smacking debate reopens

A man from Limoges has been fined €500 for smacking his nine-year-old son because the boy had failed to greet him with a bonjour over the previous few days.

The father, apparently unrepentant, claimed he was victim of "a current fashion that does not want us to discipline children".

The prosecutor, however, said that inflicting physical punishment on children belonged to a "bygone era".

driving lessons bazar

French driving schools have incomprehensible rates and the quality and price of lessons varies enormously.

They also fail to display their costs clearly leading to would-be learner drivers being pressurised to sign up once they have gone inside to ask about prices, according to a survey of nearly 500 driving schools by the consumer organisation Association nationale de défense des consommateurs et usagers (CLCV).

the birth diaries, Victoria Jelinek

‘I like children – fried.’ W.C. Fields

It may be difficult to get a place in the crèche for your child, but it’s even harder to find an assistante maternelle, literally translated as a mother’s assistant, or nanny.

The way the assistante maternelle system works is that she can take from one to three children between the ages of one and three into her home for childcare.

school sexism?

image from the Telegraph

Girls are chosen to look after the class if the teacher is briefly absent because they are 'more responsible'.

Boys get preferential treatment from teachers because they 'struggle more'.

Boys are marked in terms of cognitive ability whereas girls are marked on the basis of their positive attitude.

These are just a few of the conclusions in a report by l'inspection générale de l'éducation nationale which says that schools are still enforcing sexual stereotypes leading to inequality between the sexes in education.

the birth diaries, Victoria Jelinek

Abstainer: a weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure. Ambrose Bierce

I thought it’d be too scary to be left alone with my baby boy when my husband went back to work in the mountains for the first time, so my best friend from London came over. Over the course of her visit, she’s encouraged me to be myself and to enjoy the baby, relax, and not to hover over him! 

Secular Charter in force

Spotted this charter yet? La chartre de la laïcité is, from this month, compulsory in all schools where it must be displayed prominently.
Education minister Vincent Peillon says that the poster, which  explains that the state and religion are separate entities, will instil "the values of the Republic” into the country’s students.
There are 15 statements on the poster, including, for example, the one that says that secularism ensures freedom of thought, and that people can believe or not believe, with individuals entitled to the free expression of their beliefs.

Education and religion were formally separated in France in 1905. Read more about the separation of church and state in France here.

Get a better look at the school charter here (scroll down)

2013 - 14 school dates

Click on this link for a downloadable calendar of holiday dates 2013-14:

Free maths coaching

Khan Academy maths has arrived in France with the launch this month of the free online video-based teaching system that has proved hugely successful in America where it is used both at home and in schools.

The French version, released in partnership with the Bibliothèque sans Frontiers open library and funded by Foundation Orange, offers 10-minute maths lessons whereby children can revise what they have learned in class.

This is great news in a country where parents spend over €2 billion a year on after school tutoring, more than most other European countries.

the birth diaries, Victoria Jelinek

It’s the friends you can call up at 4am that matter. Marlene Dietrich

My close friend of 20 years has come over from London to help me with the baby while my husband is off to work as an accompagnateur en montagne.
E was a highly paid nanny for many years, working for an illustrious broadcaster and a journalist, respectively, before moving to another profession. 
Shortly after arriving at my door via transfer from Geneva, she exclaimed that she’d expected me to look like the crazy cat woman from The Simpsons, but was relieved to discover me showered, dressed, and composed. 

Fears for children

The biggest worry of almost all people in France is the pressures facing their children.

A staggering 91% said that their chief concern is the increasingly dangerous world of drink, drugs, bullying and playground violence that their children face on a daily basis.

Other concerns highlighted in the survey carried out for Observatoire Axa are: not enough hours in the day, time spent on household tasks, their own futures, dependence – either their own or the dependence of other family members – and health.

Half the country is wondering wether they would be better off abroad, with this figure rising to nearly 70% among the under-30s.

