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EDUCATION

France to launch ’emergency’ English learning plan for schools

More bilingual schools, a language voice assistant, and funding for study trips - here is how France plans to prioritise learning English in its schools.

France to launch 'emergency' English learning plan for schools
A pupil drinks some water on the first day of the new academic year at the Poulletier school in Paris on September 1, 2022. (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

As students in France head back to the classrooms for the 2022-2023 school year, Education Minister Pap Ndiaye has announced a series of plans to address shortcomings in the French education system. One of his top priorities: increasing English-language learning.

The idea that France needs to step up its English abilities is not new. In years past, France has been at the bottom of the European class in regard to its English skills. The country as a whole has been improving, in 2021 France ranked 24 out of 35 European countries, up from 28 in 2020 and 31 in 2019.

That being said, France still lags significantly behind the Scandinavian countries and falls behind its neighbours Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. 

French schools are required to teach a foreign language to students, and instruction should begin the second year of primary school. While that language does not have to be English, the goal is that by the end of middle school, students should have an A2 level in a foreign language.

Edouard Geffray, the director general of school education for France, works alongside Ndiaye. He told The Local that all French students learn some English in primary school, and the majority take English as one of their two foreign languages in secondary school. Thus, English was the “common-denominator language” to focus on for improving.

“It was the only language to test the levels of all students [in France],” explained Geffray. “The quasi-totality of French students study English, and every middle school in France offers English courses.”

Yet by the end of troisième (age 14-15), one out of two students studying English failed to reach the A2 level in the spring of 2022. The testing demonstrated the results of 800,000 students in France – representing “the majority of 14-15 year olds in France,” according to Geffray.

In response, Ndiaye announced the ’emergency plan,’ with the goal that 80 percent of students will reach the A2 level within the next three years. While English is the first focus, Geffray explained that the education ministry would like to see improvement in other foreign languages as well.

Ndiaye intends for English-language classes to take up more instruction time. Thus, the creation of bilingual schools has been encouraged, particularly in primary schools. As of 2021, approximately 238,000 students (from 1,900 schools) in France were already benefiting from “a reinforced curriculum in a foreign language” – with the vast majority of these bilingual schools being English or German. 

For schools that have already volunteered to become bilingual, Nidaye has encouraged them to bring up English language instruction time from just three hours a week to half of all total instruction time.

READ MORE: How France is (slowly) improving its English-language skills

The Paris school district has already begun to take steps in this direction. Ahead of Fall 2022, the academy increased the number of bilingual public schools from 20 to 32.

The Paris academy hopes that all arrondisements will be concerned, and that creating more bilingual schools will help decrease the decline of students in the city by making public school more attractive. Paris public bilingual schools represent just under five percent of the total 750 schools in the district.

Another requirement of the ’emergency’ plan is to have students meet ‘annual progress benchmarks’ for English from first grade through middle school – something they already have to do for French and maths courses. 

The education system also plans to create a dedicated voice assistant to aid in teaching English to primary school students. An example of one such voice assistant is ‘Captain Kelly.’ It assists the teacher in conducting English language activities to build students’ lexical and syntactic knowledge and train their comprehension and pronunciation in English.

Geffray explained that this will be made available to each local district, and it will be up to them as to whether they will purchase the device for their schools.

Intended for primary school students, the voice assistant helps children practice short and varied activities, as shown above, which were designed by English language teaching specialists and school teachers.

Finally, the French ministry of education also announced that it plans to finance more educational trips abroad for students. Geffray explained that the goal is to increase scholastic trips for students of all age groups.

These will primarily be part of the Erasmus + program, so trips abroad would be within the EU – for English-learning, that would mean more trips to Ireland. 

Geffray added that another option for students to go abroad will be during high school as part of the first year of “general and technological high school.” These students will have the ability to spend four weeks in Europe that would be credited within the baccalaureate. 

France continues to face a teacher shortage, particularly with respect to foreign language instruction. For English-language instruction specifically, French schools have struggled to find English teachers since Brexit

Member comments

  1. This is very interesting.
    Here is an idea! There are thousands of us native Brits living in France. Why doesn’t the French Government ask us to partner with a local French family who have school age children, and share our English skills? There is a direct quid pro quo too. It would help many of us improve our French!

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CRIME

Rape case against France’s interior minister is dropped

The Paris appeals court on Tuesday confirmed the dropping of a rape case against Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, although his accuser said she would keep fighting to have it heard.

Rape case against France's interior minister is dropped

Chief prosecutor Remy Heitz said the court had confirmed the abandonment of the case, originating from a 2017 complaint by Sophie Patterson-Spatz that Darmanin raped her in 2009.

Darmanin, 40, is high-flying figure on the right of President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government who frequently talks tough on fighting illegal immigration and crime.

His appointment as Interior Minister – the nominal head of the police and judicial services – while under investigation for rape prompted furious protests from feminist groups when it was announced in 2020. 

“For the fifth time in almost six years, the justice system has found that no objectionable act can be imputed to Gérald Darmanin,” his lawyers Pierre-Olivier Sur and Mathias Chichportich said, adding that the minister “will make no further comment”.

“What a surprise,” Patterson-Spatz’s lawyer Elodie Tuaillon-Hibon wrote on Twitter, adding that her client would take her case to France’s top court, the Court of Cassation, and the European Court of Human Rights if she failed there.

Patterson-Spatz and her lawyers say Darmanin extorted sex from the plaintiff in exchange for intervening in a case against her when he worked in the legal service of the conservative UMP party – since renamed to Les Républicains.

Darmanin acknowledges having sex with Patterson-Spatz, but says it was consensual.

In 2021 an investigating magistrate said the case should be dropped, finding that Patterson-Spatz’s “sincerity… could not be doubted” but that she had “deliberately chosen to have sex with (Darmanin) in hopes of having her criminal case retried”.

“The law cannot be mixed up with morality,” the magistrate added, saying the plaintiff was “consenting in the eyes of the law”.

A second rape investigation against Darmanin, on suspicion he extorted sex from a woman in exchange for a job and an apartment, was dropped in 2018.

In his post since July 2020, Darmanin has sought to shore up relations with the police and also played a key role in talks with British counterparts seeking to limit the crossings of small boats across the Channel.

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