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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Moving to France - for families (From French Property News)

Dear Readers,

The Editor’s note:

The following article was first published in French Property News and has been reproduced here with all permissions from the author. This article should be regarded as a guideline only because it has not been updated since 2005. We cannot, therefore, guarantee that the information it contains is either accurate or current but a lot of it is still useful. Do not make any decisions without consulting the other articles on this blog. The following article is copyright of  the author where stated, or copyrighted to The Lycée Times under the Creative Commons licensing system where no author is named. This article may be printed for personal reference, but may not be published, copied or re-used for any other purpose without seeking permission from the author, Sue Elliot.

The Editor

The average age of couples moving to France is dropping rapidly - there are now far more '30-somethings' or '40-somethings' taking the plunge and moving lock stock and children/dogs/cats over to France than there used to be. Ten years ago the average age was probably 55, now it seems to be about 45 and dropping. Many of these families have young children or teenagers and the first question that is asked nowadays is not 'how far is the nearest bar?' but 'how far is the property from schools and what do those schools offer?'

If we take the first part of the question i.e. distance from school to home - in principle this does not pose a problem, as rural areas always provide coaches to pick up the children in out of the way places and get them into school on time. However you could find that you live a considerable distance from the village where the school is situated - this does not necessarily mean the nearest village to you as many villages will combine facilities if they do not have many children in each commune and so the 'maternelle' may be in one village and the 'primaire' in one much further away. This keeps the village schools alive but can mean long journeys. Thus you do need to find out at what time the bus would pass your door or the end of your lane - if this is 7.30 am in order to get the kids to school by 8.50 and then they do not get dropped back until, say, nearly 6.00pm then this could be too long a day for your little one and you might need to consider living closer so that they could either walk to school or only spend a short time on the bus at either end of the school day.
Up until 2 ½ or 3 there are often Crèches where for about 3 euros an hour (a lot less if you are on a low income) you can leave your child in capable hands - all staff are fully trained and registered. The alternative is a registered child minder who has to undergo regular training. However once your cherub has reached 3 then they are eligible to go into the State-run Maternelle establishments, known as TRES PETITE SECTION and MOYENNE SECTION where they can spend all or part of the day - they stay there until the age of 6 but from 5 onwards there is the Elementaire class where they start to learn to read and write.


Attendance at a nationally recognised school is compulsory (prior to this the child can stay at home if that is the parents' preference) and they are put into the first year of the Ecole Primaire, called the CP class, at 7 they go into CE 1, at 8 it's the CE2, at 9 the CM1 and at 10 it's the CM2.

Children who are finding it difficult to cope with the lessons can do one year again and this is sometimes what happens when non-French children attend school for the first time - they retake one year but all efforts are made for all children of whatever nationality, to be in the right age group by the time they reach the age of 11.

Heading For The 'Big School'
For older children - 11 onwards - who go into 'Collège' (i.e. secondary school, please note that what we call College can in fact be several different entities in France, so beware of misusing the word and ending up having a very confusing conversation!) they may sometimes stay in the same building as the 'primaire' but normally they transfer to a separate establishment, much larger and made up of children from many surrounding villages. This is often in a different town so, once again, you need to consider the distance from this for the future.
Like lots of things in France they seem to have the reverse system to us! So at Collège they start in the 6th form (sixième) and do 4 years of general studies, finishing with the 3rd form (troisième) If in the 5th year the child is showing obvious learning difficulties then it is possible to redo a year or to reorientate the child to studies suited to his ability, but this is still quite a rare occurrence apparently.
Collège education is identical throughout France, following the same curriculum, however there is a slight difference recently with regard to the choice of which modern languages the child can study. You will receive a list of local Collèges and from this will see which schools offer, for example, German as a choice, some may offer Spanish and if you feel, when they are about to leave the 'école primaire' that you prefer your child to learn a particular language and this is in a Collège that they would not normally be attending, you need to make a 'demande de dérogation' i.e. ask that your child be admitted to a different Collège and for what reason. After this first year it is no longer possible to change.

16 Years Onwards
After Collège there is the choice of either attending a 'Lycée' - and this can be either général or professionel, the difference is the type of Baccalaureat (similar to A levels but a wider choice of subjects. If you chose the professional route it's because you want to specialise at an early age in something like the hotel trade, for example) or attending a CFA (Centre de Formation d'Apprentissage) which offers practical courses for people wishing to train as builders etc. In the Lycée or the CAF they do the 2nde (seconde) and then 1st (première) years of their education. So as you can see, when they would be in their Sixth Form in the UK they are in their First Year over here!! There is often then the Terminale (i.e. last year) for those who have not finished their Bac in 2 years.
On passing the Baccalaureat the choice is whether to go on to University, find a job, or undertake a further practical training course - and there are some young French taking to the idea of the 'year out' but this is still fairly rare over here.

After 18 - The Choices
University life is very different to that in the UK - on the mainland of Europe the tendency is to go to a university that is not too far from home, so weekends with the family are possible, washing can be taken home on a regular basis and the larder cupboard stocked up by doting parents. They do not have the 'let's get as far away from the aged parents as possible so we are free to do what we wish for as long as possible' mentality that seems to be the norm in the UK. Teenagers here seem to actually like going home, even midweek sometimes if classes allow. University accommodation is not easy to find but seems in general to be better quality than many of the houses which UK students have to rent for all but their first year at Uni. It seems, however, that lecture rooms are overcrowded and facilities limited and the social life is not what UK students are used to - some British parents actually leave their older teenage children staying with friends and family when moving out here as this reduces the disruption to their education at a 'difficult' age.
Courses can be 3 or more years and the French do tend to study for a lot longer so this is another consideration when you have older children.

