Options And Career Guidance
Angie Power moved to France from the UK over twenty years ago to settle in a small provincial town. Her experience as a secondary school teacher in both the English and French state school systems, in bringing up her own children abroad, and in tracing their lives at local schools and watching them develop their bilingualism has provided her with some valuable lessons to pass on to other parents.
Despite the fact that guidance on options and career paths is readily available in the form of literature which is distributed at school and in the form of organised meetings, it is seen as the parent’s role to seek actively any further information and to make the final decisions for their child.
Teachers in France are extremely respectful of the rights and freedoms of others. In the same way that they do not express views on politics or religion, they will rarely express their opinions on important decisions like options and careers unless a parent asks for it.
THE CHOICE OF LANGUAGES
All children following general education in secondary schools have to choose two foreign languages, irrespective of their grades or abilities.
In the last year of primary school, pupils are asked which modern language they hope to do the following year at collège as their first language (Langue Vivante 1 or LV1). They may have already had initiation classes and so have a good idea of what to choose, but they may opt to do another one.
At the end of their cinquième when they are 13, they opt for their second language (Langue Vivante 2 or LV2).
The question of whether to do a third language may also be raised when they are 15, just before they move to lycée.
The choice of which language is, in practice, a limited one since most schools only actually offer German, English and Spanish. It is said, however, that if a group of parents are insistent enough, they may be able to persuade the school to offer another language.
About 60% of pupils choose English as their first language and Spanish is the most popular LV2. Most parents make the decision based on which language is likely to help them get a job, and English is generally considered indispensable. There are parents, though, who push for their children to do Chinese for example since they think this will be an important factor if their children are to be employable in the commercial world.
Some parents feel that German, with its sentence structure and declension is difficult, and some that Spanish is easy for the French. Others argue that Spanish, being close to French creates confusions and English is difficult to pronounce because of its exceptions to the rule.
I have met parents who have a certain strategy in mind when they choose their child’s languages. A few parents tend to opt for German as the first language since it is considered to be a more difficult language: this choice – they argue – may put their children in a form with brighter pupils since, for the purposes of timetabling, they will be grouped together. Proviseurs have been known to foil this attempt to create an elite class by putting the pupils who do German LV1 in all forms.
DISAPPOINTMENT AFTER ALL THOSE YEARS
Given that French pupils study at least two modern languages for (at least) seven years at school, it is understandable why a good number of them feel disappointed that they do not speak more fluently. I have even heard parents say that the time would have been better spent on mastering their own language! Language teachers will argue that a foreign language is like a sport or a musical instrument that any progress depends on regular practice. They also make the point that parents are being unrealistic in their expectations since even the very best language students at school are far from being bilingual.
At collège, in 5ème pupils may usually begin Latin when they learn the basics of the language and its history, and in 3ème they may begin Greek. Since studying these subjects means supplementary hours for the pupil, parents are usually pragmatic about whether their children can manage the extra workload and weigh up the risks of their child’s overall marks plummeting. At this point in a child’s schooling, it seems that it is generally the most able pupils who choose to do Latin and Greek. However, pupils may have another opportunity to take them up when they go to lycée and even the option of a third modern language.
DECISIONS AT THE END OF COLLÈGE – WHERE TO NEXT?
From when your children enter 3ème – the last year at collège – you need to read all the brochures and information sheets sent home regarding their future. It may well be the case that they would be better suited to a more professional environment than the general one at lycée, in which case you need to investigate the appropriate career path.
From entering the final year in 3ème, a pupil’s marks in all subjects need to be carefully followed by parents. Entry into seconde générale requires a good standard in all subjects. After receiving the first term’s school report with your child’s marks over the first few months of the school year, you may well need to make appointments to see subject teachers and to ask for their advice.
Even if it seems clear that your child is suited to lycée and will follow the general programme, there will still be the need to choose from a list of enseignements de détermination and, in addition, perhaps an option facultative.
During the second term you will receive a sheet – Les intentions d’orientation – on which you are required to indicate what your child would like to do after 3ème. The team teaching your child will express their views in March/April at le conseil de classe and their definite decision is made in June at the third conseil de classe of the school year and, although parents may appeal, the final decision is made by the headteacher.
DECISIONS AT LYCÉE – WHICH BAC
Over the course of the first year at lycée – la seconde – pupils decide which bac (high school diploma) they will take. This depends on both what the pupil wants to do and the results during the year. There is the choice between three general bacs and eight technical bacs.
Redoubler, in other words to re-do la seconde, is a solution that is often chosen by pupils who have been felt to be too weak to go into a class of their chosen bac: pupils re-do la seconde in order to improve their marks, become more confident and be in a better position to enter the final two years of lycée enabling them to better study the bac of their choice.
It is during la seconde that it may become apparent that a pupil would be more suited to a professional career path (Le brevet d’études professionnelles – le BEP – or an apprenticeship, for example).
It is during the month of February of a pupil’s seconde that parents have to complete a form expressing their intentions which form the basis of a dialogue with the members of staff. In May a definite decision has to be made by parents and children, which is then discussed by the teachers who – in June at the final conseil de classe – indicate their position on the choice. A parent may make an appeal.
HOW A PARENT CAN HELP
Options and career choice is not the choice of the parent but that of the pupil. However, a parent can play a positive role as an advisor.
WHO FAMILIES CAN APPROACH FOR HELP
- Le professeur principal (the form teacher) follows your child’s progress throughout the school year and because of his or her contact with their colleagues, has a global vision of the situation.
- Le conseiller d’orientation (careers councillor) who is attached to the school will give more precise answers to questions regarding career paths.
- Make appointments to see individual subject teachers (and not just during a parent-teacher evening when time is short) to ask for their advice and opinions on your child’s strengths and weaknesses.
- See the headteacher who holds the central position in the school.
- Quiz other parents and older pupils for their advice and tips on decisions that they have made.
WHERE FAMILIES CAN FIND HELP
- Information on courses and careers can be found in the school library, Le CDI (Centre de documentations et d’informations).
- Les CIO (Centres d’informations et d’orientation). There are at least 600 of these careers information centres in France where you can get details on which courses are taught where, what qualifications you need and so on. Young people can make an appointment with a councillor who will point them in the right direction.
- Schools distribute ONISEP (Office national d’information sur les enseignements et les professions) brochures which help families explore the options available to them. For example, Après la troisième should be studied attentively by parents before pupils move on to lycée. Each year ONISEP publishes a thorough catalogue Après le bac outlining establishments of further education, diplomas available, information on professions and so on, with contact details. A regional guide to Après le bac is also available and distributed at lycée during terminale (the last year of lycée).
- Internet sites like the ONISEP site (www.onisep.fr).
- School meetings are organised to inform parents and to answer their questions.
- Des journées portes ouvertes or open days are organised for parents and pupils who want to visit their new collége or lycée. For older pupils, this is an opportunity for them to visit their future centre of learning and to meet teachers and students.
- Les salons d’information sur l’orientation are sometimes advertised in the press since they usually take place in larger towns. These exhibitions are of particular interest during the last year of lycée when the wider picture of available studies and careers paths need to be investigated.