Teaching force seen as the strength

Caroline St John-Brooks

This college for young people between the ages of 12 and 16 or 17 is located in a deprived urban area of Lille in northern France. It was built for 600 pupils, but at the time of the inspection had only 350.

The school, which is in an Education Priority Zone, has an uphill task.

At the time of the inspection, one in three pupils was receiving some form of special education, nearly half were from ethnic minorities, and there were a large number of single and unemployed parents.

A high proportion of the pupils had repeated one or more years of school, and test results were well below the national average.

The inspection was carried out by a team of three national inspectors over three days.

They collected documents, observed classes and talked to the teachers who, they observed, unanimously condemned the children's parents for their lack of interest in the school.

Staff, say the inspectors, see their task as virtually impossible: a "rock of Sisyphus",was how one of them described it.

The inspection report concluded that the stability and reliability of the teaching force was the school's main strength, but judged that assessment procedures and relations with the pupils' families were particularly weak.

The inspectors noted the cultural poverty of the area, and addressed numerous recommendations to the local authorities as well as to the school.

As is common in France, much of the blame for the pupils' poor performance was laid on external factors, rather than at the door of the institution itself.

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