The Alternatives To University
There is a desperate shortage of skilled labour in France just as there is in the UK - so if your offspring show signs of being 'practical' then they can take a skills-based training course with apprenticeship options, so as to become a plumber or central heating installer, or electrician, or builder, hairdresser etc. They should find work easily afterwards within an increasingly international community.

Fitting In
All choices depend on you, your children's ability to adapt and make new friends, their wish to explore new horizons and accept feeling slightly 'different' for a while. If one asks parents who have been out here for a while, most say that their children have definitely benefited from the move, have adapted amazingly well (better than their parents quite often!) are now bilingual and proud of it, and in fact many children say they would not wish to return to the UK as they feel safer here, there is less school violence, more discipline in class and they have easily made friends.
The consensus of opinion is that from about 11 onwards it is more difficult for children to adapt, however there are so many exceptions to this rule that I personally know of that it is up to you if you bear this in mind or not.
To cite a couple of examples, Clare Foster and her husband and daughter age 12 moved to the Dordogne from Australia where they had a dream house leading straight onto the beach and a lifestyle to match. However Clare missed Europe and they decided to come to France and buy a house with a gite to give them some income whilst they practised their French and decided how to earn a living. Their daughter's only knowledge of French was the very limited vocabulary she picked up from her Mother on the flight over and she started school with a certain trepidation - apparently the first evening they all sat round the dinner table laughing as she recalled a day that had been a complete mystery to her.
One year on and she is bilingual, has a host of friends, has adapted well to the lifestyle and been able to keep up her music classes, etc., and when asked how she felt about the move said “Oh I love it, I feel so much safer both at school and outside and I would hate to go back to Australia now” … two satisfied parents! They have now finished the gîte and have bookings for several months ahead and having redecorated the house they feel they need to move to somewhere bigger - their property is on the market if there is anyone out there feels they would like to take on an up-and-running 'home with income'.
Things are not always easy - one local family with two shy girls did have a few tears and tantrums whilst they were in the tiny village school, in spite of being given special French classes by the headmaster on a Saturday and being overwhelmingly happy with life on the farm and seeing more of their parents. When they started at the 'big school' they blossomed - they were more anonymous and able to blend in better and now are bilingual and very happy indeed.
However, the ultimate success story has to be the 18 year old who, after only 2 years, came top of his Lycée in French…… his parents still have problems with day to day basics and are totally stunned by his success. They have 4 teenage children, who all only had a basic knowledge when they came here 2 years ago and now have fitted in well, including the 17 year old who is just undertaking a work placement with the local Anglo-French newspaper ... She has always dreamed of working in journalism ... Dreams can come true!

Some Basic Information

School hours:
9.00 am - 12.00am
12.00 - 13.30 lunchtime and recreation
School lunches can be provided for all children who need them - paid monthly in arrears at less than 2 euros per meal
13.30 - 16.30
All children over the age of 6 have homework
Some schools will lay on free French lessons for non-French speaking children

What To Do To Register Your Child At School
First of all, check which school your address gives you the right to send your child to. NB
There are some communes (i.e. village) which have arrangements with neighbouring communes whereby the children have a choice, but this is mostly in built-up areas or areas where the commune is very widespread. If you do find you want your child to go to a different school then you need to ask the Mairie of the village in which that school is situated if they will issue you with a Certificat d'Inscription (i.e. acceptance of your application)
So, first steps are:

The MAIRIE will need:

  1. Attestation de Propriété - i.e. some proof that you live where you say you do, either such a statement from the Notaire, supplied to you on the day you sign for your property, or an EDF (electricity) bill, etc., if you are renting
  2. Birth Certificate and Passport for the child concerned
  3. The aforementioned completed Certificat d'Inscription

The SCHOOL will need:
  1. Vaccination certificates - BCG is obligatory and they do this younger in France, so if your child does not have this you may need a quick visit to the doctor for this to be done, as well as the Booster DT+Polio
  2. A report from the child's previous school as to his ability and progress in each subject
  3. Attestation d'assurance - proof of insurance cover for:
    • (a) Accidents and injuries to the child
    • (b) Accidents and injuries committed by the child to a third party
    This can be added to the house insurance policy - make sure this is done by the first day of starting school.
  4. The school head (Directeur) needs to be informed of any health problems, medication the child needs - any medication will be kept by the school nurse or by the Directeur for use as necessary.

What About International Schools?
In the SW of France there are International Schools at Toulouse and Bordeaux. Some people ask me whether these are a better idea for their child. My response is that this can isolate a child: you either have to put them into boarding school, in which case they are cut off from you and your life, or they spend hours every day in a car. Local village or small town schools are happy places where they will make friends who they can play with and whose parents you will get to know. This is an essential part of integrating into the local society, and helping you to learn French of course! Maybe the International Schools are a good idea for teenagers who you think may find it difficult to adapt ... but in general it's the parents that have the problems, so stop worrying about the children and start learning French. When they bring their children round to play, and eat you out of house and home, you are going to need to be able to communicate with them!
Good luck, and if anyone feels unsure then why not simply do what Ray and Lorna are doing prior to moving over - we all went along for an 1 ½ hr interview with the Directeur of the school. He took us into all the classes and introduced Tom (age 7), and set everyone's mind at rest. Tom is having a 'crash' conversational French course with an 18 year old (Ray says he ought to do the same as she is very pretty, but he has to work to earn the money for the move!) When they start their Art Gallery business near to Lalinde in 2005, they feel that Tom will have been given every chance to feel at home in his new country. And Tom seems happy to practice his 'Bonjour' - especially in the sweet shop!

Author: Sue Elliot
Sue Elliott works for Immorama Aquitaine, 24140 Queyssac in the Dordogne
Tel/Fax: 0033 5 53 61 91 89
[This article was first published in French Property News and has been reproduced here with all permissions from the author]


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