Interestingly, internet fears centre not on children's access to pornography but on the security of personal data online, which 82% say is a real concern.

aide à la rentrée 2013

The aide à la rentrée, or ARS (Allocation de Rentrée Scolaire) enjoys an increase in line with inflation this summer meaning children aged 6 to 10 years will get €360, 11 to 14 year olds €380 and €393 for 15 to 18 year olds.
This money is to help you with the cost of equipping your child for the coming school year.
So long as you submit your tax declarations in France, you don't need to do anything to receive this money which will be paid automatically into your bank account towards the end of this month.
But remember, if your child turns 16 during the coming academic year, or is already 16, you won't get the money until after the start of term and after you have sent an attestation de scolarité to your local CAF. Your child should bring this attestation home during the first few days of term, if not, ask at the school secretariat.
Your entitlement to this grant is based on your 2011 income, as declared on your 2012 tax returns. 
To find out more about education grants see

the birth diaries, Victoria Jelinek

“Courage conquers all things: it even gives strength to the body.” Ovid

I’m really enjoying my brother and sister-in-law’s (belle-sœur) visit, even as I must admit, it makes both my husband and me a bit nervous to watch my sister-in-law bounce our baby because his neck jostles so much we’re afraid she’ll break it, but trusted assistance at this time is so appreciated. 

Thank the fates that they were here, too, when my left breast dried up. 

July 5: results!

and congratulations (and commiserations) to all those who get their bac results today.

School's Out - for ever! (for terminales)

WELL done to all those terminales who have just finished their bac. Fingers crossed for July5!

Hopefully no followers of this site had the same idea as one mother in Paris who put on a load of makeup and a pair of low-slung jeans and sat one of her 19 year old daughter's exams.

But an eagle-eyed invigilator spotted that she was not the same person who had sat the Monday philosophy exam and when she had finished her paper police were waiting to take her to the 10th arrondissement commissariat.

She is now facing fraud charges and her daughter risks being banned from official exams for up to five years.

The reason the mother did not arouse suspicion when she arrived is that people of all ages take the bac, including 91-year old Marcel from Dijon who this year became the oldest person to do his bac, beating the previous record held by  87-year-old René Buffière.

bac results - and the épreuves de rattrapage

Just days to go now so good luck to all our bac candidates!
The results are out on July 5 and if you get 10/20 or more, congratulations, you have your bac!
If you get between 8-10 out of 20, however, you still have a second chance to get your bac now rather than having to repeat a year: the épreuves de rattrapage (also known as the épreuves du 2nd groupe).

the birth diaries by Victoria Jelinek

‘So live that you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.’ Will Rogers 

I had been a bit confused when I was only prescribed the midwife (sage-femme) and physiotherapy at the hospital after my son’s birth but now I’ve discovered that my regular GP will be my baby’s doctor. I figured I would get a paediatrician assigned, but it turns out there aren’t many to spare in France.

flying the flag

Now here's an initiative that's going to improve school standards.
Gathered to discuss the new education bill, senators have voted to make flying the French flag over school buildings compulsory.

Off to the beach?

Summer (surely?) is on the way and the European Environment Agency (EEA) has collected samples for their their pre-season analysis of bathing water quality across Europe.

French beaches do well, with 87.1% of coastal bathing water reaching mandatory safe levels (up 1.4% on the previous year) although inland bathing safety is slightly down on the previous year but still at 87%.

Overall, only 2.6% - 34 bathing spots - fail European tests, which check for certain types of bacteria that could indicate the presence of pollution
from sewerage or livestock waste.

Go to the EEA's site to check the quality of your own favourite bathing spot here

Why French children don't have ADHD

Here's an interesting piece from Psychology Today in which Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D, argues that parents' stricter discipline and 'boundary setting' in France leads to far fewer cases of ADHD than in the States.
She also points out the difference in treatments with the States going down the pharmaceutical/medication route whereas French clinicians examine the social and psychological causes underlying the disorder.

the birth diaries (3) by Victoria Jelinek

“I learn by going where I have to go.” Theodore Roethke

I ran into a woman at the hospital whom I’d met in a café last summer. It turns out her husband is a friend of my husband’s. She suffered pre-eclampsia with her baby, who is, consequently, down the hall in urgent care. I went to look at her new daughter through the window – she’s tiny, and my new friend says that she’s not been able to hold her yet, as she is so vulnerable and must stay inside the oxygen tent. Apparently, however, the little girl is developing and will eventually be fine. I told her that’s great, as we’ll be able to have play dates with our new babies. Makes me realise that having a little jaundice is not a big problem.
After vacillating the last few days, the doctors told me that we’d be able to go home from the hospital. I involuntarily clapped my hands and cried with joy at this news. I am, however, to seat Sebastian naked in the window every day for a ½ hour as you might a plant, and the rest of the jaundice will consequently go away in a few weeks.

school dinners

The quality of school dinners is up since guidelines on starchy foods, dairy products and vegetables were introduced in 2011.

