Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

French Schools Are Changing: But Post-School Transition Is Becoming More and More Difficult

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

French Schools Are Changing: But Post-School Transition Is Becoming More and More Difficult

Article excerpt

The aim of this paper is to assess progress towards greater social equality in education in France. Micro-level studies indicate some improvements in school education, bur the macro-level picture is more mixed. There has been a massification of successive levels of French secondary and tertiary education, with program expansion and rising qualification levels. But is the system more democratic? Social relativities both in participation and in transition to further study and employment remain marked. Vertical displacement in the labour market (through over-qualification) and horizontal displacement (based on social origins) are impeding social mobility through education.


All democratic school systems have two main objectives: improving their own effectiveness and achieving better post-school transition for young people. The search for greater effectiveness, for better outcomes, can take different forms, depending on the nature of the goals, themselves varying from one period of time to another and across different levels of schooling. To take the example of France, the Ferry legislation, under which elementary school became compulsory, aimed at making this phase of schooling democratic--all children were to learn to read, write and count--but at the same time retained the deeply conservative objectives of secondary education; for 95 per cent of French children attended primary school only--high school enrolled a mere 5 per cent.

With the Berthoin reforms of 1959, new objectives were laid down for the French education system. Secondary schools were set on the road to democratisation and had to adjust to the social and occupational changes which required higher levels of attainment. In the years that followed, compulsory schooling was in effect extended to 16 years of age and entry to junior high school tended to become general. It is at this level of schooling that an explosion of enrolments occurred--though in terminal streams which would not disappear until many years later. Junior secondary school underwent a process of massification, but patterns of failure also became more visible with the prolongation of schooling to this level. Going ahead another 25 years, access to senior high school and to the baccalaureat had grown (the official objective of 80% of an age-cohort reaching this level was announced), but so too had access to higher education. Many more young people than previously were now at school and were now also completing school. There is no doubt that a process frequently called `quantitative democratisation' had taken place, a process which we prefer to call `massification' (demographicisation). (1) This was followed by a process of `qualitative democratisation' in which there was not only an improvement in opportunities for all young people, but a reduction in relative chances between them which we could call quite simply `democratisation'. (2) During the period of full employment up to the beginning of the 1970s, demographic expansion and social advancement went hand in hand. Is that what is happening today, and what is the connection between schooling and jobs? (3) These are the issues we examine in this paper.

School seen from inside: Some examples

Many studies, national and international, have demonstrated major variations in educational outcomes and highlighted a range of factors associated with quality schooling. (4) Microscopic studies have focused on the activities of teachers, pupil-teacher rapport, and instructional methods: teacher effects, classroom effects. At a broader level, and looked at independently of teacher effects, have been transformations in teaching practice--new techniques and innovations, compensatory methods, etc. Again researchers have examined school effects, for example in France the implementation of school charters or policy contracts and the role of different sectors of schools (public/private schools). …

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