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France ou Royaume-Uni: De quel côté de la Manche vaut-il mieux grandir?

By Joffre Agnes

A few weeks ago Unicef reported that British children were the unhappiest in the Western World whereas France faces issues to guarantee the same chances in life to all children and speaks about penal responsibility at the age of 12. Bad period for children! But where are they the happiest? FranceInLondon tried to draw up a comparison as complete as possible. From school to family, health to safety, let’s try to measure children’s well-being on both sides of the Channel!

Debates about children’s well-being have recently exploded on both sides of the Channel. First the UK received a shock in the shape of a Unicef report which ranked the country at the bottom of a league table for child'sren well-being across 21 industrialised countries. This is the first study about childhood across the world. Its aim was to assess “whether children feel loved, cherished, special and supported, within the family and community and whether the family and community are being supported in this task by public policy and resources.” According to Unicef, the UK simply failed.
France is ranged 16th, which is not exactly great news either. Moreover France no longer appears as the country to look up to but more as a counterexample. Currently,  problems of education are especially contentious since a reform is on its way. School teachers and professors are extremely worried for the future of education in France and keep on demonstrating. In addition to this, due to a project which did not fit with principles of international law, children’s special rights may be put in danger.

Let’s draw up an assessment of the lives and well-being of children in the UK and in France. The Unicef report will be one of our main sources.




Material well-being


Poor Children
Poor Children

Material well-being is a major clue denominator of quality of life for children. It helps to measure poverty, exclusion and deprivation. However it is not only a question of material goods: It has been proved that children who grow up in poverty are considerably more vulnerable: more likely to have health issues, school and behavioural difficulties, they could be more expected to become pregnant early, to have lower skills and ambitions, to be low paid or jobless. A major  breach of equal opportunities.

According to Unicef, the situation is much worse than originally expected, especially in the UK. Here are some figures.
In the UK, child poverty is said to remain above 15%. This means that 15% of the children live with incomes below 50% of the national median. As a result, children grow up in the UK with very strong inequalities and many have to face considerable disadvantages. France seems to be more equal: about 7% of French children are affected by relative poverty. This is still embarrassingly far from Denmark's 3%...

To be more accurate, Unicef has tried to estimate the real deprivations too. The question was about children’s opportunity to develop “their personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential”, as it is said in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Once again reality in France and in the UK is hard to believe: about 9% of children age 15 reported less than 10 books at home… A major problem for children’s educational achievement.





Of course health levels in France and in the UK is good and unprecedented. They are both models to look up to. However some points are still to be improved. For instance, pregnancy and child care are slightly inferior in the UK since infant mortality and low birth weight rates remain higher than in France. 

As well as this, the UK has a severe problem as far as teenage pregnancy is concerned. About 27 births out of 1000 women age 15-19 were reported in 2003, and less than 10 in France. 

Moreover there are more overweight young people in the UK than in France and there is a greater problem with binge drinking and drug use amongst British teenagers. This certainly does not mean that France is a country to look up too, however, seeing as these two rates are sky-rocketing on their side of the Channel.

Teenage Pregnancy
Teenage Pregnancy


Generally speaking, regarding health, improvements are still possible and still must be strived for. The UK should pay more attention to its health system, which is so often criticised and France is not an example either since the "Sécurité Sociale" and its universal coverage seems firmly stuck in the past.


Safety is more of a burning issue. France is burdened with juvenile delinquency whereas the UK is well-known for its knife-culture. So where are your children safer?

In 2000, a world survey reported that 199 000 children and teenagers have been killed as a result of violence amongst young people. That means 9,2 for 100 000 young people died because of teenage violence. In France, the rate was 0,6 and 0,9 in the UK in 2000. Comparatively speaking, that’s quite good, but, unfortunately, violence between young people is increasing.


