Are French pupils really among the most unruly in the world?

The Local France
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Are French pupils really among the most unruly in the world?
Photo: AFP

French schools have a reputation for instilling strict discipline in pupils, using the "sit down, shut up" method as one education critic called it, but a new report has claimed les adolescents francais are among the most undisciplined in the world. Could that be true?


A new report by the Federation of the Board of Students' Parents (FCPE), based on results of the most recent Pisa rankings, has raised the issue of why French pupils and teachers are so far behind when it comes to discipline. 
While the Pisa report from 2015 saw France finished around the middle of the pack in terms of knowledge and skills, France's 15-year-olds didn't fare very well in the "disciplinary climate". 
Pupils were quizzed on things like the level of classroom noise, the regularity of disruptions, how often classes started late, and whether the teachers were prepared. 
Pisa then ranked the 72 participating countries on a scale from -2 (the worst) to 2 (the best). 
Japan topped the list, followed by Korea, but France didn't make an appearance until second last, only ahead of Tunisia.
"France is the country where this climate has deteriorated the most," wrote the author of Thursday's report, Denis Meuret. 
"The data we studied showed a steady decline in discipline since 2000," he added.
The table below shows how France has recorded progressively lower results from the zero average. The bottom row shows how many OECD countries performed worse than France, with the last two boxes showing France at the bottom of the OECD pack. 
Meuret noted that while good discipline often goes hand in hand with good results, this wasn't always true - with Kazakhstan reporting excellent discipline but atrocious results, or in Finland where discipline was low but scores were high. 

Or indeed in France, where discipline levels were shockingly low but the country finished 27th out of 72 countries academically. 
The report also tried to explain why France was slipping, pointing to the fact that the country saw the biggest gap between discipline scores when it came to advantaged schools and those that were disadvantaged. 
It noted that there was no "significant" difference in discipline between schools in urban and rural areas.
The report might come as a surprise to foreign parents with kids in French schools.
Aussie mum Bree Barclay, who has experienced the French school systel first hand wrote in a blog post for The Local: "Discipline is a thing and French teachers are unafraid to dish it out. Don't be surprised to see your child sitting in a corner as punishment for disobedience or disruptive behaviour.
And writing a critique for The Local the author and and specialist on the French education system Peter Gumble said: "For foreigners, one of the most striking aspects of the French school system is its sheer nastiness. Nursery schools are where you learn to sit down and shut up. 
"Being creative is frowned upon. Making mistakes is unforgivable. The notion of positive reinforcement-that children will do better if they are encouraged-is long-established elsewhere but seems largely unknown here. Of course there are exceptions: some teachers are nurturing and very good."
So why are some French schools "undisciplined"? 
Just as the 2015 Pisa report surveyed French pupils, it also quizzed principals about the "disciplinary climate" and the results weren't impressive either.
Indeed, according to the responses of the principals, 46 percent of French classes are affected by pupil truancy, 18 percent of schools are affected by pupils lacking respect for teachers, and 25 percent are affected by pupils using alcohol and drugs.
The same principals didn't paint a pretty picture of teachers. 
Their responses suggested that 28 percent of French schools were affected by teachers not meeting students' needs, 22 percent were affected by teacher absenteeism, 50 percent affected by staff resisting change, 27 percent by teachers being too strict, and 20 percent by teachers not being prepared for class. 
So what's the solution? Is it the teachers, parents, or pupils at fault?
According to report author Denis Meuret, there's only one way to find out. 
"If we can't get to the bottom of the origin of (the lack of discipline) then we can only suggest that pupils, parents, and teachers discuss it together," he wrote. 


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