A unique aspect of the French school system is that all children have access to Maternelle education before Elementary school, when compulsory schooling begins. Although it is optional, nine out of ten children attend Maternelle usually from the age of three.
Maternelle is not a preschool or a childcare centre, but a genuine school where all teaching is based on French educational programs. The children learn to socialise and develop independence, knowledge and skills and also study French, English or other languages.
The Maternelle is divided into three levels: Petite Section, Moyenne Section, Grande Section, according to age:
- La Petite Section de Maternelle, or PS (3 years old)
- La Moyenne Section de Maternelle, or MS (4 years old)
- La Grande Section de Maternelle, or GS (5 years old)
At Lycée Condorcet Sydney, children who are aged 2.5 years are enrolled in the Petite Section of Maternelle on the condition that they turn 3 years prior to the 31st December. Another mandatory condition of enrolment is that all children must be toilet trained.
Maternelle differs from other programs available to children aged 3-5 years in Australia because it has a structured educational purpose as well as an official curriculum as mandated by the French Ministry of Education. Its objective is to inspire children to go to school to learn, grow and assert their personality and as such, it is an essential step towards the students' future academic success.
Given the Maternelle’s unique status and structure, it does not fall under any State or Federal legislation in Australia. However, as a NSW registered school of a prescribed kind, the Maternelle operates as part of the school as a whole. Moreover, the registration requirements of the AEFE also demand that the Maternelle operates as part of the school, adopting whole school policies and procedures.
Maternelle children attend 5 days per week during term time. The curriculum sees the children working towards Early Stage 1 outcomes of the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) syllabus in all Key Learning Areas within the French educational framework.
Like many independent pre-K schools in NSW who enrol children at the age of 4, the learning is linked to the NESA Early Stage 1 curriculum. In NSW schools, this is referred to as “K minus 1 year” and operates as part of the school’s registration with NESA. The Maternelle operates in the same way however, the learning links extend for another year so that essentially, our curriculum covers “K minus 2 years”. As the learning in the Maternelle is linked to the outcomes of NESA’s Early Stage 1 curriculum, accountability rests with NESA and not with The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACEQCA).
French National Learning Program in Maternelle
In the Maternelle, children learn through a bilingual program of play. The emphasis is on the absorption and development of language and the discovery of the world. They learn through games, by thinking and resolving problems and by practising, memorising and remembering.
The language of instruction at Lycée Condorcet Sydney is French but as a multicultural school, we adopt a bilingual (English) curriculum beginning in PS. Specifically, in PS and MS, 50% of activities are in English. In GS there is an emphasis on the French language as students prepare for Year 1 (CP) but 25% of activities are still taught in English. There are also special English and French support classes where necessary. Every class in Maternelle has a classroom teacher and an assistant for a maximum of 25 children.
The Maternelle educational curriculum is divided into five areas:
- Language in all its modalities
- Acting, expressing and understanding through physical activities
- Acting, expressing and understanding through artistic activities
- Developing the ability to structure scientific and mathematical thought processes
- Exploring the world
Education, from PS to GS, is essential for children to succeed in the foundational learning phase and in “élémentaire”, or Elementary school. It also aims to develop cross-disciplinary skills including curiosity, the desire to learn, assertiveness, respect for others and independence.
Lycée Condorcet Sydney has implemented recommendations by the Agency for French Teaching Abroad (AEFE) circular, 'AEFE language policy: towards a multilingual education'. This program enables students to master both French and English languages orally before learning how to write and this is yet another vital element of learning specific to the Maternelle. See: http://www.aefe.fr/rechercher-une-ressource-documentaire/brochure-politi
The Maternelle curriculum can be found here: http://www.education.gouv.fr/cid87300/rentree-2015-le-nouveau-programme-de-l-ecole-maternelle.html