According to a survey of 600 school cantines by the consumer grop UFC-Que Choisir, more kitchens are complying with nutritional rules although there is still concern about the increase in junk food on school menus.

Autism Awareness

It looks as if France is finally dragging its awareness and treatment of autism into the 21st Century with the announcement this week that new measures are to be introduced from next year to detect autism earlier and a move away from the use of psychoanalysis to treat the disorder to a more behavioural-based treatment.

The Birth Diaries (2) by Victoria Jelinek

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Mark Twain

Since having my baby boy I’ve been in the hospital for 3 days. My C-section wound is healing, and I’m shuffling around. They do NOT let patients be lazy here in France, that’s for sure. They had me up and about a couple of days after I gave birth, forcing me to use the toilet and take walks up and down the hall.

More English at French universities?

Regalia of l'Académie Française

In a bid to attract foreign students, universities all over the world teach courses in English these days (here) and France wants to follow suit.
But proposals to offer more teaching in English have caused outrage among defenders of the French language, including, unsurprisingly, the Académie Française which says that this would "harm the status of the French language in Universities".

the birth diaries, Victoria Jelinek

“A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.” Stendhal

I had my baby. His name is Sebastian Leo and he weighed 4 kilos. He’s healthy (passed some post birth test with flying colours which measures and grades signs of health, such as number of fingers, toes, lungs, breathing, organ functions, on a scale of 1-10). 

For my caesarean, they wheeled me on a gurney through a maze of hospital halls and left me outside the operating theatre for a bit. Then I went in, and nurses spoke to me from above as I lay on my back, like a David Lee Roth video, which was disorienting, especially as everyone spoke French and I was having trouble concentrating. 

ban on smoking in car

The French government is to consider banning smoking in cars when children are present and is also debating banning smoking in play areas in public parks.

The proposed law has been put forward by socialist senator Yannik Vaugrenard who is backed by anti smoking groups who successfully lobbied for a ban on smoking in enclosed public places in 2006.

The initiative follows a recent study published in the Tobacco Control Journal which says that smoking in cars exposes passengers to three time the toxin levels considered safe by the World Health Organisation and that opening the car windows makes no difference.

Anti-smoking group Droits des non-fumeurs admits a ban may prove difficult to enforce and recommends a publicity campaign to remind parents of the dangers.

CAF cuts

The French government is taking a leaf out of David Cameron's book and looking to cut child benefits in order to reduce the welfare deficit.

The CAF (Caisses d'Allocations Familiales) needs to make €2.2billion worth of saving to balance its books and the shortfall is expected to rise to some €1.7 over the next three years.

free contraception for under 18s

Abortion and contraception for minors are to be free from the end of this month. 
Health minister Marisol Touraine last week announced that abortion will be 100% reimbursed for all women from March 31 and contraception free for girls aged between 15 and 18.

French baby wipes warning

The French consumers' organisation 60 Millions de Consommateurs has issued a list of baby wipes that it advises parents to avoid using.

These are wipes containing the chemical phenoxyethanol which could be dangerous to children under three years old.

Pros and cons of a French education

Expat parents bringing up children in France are pretty united in what they like and dislike about the French education system. Discipline and cantine lunches rate high in our estimation but the rigidity of the curriculum, lack of parent-teacher communication, provision for special needs children and arts subjects are areas we would like to see improved, according to a survey by English tutorials provider Blackhen Education. 

Summer holiday confusion continues

Government plans to shorten the long summer holidays have been thrown into confusion since Education Minister Vincent Peillon  (pictured) announced on television that he wants to move from a 36 week to a 38 week school year only for the Prime Minister's office to claim that this 'was not on the timetable'.

Peillon, who believes that six weeks is long enough for a summer holiday, wants to move towards a cycle of seven week terms broken by two week holidays. He also supports the zoning of the summer holidays by region - as is already the case for other school holidays.

