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French Baccalaureate Comes Under Fire

A record number of pupils passed the French baccalaureate this year, inevitably raising questions about a drop in standards.

Around 86% of pupils who sat for the baccalaureate qualification this summer were successful in the examination.

This means that around two-thirds of French pupils left school this year with the prestigious baccalaureate qualification in their hand.

It is, however, a qualification that lacks easy classification.

Over half of these pupils sat for the Bac Général (itself divided into three streams), nearly a third for the Bac Technologique, while a further quarter for the Bac Professionnel.

The Bac Général is the primary route to university education, and while the Bac Technologique and Bac Professionnel are more vocationally based, they too can provide a route to higher education.

The number obtaining a baccalaureate qualification is increasing each year, with 2009 being the most successful year on record.

The French Education Minister firmly rejected any suggestion that any instructions had been given to assessors on marking procedures.

In fact, most of the increase this year can be attributed to the higher success rate of those sitting for the Bac Professionnel, where, for the first time, pupils benefited from a right to a oral resit where they were close to gaining a pass mark in the written exams.

The result was to increase the pass rate of candidates of the baccalauréat professionnel from from 77% in 2008 to 87% this year.

The right to an oral resit examination has been available to the other baccalaureate streams for many years. One teachers union objected fiercely this year to it being widened to those in the ‘professionnel’ stream, as they consider it devalues the qualification.

The government have also decided to reduce from four to three years the period of study for the Bac Professionnel, in line with the other baccalaureate qualifications, a move that has also increased fears of a ‘dumbing down’ of the qualification.

Reform of French Lycée Education

Last year the government abandoned attempts at a major reform of Lycée education in France following substantial protests from teachers and pupils.

The plan proposed to start to break down the divisions between the different streams of the Bac Général by a common core of education for all, after which pupils would be permitted to study other subjects on a modular basis.

Many feared that one of the main motives behind the reform was to reduce the number of teachers in the French secondary education system. The fact that the plan proposed a reduction in the number of teaching hours each week did nothing to allay their fears!

However, the prospect of reform remains very much alive, with a new plan that has been sitting on the desk of President Sarkozy since early June from the Director of the prestigious Sciences Po university in Paris.

Although the conclusions of the report have yet to be published, in interviews, the author has pointed to continuing grave inequalities in the system of secondary education in France, a system he considers to be elitist and failing most pupils.

You can read more in our Guide to Upper Secondary School Education in France.

This article was featured in our Newsletter dated 18/08/2009

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