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Child comes first in public/private school debate

When I arrived in France with my young children, one of the things that made me happiest was the fact I would be able to send them to school for free, in a strong educational system that had a clear curriculum and well-trained teachers.

25 October 2017
By Jessica Knipe

The local public school is a charming place with plenty of grass to run around on and fantastic teachers who were forthcoming with answers to my worried-parent questions. And so off my son went to public maternelle, and we were championing a great system.

By the end of the first week, no less than SEVEN adult assistants had joined his class to help the teacher manage the more unruly children, those who sadly had quite severe behavioural problems.

Within a month I had seen a father kick his daughter’s bottom because she was not walking fast enough, my three-year-old had come back swearing like a sailor, and at least two parents found the school gate a good place to light up a joint.

I powered through, telling myself that I was being a snob, and that the education bit was the important thing. And the teacher was genuinely amazing.

But after a year of trying to be a good citizen, I gave in and put my son in the local private school, where he was joined by many of his public classmates.

But every time I mention it around me, I receive grief. First my extended family, who tell me regularly “of course, it’s good to be rich”.

I have stopped trying to show the coffers are more empty than full, but mostly they seem to forget French private schools are heavily state subsidised. A month at a private school in my town is €31 – about 40 times less than one in the UK.

Hardly breaking the bank.

Then there is ‘private school is for kids who have behaved so badly they get thrown out of the public system’. I have only witnessed it once in our school, and the parents were swiftly asked in to put matters right.

Parents of ‘problem children’ often rely solely on school to educate their children not only on the subject of mathematics and geography, but also in manners and good citizenship. Education starts at home, and it is often not the child’s fault.

Perhaps paying for private school motivates parents to take a more active part in their success; like paying for a gym.

Unlike public school; where I heard a mum tell her child that if they behaved well they could take a sick day off school the next day. As the child misbehaved just down the road, she said “watch out, or I’ll send you to school tomorrow”.

Clearly she did not see the point of education; perhaps if she had paid for it she would have wanted her money’s worth.

Obviously, each town has a different educational landscape. Especially in France. In some towns, the private school will be as good, no better or no worse, than the public school. In others, it may be poorer.

But parents have the right to find their comfort zone and to do what they think is right.

I am happy we tried public, but a lot needs to be done there to get parents more involved in their child’s education.

Until my own public school has a better atmosphere then I will bear the criticism and put my beliefs first. Civic and moral rectitude have their place, but not at the detriment of your child’s education. 

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