“Mum, I think they’re going to make me stay in the same class next year ...”
And young Barry doesn’t look too happy about it. Along with four in a hundred other French school pupils when he returns to the classroom after the summer holidays he won’t move up a grade but stay at the same level while most of his friends move up.
"The same work all over again"
This is what’s known as redoublement and to find out more about it I spoke to my friend and neighbour Yvette who’s a senior teacher in a collège (junior high school): “This is a tradition in the French school system and although it’s widely contested it’s actually been extended recently. What it means is that teachers can decide towards the end of an academic year that a pupil shouldn’t move up to the next grade but needs to repeat the year. The idea is that by doing the same work all over again the pupil will improve his results.”
Do parents have any say in this decision? “Of course. They can discuss the matter with the teachers and this is useful to both sides. They may be able to help the teachers understand why the pupil is not doing well and the parents can be told in detail why repeating the year seems advisable. A word to parents, by the way: it doesn’t help to be aggressive. Stay calm and listen and then put whatever points you think are relevant. Never forget that most teachers care about what’s in the youngster’s best interests. If after a discussion you still disagree with the school’s decision you can appeal to a special commission though they can be very tough in my experience.”
"But does redoublement work?"
That’s hard to say. It’s another example, you know, of l’exception française. Most countries don’t have such a system and their educational outcomes don’t seem any worse for it, I’ve read. The downside can be the impact on the pupil psychologically: it can affect self-esteem and then there’s the exclusion from a familiar group of copains and the problem of integrating with new and younger classmates who won’t always be kind. Here again a word to parents: your child may take the repeating of the year very hard and you should be careful not to make things worse. Don’t be angry or obviously worried. Make sure the summer is a happy time and discuss the coming year as something positive.”
"Make the best of it"
And can it be positive? “Certainly. For some pupils it’s a wake-up call and they start working more seriously. In some cases I’ve noticed that the boy or girl who’s repeating the year seems determined to show his or her new classmates that they’re wrong to think they’ve inherited a dumbo. In my school, by the way, I’ve not had much experience with foreign pupils but when they’re quite new to France they often repeat a year until their knowledge of the language improves. That’s not normally resented by pupils or parents.”
And is the system likely to continue? “Teachers and educationists have been arguing about it for years. It won’t change tomorrow, that’s for sure. The thing to do is to make the best of it – and I’ll tell you this: I’ve known quite a number of redoublants who’ve gone on to great success in higher education and their careers. Example: a certain Nicolas Sarkozy.”