DESCRIPTION OF THE SUCCESS STORY
The main actors involved
Laura, who did not get her CEB (Certificat d’Etudes de Base - Primary school certificate) in the last year of primary school. Her parents. The management and educational team of the “1st welcoming year” of a secondary school near Liège.
When, where and how the story happened
Laura finishes her 6th (and last) year of primary school with difficulty. She has never felt at ease at school. From the first years, the teachers and the CPMS team observed a lack of maturity and difficulties in basic learning (mainly French and mathematics).
They advised her parents several times to call external services (psychologists, speech therapists…), which was done without significant results.
Invited by the headmaster, the parents were dumbstruck to hear the results did not improve despite the support received; they should maybe consider sending Laura to specialised education.
Despite her difficulties, Laura arrives in 6th year without repeating, but then the disaster strikes, she fails the CEB (test of basic learning at the end of primary school). She cannot go to the first year of secondary school unless she does a special year called “first welcoming year”. This is an intermediate year organised by only a few schools in the area in order to find a solution to gaps in basic subjects and then carry on a normal curriculum in secondary school.
The parents thus sought a school that proposed this first welcoming year and enrolled Laura there after explaining her situation to the headmaster.
Laura was then very demotivated and had since long lost her self-confidence.
The teachers who followed her in the 1st year quickly reassured her and her parents: gaps in French and mathematics are not that terrible and could be filled if Laura made efforts.
Indeed, Laura achieved good results during that year and could join a regular class the following year.
The work of the educational team did not only concern the subjects taught. It also helped Laura regain some self-confidence and follow her path.
Reasons why the story can be considered as a success
When she achieved that first welcoming year, Laura finished her secondary education without repeating. She then undertook upper studies and achieved a baccalaureate in communication with a “distinction” (an average of 14/20) still without repeating.
The starting point of the student
Following her difficulties, Laura built a very negative self-image that could have led to early school leaving at any moment of her school path. Only a few students of the welcoming class continued general education; most of them went to technical or vocational school, or left school.
Possible explanation of the success
The most important factor is probably the fact that Laura met people who believed in her in her school environment, which was not the case in primary school. Her parents however always had believed in her abilities.
Contact with peers is probably another element of success: for unknown reasons, it turned out to be much better in secondary than primary school. It might be related to personal factors such as maturity, self-confidence and openness towards others, which often goes hand in hand…
Interaction between the various actors involved
Laura’s parents sought a school that proposed a first welcoming year. There were few of them at the time while the system has become generalised with the 1st and 2nd differentiated years.
The parents then explained Laura’s situation to the headmaster. The primary school also passed on information regarding Laura’s path.
During the year, the parents regularly met the educational team to follow their daughter’ evolution.
Action of educational policy, either at local, regional or national level
The positive experiences in the welcoming classes must have encourage education policies to generalise the system in the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles.
Formerly, pupils who finished primary school without a CEB started secondary school in a welcoming class (1st B) that most of the time guided them to a 2nd vocational class.
On the 17th of December 2007, the Parliament of the French-speaking Community adopted a decree organising the differentiated first grade. What changed, concretely? There is no more “1st welcoming year” and “2nd vocational year” but a 1st and a 2nd differentiated year. The measure became effective at the beginning of term 2008, with a transition phase for the 2nd vocational year, destined to become the 2nd differentiated year in 2009.
Why a 1st differentiated grade? The ambition is to prevent students with difficulties to go too quickly to vocational education, without making a real positive choice. The aim is also to boost as many students with difficulties as possible so that in the future they join the normal secondary school path.
Transferability potential of the experience
As parents, the best we can do is to always believe in our children and help them believe in themselves. When difficulties appear, meeting educational teams to find the best solutions.
Regarding schools, as it was said earlier, there are now structures to put students in difficullty back on track at various points of their school path. It depends of course on the education policy of each country. However, the structure is not enough: motivated and dynamic educational teams are necessary to rise to the challenge with young people.