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4 Sep 2013

La Rentrée – Back to School

In the second half of August, all the French supermarkets suddenly have vastly expanded stationery ranges, and are full of mothers and children clutching lists and walking up and down the aisles with anxious expressions. This is La Rentrée, the start of back to school in a couple of weeks.
The reason this is a huge issue is because French schoolchildren have to provide their own notebooks, pens and other materials. Central government issues a list specifying the minimum, of at least 25 things in varying quantities depending on the age of the students and each school adds its own requirements. The shops have huge huge banners on the subject of La Rentrée. Not just the supermarkets, but the sports goods chains. The thick weekly catalogues that the postman/woman put in our letter boxes every Monday are the same. Click here to see a weekly catalogue from LeClerc, the equivalent of Tesco. Many supermarkets have schemes for parents to send the lists provided by their children's schools, and then cost them and package them for collection.
This year the typical minimum cost of everything each child needs is about 135€, well over £100; there are grants for people on low incomes, but it is still a burden.
And on the subject of burdens, it is astonishing how much stuff French kids have to carry to and from school every day. Not just a simple satchel. Nor a lunchbox: all children must eat school meals and lunch boxes are not permitted. Materials, notebooks, text books, equipment and other things, adding up to a fair weight. Even five year olds in their first year have backpacks. Increasingly, children are using wheeled luggage bags. The fourth page of the LeClerc catalogue illustrates this. There is a campaign to try to reduce the amount of stuff kids have to carry, prompted by the number of children developing back problems.
It does seem to me a bit unfair to have children concentrating on the start of school weeks before they actually have to do it, and it is a cost for families. But maybe the system also teaches children to value and look after their school stuff.

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