It’s coming too late for my three, but there seems to be commitment from the French Education Secretary Jean-Michel Blanquer to at least have a trial run for starting the day at lycée (equivalent to sixth-form college more or less, but for three years) at 9 am rather than the current 8 am. It seems the trial will be in Paris only to begin with, and it’s the suggestion of Valérie Pécresse, who is the Regional President of Ile-de-France.
I have to confess I didn’t know we had Regional Presidents, but we do. Each of France’s regions – or super-régions as they were first known after the merging into thirteen of the previous twenty-two régions in 2016 – has a Président. Her or she is the head of the Regional Council, all of whose members are elected in the five-yearly regional elections. The Council is in charge of the regions budget, and has considerable discretionary power with the largest amounts of spending going on public transport, education, research and assistance to businesses. As Président of Ile-de-France, i.e. Paris, Ms Pécresse is in a very high-profile position.
Her reasons for wanting the change are to improve pupils’ health and their academic performance, allow them time to have a decent breakfast when they get up, and stop kids from clogging up public transport at rush hours get to school, or parents who drive their offspring to school from adding to already busy roads. I can’t help suspecting that this last one to do with public transport may prove to be the strongest motivator, since public transport is very much on the menu in Paris at the moment, where free travel for seniors and young people has just been introduced. That argument won’t carry so much weight in rural France where public transport is practically non-existent. However, hopefully improving the health and wellbeing of our teenagers will be persuasive enough on its own.
From my quick trawl on the Internet, it appears that every single study done of the subject of adolescents and sleeping patterns has shown that this age-group really needs it sleep. And just going to bed earlier won’t do it since because alongside those infamous hormonal changes comes a shift in the sleep cycle of one hour or more. Teens are out of step with the rest of us, and they physically need that lie-in. This last phase of sleep is apparently extremely beneficial, so by depriving our poor youngsters of it we’re making their lives miserable. We treat our pets better!
Our youngest, Ruadhri, who’s seventeen, has certainly struggled. He’s constantly tired. His week begins at 6.10 am on a Monday when he’s called down for breakfast. He’s half asleep and can’t eat much. Then it’s wash, dress and into the car at 6.45 for the trip to Guéret. We drive him for two reasons: one, if we put him on the bus to Guéret from its nearest stop to us at 12 km away, we’d have to be on the road at 6.20 am, which would mean getting him up at around 5.40 am. That’s a valuable half hour’s sleep lost, and an extra half hour until he gets his first proper meal of the day at midday. Also, driving him there we’re one third of the way to Guéret anyway. Secondly, Guéret’s ‘bus station’, a large area of tarmac devoid of marked lanes, platforms and safe pedestrian routes, is where Rors would have to get off this first bus and then go and queue with his school bag and suitcase for one of the tiny shuttle buses, along with several hundred other kids equally encumbered who board at lycée from Monday to Friday, to get to school. It’s disorganised chaos, and particularly bad in the dark of winter, and, in my opinion, generally totally inadequate. Rors finishes at 6 pm on a Friday, and isn’t home until around 7.15 pm. Again, we fetch him by car, and he’s getting home at least half an hour earlier than he would otherwise do. This return trip is used to run errands and do shopping in Guéret, so we make good use of the time and fuel expended. Sadly, there isn’t much you can do in the town at 7.30 in the morning! A few times I’ve trudged round the Courtille Lake before then going shopping when Leclerc opens at 8.30 am, but nothing else gets going until 9 or later. Which just goes to show how insane it is that lycée starts at 8, earlier than everything else!
I do hope this Paris trial will quickly become the norm and spread quickly across the country. France’s youth will do better at school and be happier and healthier as a result. Until now France has been dithering. Proposals for starting the school day later have been made since Sarkozy’s presidency, which ended seven years ago. Both the UK and the US have run successful experiments with starting the school day later for older teens, so it’s incomprehensible why it’s taken so long for this country to finally sit up and take notice. But at last there seems to be hope.
(Paris map pic used above is public domain free photo by Adiasz from Dreamstime.com)
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