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Pupils test new school routine

New school timetables are being tested out that give heavier classes in the mornings and sports in the afternoon

More than 100 collèges and lycées have been testing out a new timetable since September that gives pupils traditional classes in the mornings while the afternoons are dedicated to sports and cultural activities.

Promoted by education minister Luc Chatel, the project aims to cut truancy and violence by rethinking the school “rhythm” or number of hours worked in a day. Subjects that need concentration will be done in the morning, with physical or leisure topics in the afternoons.

Launching it in June with a public debate around teaching hours, Mr Chatel insisted that other countries who had adopted such time-tables had observed good results in reduction of absenteeism and violence prevention.

The Collège Fersen in Antibes was one of the four schools in the Nice academic zone that came forward to try out the new timetable, with two classes, a 6ème (11 year olds) and a 5ème (12 year olds) chosen for the experiment.

In total, the experiment is being tried on some 60 out of the 470 pupils in the collège.

Deputy head Sandra Etling said: “When we knew that the new school hours were going to be put in place, it became evident that the Collège Fersen would participate because we have had special sports sections for years.

“A quarter of our students are in sports sections and we have already arranged flexible schedules for them, so there is a know-how in this school for finishing early, doing other activities and arranging the timetable around training.

“It is also true that sports students are generally good students. So we thought, why not try it out for other students who, to start with, were not volunteers to do sports?

“The odds are that this arrangement could bring something positive for them and could lead to good achievement in class.”

Each of the two test classes is divided between a special basketball section and a normal section. In the mornings, the whole class arrives at 8.00 for their normal lessons: maths, French, history, languages, sciences etc.

Between 12.00 and 13.00, the pupils have lunch and during the afternoon they do activities of their choice.

Twice a week, half the class goes to basketball practice, while the others go to the class they signed up for: music, theatre, writing, Formula 1 model-building or racket sports.

Then the pupils come together again for the other two afternoons of music and art and the compulsory PE class. During all afternoon classes, the 6ème and 5ème experimental classes mix up. Wednesday afternoons are free.

Mrs Etling said: “There are obvious advantages, because those pupils without the arrangement would have finished lessons when their classmates went to basketball training.

“That would have been very early – about 13.00 or 14.00 – and they would have been left by themselves, whereas here they are supervised and we offer the possibility of doing activities they might not be able to do outside school.

“Insofar as sports students who have a strong motivation for other activities do well at school, there is no reason why a student who has not understood something in the morning, but can work on it in the afternoon, would not do well.”

Two other classes in the collège get flexible school hours; they are part of the swimming section who train at the local swimming pool every day from 15.00 to 17.00. The collège also has special arrangements for golf, sailing and trampoline sections.

As far as academic lessons go, children on the new hours follow the same state-imposed curriculum as children outside the experiment and are expected to reach the same achievement levels as them.

“They do not miss anything. We have left absolutely all the official programme and added the activities on top of it, but it is concentrated in the mornings,” Mrs Etling said.

Switching to the new hours for two classes did not involve serious reorganisation at Collège Fersen, but rather fitted it in what had been in place for years.

Mrs Etling said: “It is the first year we have added the other activities, but, for the sports sections, we have been arranging their timetable so they have more lessons in the morning for a long time.

“There are not any real drawbacks with only two classes, but would we be able to generalise it to all the classes, bearing in mind that we need the sports facilities every afternoon?

“It is more complicated.

“For us, it has not been a problem as we already did this before. The experiment has allowed us to obtain more time slots and better terms for the sports facilities.”

For children of 6ème, however, the move from elementary school to both a new collège and a new timetable meant that they faced quite a few adjustments, especially in becoming used to longer days.

Nevertheless, most have shown enthusiasm for their new timetable, saying it allowed them to practise activities they enjoyed instead of imposed ones. It also meant they could concentrate better for the traditional classes in the morning.

Mrs Etling said: “When we offered it to the children, we had no refusals. We told them about it at the rentrée and invited the families. No child or parents asked to leave and, while they did not choose it, they all adhered to it.”

In the music group, all the children from the younger age group expressed satisfaction with the new hours, which allowed them more freedom in choosing activities. However, older pupils from 5ème complained their schedule was too packed and that they often did not have enough time to do their homework.

The theatre pupils were very enthusiastic about their timetable, too. One girl said it was good to keep heavier subjects in the morning for better concentration and fun for later in the day, when they are more tired.

She said the afternoon activities offered them a new perspective on school and on their teachers, whom they could see in a different light

For teachers, however, the new timetable implied extra work and extra hours. Mrs Etling said: “We have chosen to work with willing teachers for the activities. We have only had to have one extra teacher to help out on the theatre classes.

“We had to find people who, on top of the basic timetable, were willing to do extra hours as part of this experiment.”

The lone music teacher, Monique Mortier, said she had to work an extra afternoon since the new arrangement was put in place. However, the positive side was she taught particularly motivated children and, thanks to the programme, the school had received some free equipment from the conseil general.

Class results for this trimester will be out soon. These, along with the regular reports to the area’s academy and the education ministry on the children’s progress, should allow preliinary conclusions to be drawn on the prospects of success for the scheme.

Collège Fersen has not decided yet whether to continue the experiment next year but will continue to offer support to young sportspeople.

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