Life Style

School failure, a painful ordeal for parents

“Poor. “ Such is the adjective which first comes to his lips. Mounia had always been a good student as a teenager. But her own school experience was not of much help when it came to helping one of her struggling daughters. “No matter how hard she worked, which the teachers doubted, she couldn’t do it”, she sighs.

Poor but beating “, Mounia has, for years, been constantly going to college and then to high school to plead the cause of her daughter, to evoke the health concerns that complicated her learning, to convince the teachers not to abandon her, not to make a cross on his future.

“My daughter ended up getting a professional baccalaureate. On the day of the graduation ceremony, a member of the educational team confessed to me that he had seen me so much in the establishment that he thought that I was part of the staff… The principal, holding out to my daughter the precious piece of paper reminded her how much I had supported her all along the way. “

An ordeal lived with pain

The academic difficulties against which her daughter was struggling, Mounia made a personal struggle. Like many other parents, she experienced this ordeal with pain, especially as this failure contrasted with the brilliant results of her eldest, who is about to start a career as a lawyer.

→ PRACTICAL. School failure: when it comes to support, the embarrassment of choice

“The notion of failure is very subjective”, notes Alexis Sabin, co-manager of Alveus, a Parisian school support organization designed around “beehives”, spaces accessible seven days a week, where students can come and work with the support of a tutor. “Some are alarmed because their child has a ceiling of 13/20 on average, when he could be 15. Others because he shows a 5/20, when he could be 7.”

In any case, he notes, many show “Really affected”. “In fact, parents are aware that their children will have to fit into a professional world different from the one they have known, that they will have to follow five years of studies after the baccalaureate to reach a social position most often inferior to theirs ”, deciphers the psychopedagogue Bruno Humbeeck.

This context makes “Extremely distressing” their perception of difficulty in school. “An anxiety that often leads them to stress their child, to exert pressure on him that is sometimes counterproductive because he comes to fear the slightest evaluation. “

Return to painful memories

If the child’s failure constitutes a test for the parent, it is because, in certain cases, it sends the latter back to particularly painful memories of school. Or, on the contrary, that having known a course without the slightest pitfall, he finds it difficult to accept that it could be otherwise for his offspring.

→ MAINTENANCE. “Homework is the indicator of parental dropping out of school”

The “Narcissistic wound” is never very far, continues Bruno Humbeeck, moreover in the era of “Hyperparentality”. “Many think they have to control everything, do everything to guarantee their child constant happiness, a bright future. And his academic difficulties often appear to them as their personal failure, as a fault of parenthood ”, he describes.

This feeling of guilt, this propensity to wonder if we have “missed” something in the education of our child are sometimes reinforced by the attitude of teachers convinced that “If he gets bad grades, it is because he is poorly accompanied at home”. By symmetry, parents tend to consider that failure is also – and sometimes especially – that of school.

“When your child does not fit the mold, you feel misunderstood, abandoned, helpless in the face of school steamroller ‘, Storm Sophie, one of whose daughters, suffering from an attention deficit, has accumulated bad grades, bad reviews, to the point of being excluded three times. “For a mother, it’s really violent”, she testifies.

Low-income families particularly affected

Clothilde Granado, head of the ATD Fourth World School network, goes so far as to talk about“Invalidation of the role of parents”, a process that particularly affects families from the most modest backgrounds. “Many have no say in what they would like to see implemented for their children. It even happens that teachers do not discuss with parents the difficulties encountered by their children, because they are convinced that there is no help available at home ”, she laments.

“Many parents feel infantilized”, extends Régis Félix, ATD activist and former college principal in working-class neighborhoods. “The disappointment is there too, often, especially when the family comes from elsewhere and that the hope of giving a better education to the children was at the heart of the migratory project. “

And then, continues Régis Félix, some people have “Fear” of the look that the institution sometimes has on them. A situation comes to mind. “I was looking to meet the mother of a struggling student, but she always found excuses to decline appointments. Until the day when she rang the doorbell at 6:30 p.m., when the college was empty. She just didn’t want to face the eyes of the teachers ”, he recalls.

“Parents often arrive with the fear of being judged”, confirms the person in charge of a relay class, which temporarily welcomes in small groups students who are scared of dropping out. “I let them express themselves, while reassuring them. And when they have emptied their bag, I ask them in a neutral tone how we can, side by side, work for the young person’s project ”, she says, convinced that acting together is the best remedy for academic difficulty.


A large number of students in difficulty entering college

The sixth grade assessments carried out in September show that the proportion of students who have not mastered the skills acquired in mathematics, down three points compared to the previous year, remains very high (28%).

A test on reading fluency also highlights the difficulties encountered by many children.

When asked to read a simple text, 15% of sixth grade students had a speed of less than 90 words per minute, the threshold required at the end of CE2. More than 30% of the pupils in this case were educated in the establishments of the reinforced priority education networks (REP +).


To read

► School failure. The great fear. Dropout: prevent, help, by Julie Chupin, Autrement, 2013, € 16.50.

Tracks for “Transforming the sterile spiral of failure into a virtuous circle”. We learn to detect the first signals that should alarm us, how to support a child on the verge of dropping out and what are the remedies in and outside school.

► School grief, by Daniel Pennac, Gallimard, 2009, € 8.50.

In this largely autobiographical book crowned with the Renaudot Prize, the novelist explores the figure of a “dunce” saved by his love of reading, and multiplies his thoughts on pedagogy, the limits of the institution, the role of parents, etc.


► “The parents’ house”, Bad grades: not inevitable.

Broadcast on France 4 on November 27, this program provides an update with psychopractor Emmanuelle Piquet and teacher and trainer Anne-Marie Gaignard.


The ATD Quart Monde association regularly organizes training courses allowing parents, teachers and researchers to meet. The opportunity for participants to make everyone understand their expectations, their perception of educational issues, following the principle dear to this movement of “crossing knowledge”.


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