reading was a good thing.

Jane Mobille and her son, photo courtesy of the author.

Accept that the French education system may be different from what you experienced, yet try to see the pluses. Then, figure out how you can support your child to compensate for the system’s minuses – for example, by: providing tutoring, ensuring an environment at home conducive to studying, being available to listen to your child when they need to talk, finding other ways to build your child’s self-esteem, meeting teachers to advocate for your child, or offering your child plenty of patience and encouragement.

Do note that the worst thing that we can do for our children is to undermine them by forcing our worldview on them. A non-French worldview is of limited use when studying in a Francophone system! It is confusing and can even give our children an excuse not to engage when things get challenging, prohibiting them from reaping one of the benefits of the French educational system: learning how to survive when the going gets tough. We must support our kids as needed without bashing their school system, because it is theirs, and their identity is tied to it.

Even you can learn to work with the French school system

Our then-12-year-old boy’s French math teacher got into the habit of calling him “et demi” or “1/2” when he did his daily headcount. I asked for a meeting and began it by telling the teacher that I appreciated his dedication – he was rigorous, even collecting his students’ notebooks to give them feedback on their note taking. Then I asked him to stop calling my son “et demi” because it was destroying his confidence and making him lose face in front of his classmates. The teacher was surprised and said he liked my son and was just teasing. I said I knew that he was the kind of teacher that could build a student’s confidence, and that I hoped that he would do that for my son. And guess what? He did!

When advocating for your child, avoid generalizing. Better to offer the teacher feedback on a specific event, and if appropriate, propose a solution. 

When the French school system is failing your child

Sometimes, trust, support, and advocacy may not be enough. If your child is still struggling in a French school, should you put your child in a non-French system? After all, in France, in addition to international schools, there are German, Spanish, British, American, Montessori, and Euro schools. The decision is – of course – full of nuances. Yet you must weigh the potential benefits to your child’s well-being against the impact of taking them out of the French system, in particular if they have a French parent. Full mastery of French, your child’s future network, and the lack of a French Bac diploma are all issues to consider.

Know that within the French education system, there is choice. There are public and private schools, Catholic and other religious schools. There are international schools and bilingual schools. There are bilingual and European programs within public, semi-private, and private schools. There are after-school language schools, schools for dyslexics, boarding schools, and international exchange programs. There are general, technological, trade, sports, art, and performing arts high schools.

Might most kids, in fact, be OK in any school system?

If you raise your children in France, and you learned that your child was offered a spot to attend Lycée Louis-le-Grand or Henri IV, you would probably jump for joy at the news – regardless of your nationality. Indeed, students at these prestigious French schools are on track to secure their spot among France’s elite. What if your child benefited from a bilingual education up until that point, could they make the transition into an elite French school?

Well, many transition in just fine. I know a Franco-Brit who thrived in his public high school’s bilingual program and decided to forego his place in a British university in order to enter a Henri IV prépa – and he is thriving.

A dyslexic Franco-American student attended French Catholic primary school and benefited from years of reimbursed French language therapy. He entered a bilingual public middle school program and eventually ended up in a US college with a scholarship. A Franco-British student attended a bilingual Montessori nursery school, and then spent the next 12 years in the French Catholic and public school system. Once graduated, she headed to England for a Foundation year and more, and is flourishing.

While this evidence may be anecdotal, it begs the question: from our children’s point of view, if they receive the appropriate support, does it really matter to which system they belong? Does it really matter how you skin the cat?

How parents can make the educational system work

Children in any educational system fare according to both their natural advantages and the emotional, academic, and logistical support they receive, which can mitigate the weaknesses of the particular system. Dear parent, please be honest. How are you engaging with your child’s education? If you have a child who finds school difficult, how are you accompanying them?
Are you in denial…about any number of things? Are you focused on your career and struggling to find time to deal with your child’s challenges; or, are you unwilling or unable to deal with them? Are you resistant to reorganizing weekends and vacations in order to provide your child with the structure, rest, and extra time they may need? Are you projecting your own “a priori” upon your child? Are you unwilling to go to conflict?

A “yes” answer to any of these questions may be what is failing your child, even more than the educational system. Dear parents, our job might be the hardest one out there. And we have just 18 years to get it right. Bon courage.

Jane Mobille, PCC

Jane Mobille is a Professional Certified Coach who counts young people and families among her clientele. She and her husband have raised three bicultural children in France. They have attended semi-private bilingual school, public nursery school, Catholic primary school, and public secondary school with international sections. Two of them struggled for many years before encountering success. 

This article was previously published on the INSPIRELLE blog.