For instance, according to The Telegraph, up to 60,000 young people may be stabbed and injured each year in the UK. That means more than 160 victims a day. This, of course, is a worst-case estimation but knife crime remains a major issue. The Government is currently trying to reduce stabbing attacks by raising the legal age to buy a knife from 16 to 18 and doubling the penalty for carrying one in public from 2 to 4 years in jail. However, knife-culture seems, sadly, to be only too deeply rooted.

In France, young people are more and more involved in violent acts toward other people. In 2000 more than 160 000 people under 18 had been approached by the police, that means 21% of the cases. unfortunately, violence is not so rare in schools or public transports. More than 30% of young people age 11, 13, 15 report having been involved in fighting during the last year in France, more than 40% in the UK.

The violence is of course concentrated in risky areas but this remains a national issue for both countries, which seem to be at a deadlock. This is unfortunate as it is a major contributing factor to children's well-being.


Educational well-being

School systems are very different on both sides of the Channel and, most of the time, expats have difficulty understanding how it works.  So let's try to understand it before drawing any conclusions.  In the UK, children have to go the primary school from the age of 5. When 11 they have a choice to make: comprehensive schools, grammar schools or, for a lucky few, private schools. Comprehensive schools are more common but grammar schools offer a better level since children have to pass an exam to enter in, the "11 ". Most of these schools are private. School programs are heavy and pupils are used to have exams since primary schools. At this stage, they have to pass the "GCSE" which includes from 8 to 12 disciplines. Only four are imposed: mathematics, literature, English and sciences, the rest is "à la carte". Then it is up to them to decide whether they will go on to sixth form to take their "A-Levels" (equivalent to the French baccalauréat) or whether they will drop out.

Educational well-being
Educational well-being

In France children have less options and the logic is totally different. Education begins slowly since the first thing to do is to make children blossom, think on their own, develop their creativity... Primary school is about that plus, of course, learning some elementary skills. Then it becomes harder and harder while in the UK things seem to be easier and easier. Then, French children go to "collège" and generally to "lycée" but some choose professional formations. French colleges are different from English ones since pupils have no choice regarding their disciplines. France aims to give all of them the same elementary cultural baggage. Only once at the lycee are they able to choose some specialities but once again a lot of subjects remain compulsory. 

So what's the best system? Where are children more able to blossom intellectually? According to PISA, UK students are slightly better than the OCDE average. France is not so good. We have to emphasize that the way children are served by their education systems is a key stake for a country. Both the UK and France are therefore trying to improve it by doing some deep reforms. We couldn't know yet if it's going to be worse or better but, the thing is, that in France about 14% of 15-19 teenagers are not in education nor in employment, about 9% in the UK. Besides too many students leave schools without any diplomas. Isn't this a serious failure?




Mother and daughter
Mother and daughter

Family relationships are a major stake for children’s emotional and psychological development. And yet the UK, as everybody knows, is the leader in teenage pregnancy, which raises several obvious issues. According to Unicef, the UK is one of the western countries where the most children grow up in a single-parent family. I don't wish to say that no child could be happy in a single-parent family, nor that growing up with both parents is a guarantee for well-being but, it is obviously easier for children. This situation concerns more than 15% of the children in the UK and more than 10% in France.

Undeniably, the most important thing is whether children feel loved, cherished, special and supported within their family. The UK, once again, suffers here. The Unicef has underlined that English children suffer because mothers go back to work too soon. Maternity leave seems “inadequate” and is much less generous than in other countries. English mothers  currently get 39 weeks of paid maternity leave receiving first 90% of their income (during the first six weeks) and then a fixed sum of £117.18 a week.  In France, maternity leave could be longer. A young mother who has been working in her company for more than a year could ask for a “congé parental” (parenthood leave). This could last three years and, even if the mother doesn’t get paid, she is guaranteed to get her job back when she  returns! Would this be more beneficial to children’s development!

