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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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EDUCATION

Fees to class sizes – what you need to know about private schools in France

In many countries, private schools are the preserve of the wealthy elite, but France has a wide network of private schools that are well within the financial reach of ordinary families - James Harrington explains more.

Fees to class sizes - what you need to know about private schools in France

The education system in France has its problems – at the start of the new school year some 4,000 teaching posts were unfilled and the government has launched an ‘emergency plan’ for English language lessons – but there’s no doubting there are wonderful schools and wonderful teachers making every effort to ensure children from aged three to 18 get the education they deserve.

However the country also has a sizeable network of private schools and around 15 percent of French children go to a private school. While some are undoubtedly expensive and elite, others are surprisingly affordable and provide an extra option for parents when deciding on  a school for their children.

Here’s what you need to know; 

Different types

There are two types of private school – sous contrat and hors contrat.

Sous contrat schools, of which there are about 7,500 in France, are part-funded by the state – teachers are paid by the Department of Education, for example – but also charge fees. France’s numerous Catholic schools, or regional language schools are usually sous contrat.

Hors contrat schools – which number about 2,500 – must still meet general education requirements but can choose their teaching methods and have no state funding. Private international schools found in most big cities, such as the American School of Paris, are hors contrat, but still follow mainstream teaching methods.

For comparison, there are around 60,000 state schools in France.

Prices

Yes, there are expensive private schools in France. Sending your child to the exclusive Ecole des Roches Private Boarding School, for example, will set you back more than €12,000 a term – not quite Eton or Winchester-level fees, but still well out of the reach of a large portion of the population. But, like Eton and Winchester, they’re not the norm. 

On average, fees for a day pupil – one who goes home at the end of the school day, rather than one who boards at the school – are in the region of around €2,250 a year. Meals are not included, and are generally charged at a slightly higher daily price than at state schools.

Financial aid, including scholarships, may be available for less well-off families.

READ ALSO French school canteens to cut cheese course as inflation bites

Boarding and hours

A large number of state and private schools offer Monday-Thursday boarding. It is not uncommon for pupils who excel at certain subjects or sports to attend collèges or lycées some distance from home, and board during the week.

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Daily school hours, meanwhile, are broadly similar, with children generally starting their school day at around 8am and finishing soon after 4pm on school days. Collège and lycée pupils also go into school on Wednesday mornings, and some may have classes on a Saturday, too.

Popularity

Smaller class sizes and a reputation for “better” results means that private schools are increasingly popular. The number of French private schools has increased steadily over the last decade, and now 15-20 percent of pupils go to a private establishment of some form. 

On the whole, private schools tend to do better in results league tables – perhaps in part because of the additional investment from parents, but also because class sizes tend to be smaller, which allows for more one-to-one education. Smaller class sizes and more individual attention mean they may also be a better option for children who struggle in big schools.

READ ALSO What kind of school in France is best for my kids?

Qualifications

State schools and sous contrat schools teach to the national curriculum, which leads, in turn, to brevet and baccalaureate qualifications.

In contrast, some hors contrat private schools offer different qualifications, including American High School Diplomas and SATs, British GCSEs and A-Levels, or the international baccalaureate.

Religion

Although many sous contrat schools are Catholic, most readily accept non-Catholic children and are not allowed to indoctrinate the Catholic faith. Hors contrat schools, on the other hand, may include a religious element to their teaching.

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