His priority, however, is to lengthen the school week, a move broadly supported by teachers and parents but opposed by teaching unions.

Read more on this subject here
and here

free kids' ferry travel

To mark National Ferry Fortnight, Brittany Ferries is launching a special offer for families travelling this summer - including throughout the school holidays. On all 4 cruise-ferry routes between the UK and France up to 2 children in a car can travel free. They are also throwing in a free day cabin and waiving the surcharge for a rear bike rack.

The special offer can be booked during National Ferry Fortnight from 2nd to 16th March for travel any time during 2013. Visit or call 0871 244 1400 quoting account number 614193.

Certain exclusions apply including overnight sailings, high speed sailings, Saturday afternoon sailings ex France during August and foot passenger fares.

the Pregnancy Diaries: the Birth. by Victoria Jelinek

“Don’t tell your kids you had an easy birth or they won’t respect you. For years I used to wake up my daughter and say, “Melissa, you ripped me to shreds. Now go back to sleep.” Joan Rivers

I’m actually in the hospital room in Sallanches waiting for them to take me to the operating theatre for my C-section. My husband and I got to the hospital at 6am with the operation scheduled for 8:30.

Protests over longer school days

Francois Hollande's plans to introduce Wednesday morning school for primary school pupils and pad out the other days with longer lunch breaks or study periods continue to provoke protest.
Read this article from the New York Times

those myths about bilingualism

Despite the wealth of research showing the advantages of being bilingual and the scientific data disproving the downsides, myths about the "dangers" of bringing up a bilingual child linger on...

the pregnancy diaries, Victoria Jelinek

If pregnancy were a book they would cut the last two chapters. Nora Ephron

I’m overwhelmed and exhausted and I’ve not even had the tyke yet! A caesarean is planned for me because the baby looks as though he’ll be too big (and at this point, he’s sideways). 
Makes me chuckle, ‘cause ‘trop grand’ in French (4kg) is not uncommon in the UK and America. As my brother said, “We throw that size back in the water!” 

question for Dr Ruth

My daughter is 14, is in 4ème at collège. I am not sure if she is just being a teenager or if there is a more serious issue. She has recently had a nightmare where she woke up crying saying there were voices in her head but could not say what the voices were. 

She also gets these voices when she is alone in quiet places, e.g. if she is in her room with no music on. I ask her not to have tv or music on when doing homework but she is frightened that if she does not have background noise the voices will come. We were recently in the UK and it happened there and has happened again since being back.

Deadlines for university accommodation and grants

Terminales who plan to go to university in France this autumn can now apply for student grants and accommodation. Completed dossiers must be in by April 30 so it's a good idea to start the process as soon as possible

Victoria Jelinek: the pregnancy diaries

Be the change you wish to see in the world.  Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
One of the reasons I was reluctant to have a child was because I worried about the state of the world. My husband told me these worries were a rationalisation for my greater concerns like my not wanting to forfeit naps. 
He argued that negative global events are precisely the reason that thoughtful individuals should have children. 

Toddler tied to chair by teacher

A teacher in Narbonne has been accused of tying a three-year-old to his chair as a punishment for being 'silly and restless' according to Le Parisien newspaper.
The child's mother was made aware of the incident by the parents of another child who told them what had happened. According to the mother's account, the teacher went ahead even though the boy was crying and begging her not to.
However the teacher, a supply teacher with twenty years experience, denies the incident and says she only threatened the child. Another teacher has backed her up.
Nevertheless, the teacher has been withdrawn from the school while police and education authorities investigate. The Narbonne public prosecutor’s office says it is taking the allegation extremely seriously.

bac & brevet dates 2013

Horrible to think about it but June will arrive all too fast for troisièmes, premières and secondes sitting exams this summer. Maybe seeing the dates in print will help concentrate the mind?
Bac and brevet dates are now out:
click here for bac dates
and here for brevet

Schools should also have fixed the dates for the bacs and brevets blancs (mocks) by now.

UCAS deadline

The deadline is fast approaching for terminales hoping to go to UK universities either this year or next (following a gap year). UCAS applications need to be in by 15 January - next Tuesday.