On the other hand, the Unicef used a subjective clue, which turns out to be very relevant of children’s well-being in their family. It deals with the percentage of 15 years-olds whose parents spend time “just talking” to them several times per week. This time, French and English parents are in the same boat: about 60% of them are concerned. Not so bad in comparison, but, don’t you think we can both do better?


Regarding these statistics and the Unicef report in particular, the situation appears worse than expected both in France and prendre des vacances au Royaume Uni ">in the UK. So many things are still to be improved! Moreover we could be surprised to see that children’s conditions in the UK are still slightly less good than in France. But don't decamp to France with all your children just yet!True there are many things to improve but English children don’t look so unhappy… and they are so pretty with their uniforms! Do French children have such pretty outfits? Nope!


School uniforms
School uniforms



10/01/2010 - fosters a dit :

Uk has defined child poverty and as a solution to manage this the Government has worked on policies that provide financial payments to vulnerable families, inclusive education and health care. This is all helpful but more work is needed to solve the issues of poverty. Next steps need to cover positive parenting, emotional well-being, moral values, contribution to society and how to parent/educate the rising number of children born/acquiring severe to moderate/mild disabilities. Many children who use weapons on the streets or medicate themselves on drugs or alcohol have a range of social/home life difficulties defined under the poverty heading. If not supported and helped these children grow up to become the adults who use criminal behaviours to overcome their own perceived poverty. A cycle of this way of living will continue unless communities can help their troubled members and intervene to create a settled,respecting society with the vulnerable included in this process.
So many residents are frightened of children such as this and will lock themselves up in their homes to avoid them at night, move house or even country to find a civilised life. UK is slowly becoming more uncivilised in the major towns and more help is needed to stop this happening. Multi cultural perspectives need to be fully understood in the UK and integration encouraged at grass roots level as well as by the Politicians in Parliament. We live in France now and look back on all the hard work we covered in the Health and Social fields when we worked in the UK. I hope the consummerism in the UK is gradually replaced by the value for sociability and good relationships in communities. I sincerely believe most people are constructive by nature rather than destructive. On saying that, there needs to be much more help for mentally ill young people, people with disabilities and the older population. A government is always judged by how it deals with this section of society because their needs are so critical and impinge on the country's budgets. Generally the rest of the population can take care of itself if feeling protected, included and a sense of fairplay exists. BON CHANCE!

15/11/2009 - dhdha a dit :

I found France o be a more cleaner, friendlier and more polite and crime freecountry compared to the UK.

The UK has a massive problem with teen gang's in the inner citie's carrying knives and now gun's shooting and stabbing each other and unfortunately there have been a massive increase in deaths in the gang infested inner citie's, the UK has some poor deprivation too, so much povrty in the UK compared to France.

So I would rather live in France than the poor urban inner slums of the UK.

05/02/2009 - mn_raffaelli a dit :

I can't stand seeing again the working mother blamed for their child care.... In my case, when being a working mother with a toddler and a baby, people would be surprised when seeing our kids and would say 'Oh, but they look happy!'....
I don't think it is the quantity of time you spend with your child, but the quality that matters.
So, please let's stop blaming short maternity leave as a cause for child unhappiness!
It is a question of choice for the parents and if parents are happy with one or the other solution, this will be reflected on the child.

14/01/2009 - janehamilton08 a dit :

I would also like to correct the assumption used that British private schools are for "the lucky few" if I may. This is not necessarily the case.

There are good and bad schools and teachers working in both the state and private sectors and as a consequence lots of children thrive in state schools and plenty of children suffer in private schools.

I was state educated and am now a solicitor working in the city. My husband was privately educated and was a solicitor working in the city too. In comparing notes we believe that a child is lucky if the education establishment understands and best serves their needs rather than if it is a private or state school.

09/01/2009 - bonilladiana a dit :

hello - just a correction. english grammar schools are not private - it's just that there are very few left since they were mostly forced to become 'comprehensive' in the 1960s.


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