French model of special classes at the lower secondary school level – SEGPA classes

Difficulties in teaching foreign languages – on the base of own experiences

Essay, 2010
11 Pages

Free online reading

Half-yearly substitution for German language teacher in junior classes of College (counterpart of Polish junior high school) where two of classes were the special classes so called SEGPA [1] - and the junior high school belonged to the type of school from the first priority educational zone so called ZEP[2] – brought many observations concerning possibility of language perception and students interpersonal behaviour. I would like to remark that the school head office did not offer any training for working with so called difficult young people and youngsters with slight mental retardation at age 13-14.

The first step that led towards interest in functioning of French special schools, state policy in this matter and effectiveness of such education was the desire for improvement of lessons’ conditions that slipped away out of control in the first weeks of my teaching. The goal of this article is to enlarge the knowledge about the students form SEGPA classes, in respect to foreign language teaching on the base of subject literature and own experiences.

In the first part of article I characterised briefly French schools ZEP – “ the first priority educational zone”, and its pupils in social context. Subsequently I present peculiarity of both students and SEGPA classes, I tell what qualify students for such a class and what are school program objectives. In the second practical part of article I give examples of educational difficulties that have occurred at the beginning and during my intervention in Collège Sophie Germain in Strasburg, I present also interviews with chosen students about their motivation for learning German language and their opinion about its usefulness in life.

Policy of French Ministry of Education within special schools (the first priority educational zone – so called positive discrimination)

Schools of the first priority educational zone were created in France in 1981 by Alain Savary in order to fight with school failures. The spent money and endeavours that were undertaken then (almost 30 years ago) all in the name of equal opportunity, caused discussion and breaking up with republican model, it undermined values that had been fought during the French Revolution in 1789 (almost three centuries ego) expressed in the slogan: “freedom, equality, fatherhood” . If there is discrimination, even though the focus is on its the positive aspects, we cannot talk about the equality of all citizens. The notion itself “discrimination” is understood as prosecution of individuals or social groups because of their ethnic background, class, racial, national or religious participation (Dictionary of Foreign Words, 1995) and it includes negative connotations and there is no doubt in its interpretation even though the adjective “positive” precedes it.

France modelling itself upon the Anglo-Saxon pattern, that was introduced in the 1960s in the Northern America and in the end of the 1960s in England (Education Priority Area), creates its own net of school of the first priority educational zone. Plowden’s Report (Armand & Gille, 2006) discloses the tight relation between failure at school and social class or ethnic group which a child belongs to. This kind of schools come into being mainly for children from working class and from ethnic minorities. In the ZEP programme the emphasis is put on: 1) selective enforcement of educational action according to the rule “give more to those who have less”; help for children from difficult families; 2) focus on the areas that suffer from unemployment, are in the economic stagnation where the rate of school failure is higher – territorial approach (Toulemonde, 2004, p.94-95). Out of primary schools and junior high schools (there are 8836 schools all together) schools of the first priority education constitute 9%, that is 707 schools. Balance that was carried out for the first time in 20 years after introduction of the first priority educational zone, which is funded from state budget (about milliard a year), realised defeat of this huge project. The project every year absorbs 400 millions euro more than regular schools (Armand & Gille 2006, p.17). Despite all of this, additional funding was not able to improve students’ results, the lack of adequate pilot project and insufficient management of teacher teams were also revealed. The least prepared and the least experienced teachers were burdened by work in difficult conditions of schools from the first priority educational zone (Benabou & Kramarz & Prost 2004).

The program “ambition-success” ambition-réussite was created in 2006 within the frame of the system reanimation. 249 schools, called after the name of project “the net of school success” réseaux de réussite scolaire, joined the programme. Currently the emphasis was put upon equality of opportunities and mutual cooperation of school, family and partners (Armand & Gille 2006, p.9-10).

Characteristics of student’s environment of the first priority educational zone ZEP

The ZEP schools come into being in Cité, in suburbs on the edge of cities in so called banlieu (periphery). They are somehow closed – via architecture (blocks of flats that create a circle), and have poor reputation because of gangs which are created by young people who cannot find perspective for themselves in the legally regulated reality. However, in the 1960s, when the immigration consisted of qualified workers, technician and middle class people, the housing estate, that are talked about, had their golden age; also French middle class: hospital personnel, clerks and teachers lived there because the area had a good name and urban solutions that were used there were considered as architectonic novelty. At the beginnings of the 1980s the flow away can be observed. The immigrants and Frenchs whose children finished school education moved away as a result of new tide of immigrants from Arabic countries who flooded in masses to the housing estates. Flats were turned into social places and only families who cannot leave them because of financial problems stayed there (Zanten, 2001, p. 71). This type of immigration becomes a loop that is tightened on the government’s neck which desperately tries to deal with social dissatisfaction determined by lack of work, lack of perspectives, feeling of exclusion and alienation, experience of racism, inability for assimilation with French society because of different culture and so called tradition especially that one which forbids women to go out of home and hampers any integration or language learning.

France is a multicultural country and according to statistics immigrants constitute 8% of all French population (which is 65 millions people[3]) but in reality the number is much higher.

Multiculturalism is a coexistence of cultures that is possible among others by the adherence of all minor cultures to the culture prevailing in a given country (Wenta-Mielcarek, 2009), the problem begins when the minor cultures are not interested to any extent in membership into prevailing culture.

Despite all efforts made by government and policy the ZEP schools stray from normal institutions because the fact of teaching children in immigrant area itself does not help in their integration with the rest of society and does not equalize their opportunities in respect of others. The children out of school do not usually hear the language of the country they live in. Local policy is not able to change social order inside cité which is ruled on its own regulations and where gangs set the trends (Van Zanten, 2001, p.71). Immigrants, especially Muslims, have assimilating problems, they do not fit into cultural canon of country they live in. Even students, who come for students exchange, have difficulties and besides higher education and intellect it is not easy for them to accept new culture so what about the low qualified communities which stay in their own surrounding, in cité, districts that are often called by French authorities “ small Morocco, Ankara” etc…

Children from cité feel thoroughly the parents’ inability, resignation, failure, embitterment, lack of material resources, torpor (and often alcoholism and drugs). Children form social families while observing French peers realize how much their lives diverge from lives of average French family. They want to improve their image and succumb illusive impression that by membership in a gang they will gain material strength – gangs deal mainly with theft and smuggling (guns or drugs), and physical strength – because in case of any problems with compatriots they have their “brothers” from gang. These children create their image on the basis of clothes – most of them wear clothes of well-known brands, the Lacoste rules among them. Parents cannot afford for these clothes but they willingly accept the version that the clothes are “borrowed” or that children got it as a gift. Another important element is membership to the group. Being aware that parents do not take full participation in the consumerism society and being under its pressure, they have to “cope” with it in their own way.


[1] SEGPA - Section d’enseignement général et professionnel adapté – Section of professional adapted general and vocational training. translation: K. Wenta-Mielcarek

[2] ZEP – Zone d’enseignement prioritaire – the first priority erducational zones. translation: K. Wenta-Mielcarek

[3] Immigration_en_France, in: [25-08-2009].

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French model of special classes at the lower secondary school level – SEGPA classes
Difficulties in teaching foreign languages – on the base of own experiences
University of Szczecin
Edukacja Humanistyczna
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ISBN (Book)
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529 KB
French, SEGPA, Difficulties
Quote paper
Katarzyna Wenta-Mielcarek (Author), 2010, French model of special classes at the lower secondary school level – SEGPA classes , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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