Skip to main content

Since we moved to France a few years ago, I always view the approach of the summer holidays with some apprehension.  Delighted as I am to have my daughter back from university and my son from boarding school, I know what they really want to do is go and find a job.  They are twenty and seventeen respectively, too old to want to play with their young siblings all day.  However, living in the rural Gers countryside surrounded by rolling hills and fields of glorious sunflowers, there is not much hope.

Working in FranceQuaint and attractive though our village is, it is surrounded by farms.  That means a certain type of job.  Confident that the garlic growers would welcome an extra pair of hands as they toiled from dawn till dusk, my daughter, passably fluent in French and a dab hand at chopping vegetables, offered her services.  Politely but firmly, the farmer’s wife and very much the boss on the farm explained this was not possible.  Victoria might cut herself on the tiny knife used to peel away the dry garlic leaves before the elaborate plaiting takes place and that would present enormous complications.  French employers have to pay heavily into the French social security system on behalf of their employees.  Victoria, at boarding school in England when we arrived in France, was deemed not to be resident here and therefore not eligible for a French social security number.

We gave up on the farmers, at least it meant nobody would return home reeking of garlic. Next we headed for the nearest town.  We approached several cafes but again met with blank refusal – shaking of heads and wagging of fingers, it’s difficult without a social security number and there were plenty of willing hands among the extended family, they explained.  Finally, we gave up.  It seems a long way to go for a job but Victoria decided to go back to the school where she spent her gap year halfway across the world in the Dominican Republic.

My son, however, does possess the magical French social security number, but does not have his sister’s linguistic ability.  His French is not even good enough to ask for a baguette let alone sell one.  Without a job to get him out of bed we would not see him until the frogs legs were sizzling on the barbecue for lunch.

Having given up on the hunt for a job we took a break by the coast.

Sitting on the jetty one morning I began chatting to a young French student called Helene.  She was working there for the summer responsible for a group of twelve to thirteen-year olds.  They had all come to the coast for a week’s water sports camp, organised by the UCPA – Union Centre de Plein Air.

A non-profit making organisation based in Paris, UCPA arranges courses for ten to seventeen-year olds in various centres around France.  For so many French children these kinds of camps are an integral part of the long summer holidays.  Looking after them are animateurs/animatrices who do just that – animate the children.  I watched Helene encourage even the least co-ordinated of her charges get up on the teleski and have a go.  She even made me feel I would be able to do it if I tried.  “It’s not just about working with children, I’ve learnt heaps of practical skills – only this morning I mended two bicycle punctures which surprised even me”.

She was the holder of a BAFA certificate, which most French seventeen-year olds and upwards hold.  BAFA stands for the Brevet d’Aptitude aux Fonctions d’Animateur.  This qualification is not just a guaranteed passport into holiday employment, but provides invaluable experience of working with young people.  There are many centres throughout France where this qualification can be obtained by attending three specific courses of one to three weeks during a 30-month period.  The cost is approximately 430 euros.  

Helene’s story made me reflect that the French system is brilliantly organised for students to obtain holiday employment if they go through the right hoops.  Foreigners living in France can do the same thing, provided they speak the language, do the training and pay the fee. 

As soon as my son gets out of bed I am going to press upon him the importance of saving up and improving “sa conversation francaise”.

Most popular Good Schools Guide articles

  • Special educational needs introduction

    Need help? Perhaps you suspect your child has some learning difficulty and you would like advice on what you should do. Or perhaps it is becoming clear that your child's current school is not working for him or her, and you need help to find a mainstream school which has better SEN provision, or to find a special school which will best cater for your child's area of need. Our SEN consultancy team advises on both special schools, and the mainstream schools with good SEN support, from reception through to the specialist colleges for 19+. Special Educational Needs Index

  • Uni in the USA... and beyond

    The British guide to great universities from Harvard to Hong Kong. We tell you how to choose, how to apply, how to pay.

  • The Good Schools Guide International

    Corona Virus As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, The Good Schools Guide International offers the following guidance:  Determine the global situation and that of individual countries on government mandated school closures by accessing the UNESCO information on this link:   For updates on the medical situation, go to  the World Health Organisation website at  If you wish to contact one of our GSGI listed schools to discover their current status or any plans for alternate learning strategies, please go to our database to find email and phone numbers for each school If your company makes you brexit, The GSGI should be your first…

  • Schools for children with performing arts talents

    At specialist music, dance or performing arts schools, the arts aren't optional extras. They’re intrinsic to the school curriculum. Students are expected to fit in high level training and hours of practice alongside a full academic provision. It's a lot to ask any child to take on, but for those with exceptional performing ability this kind of education can be transformative.

  • Finding a state grammar school

      There are currently around 163 state funded grammar schools located in 36 English local authorities, with around 167,000 pupils between them. There are a further 69 grammar schools in Northern Ireland, but none in Wales or Scotland. Almost half of these are in what are considered 'selective authorities' (eg Kent and Buckinghamshire), where around one in five local children are selected for grammar school entry based on ability. The others are areas such as Barnet or Kingston, with only a few grammar schools. How to find a state grammar school Word of warning: not all selective grammar schools have…

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
 Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
 Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,000 schools
 Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

The Good Schools Guide subscription

GSG Blog >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

The Good Schools Guide Newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.

The Good Schools Guide manifesto for parents