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Help British families with French education choices

Good careers advice can be hard to come by and students often do not know where their future lies. The Connexion discovers one option

It is the time of year when baccalauréat students have to start thinking seriously about where they want to go next for their post-school studies.

There is a huge variety of courses on offer, including apprenticeships, university degrees, private schools, or more technical qualifications, such as BTS or DUT.

The internet platform on which they have to register their choices – parcoursup.fr  – opens on December 20 and will list about 14,500 courses on offer.

Until then, students can look up information which explains the procedure and gives advice on choosing courses on the site terminales2019-2020.fr.

From mid-January to mid-March, students will have to opt for a maximum of 10 courses but can still add details if necessary for some options, such as CVs or cover letters, until the beginning of April.

Students can expect to hear from mid-May onwards if their application has been successful.

It is important to understand what all the options are and what will suit the student best.

Some may thrive better in small structured courses while others enjoy the relative freedom of university, where they may be in an amphitheatre with hundreds of other students and have to be self-motivated.

Both private and school careers advice is available but students will have to take the initiative to seek it out.

A study by Cnesco, the independent public education watchdog body, found in December 2018 that half of students said they were badly advised at school. Just one in 10 turned to school career officers and one in five used a private careers officer.

Joanne Cain, from La Trimouille, Vienne, said a private careers officer was worth every euro.

She has been living in France since 2005 with her husband Stuart and two children, Robert and Daisy, who were one and four when the family arrived.

Two weeks before Robert had to start registering his preferences for further education on the Parcoursup website, he told his parents he no longer wanted to study medicine, which had been his preferred choice.

“We had been along to an open day at the university in Poitiers,” said Mrs Cain.

“I think he suddenly realised that the first year of medical school would involve sitting in an amphitheatre with 200 other students and taking part in difficult and competitive exams in quite a harsh environment.

“He had no idea what he wanted to do, and we had no idea how to help him.”

A friend recommended a private careers adviser, called a coach d’orientation scolaire, and they made an appointment.

First, the coach saw the family together and then Robert alone. She made a character assessment and tried to find out what he was really interested in and how he liked to learn.

“She discovered he loved solving puzzles and defending people,” said Mrs Cain. “Law was one option, but Robert realised it would be too academic for him and he wanted something practical.

“Eventually he chose engineering and he is doing a DUT diploma at an institute of technology. We did not even realise this option existed before and he is loving it.”

She said the service had cost €400 but it probably saved them money in the long term, because Robert might easily have started on one course and then had to change direction later, instead of going straight into something he is enjoying.

“We also got help with the application process and an understanding of the costs involved,” said Mrs Cain.

“Without her, we don’t know what we’d have done. There must be many British families in a similar situation, not fully understanding the French system, and struggling to advise their children when we don’t know what is available to them.

“Christine Bourguinat, from TalentA in Poitiers, who we chose, speaks very good English and said that if the demand was there, she’d be prepared to do group sessions, even in schools, which would lower the price.”

Free advice is available as every collège and secondary school has a careers officer, called a PSYEN, national educational psychologist.

All pupils, with or without their parents, can make an appointment directly with the PSYEN or via staff at school, or at a Centre d’information et d’orientation (CIO), found separately from the school and in most major town centres.

Gautier Degrugillier, vice-president of APSYEN, the association of school psychologists, says PSYENs will look at all aspects of a student when they meet them, not just their school results, to help them make the right choice.

“It is a process that takes time and we would advise a first appointment at collège and a follow-up in lycée,” said Mr Degrugillier.

“It is important to get information early about the choices on offer to find what style of tuition will suit each pupil.”

Information is free and available in CIOs and on the public careers advice website – onisep.fr.

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