Le bac general

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The Baccalauréat Général in France:
a case study of teacher and pupil responses to compulsory breath

K M Higham

Given current debate in England regarding the proposed 14 - 19 reforms and the Tomlinson Report, this study will investigate the French pupils' and teachers' views on the various routes to the Baccalauréat général and the relative balance of specialisation and compulsion withinthem.

Spending a full term at the Lycée Jean Rostand in Chantilly (Oise) as part of the teacher exchange programme, organised through the British Council, provided an ideal opportunity to become familiar with the latest reforms to the French baccalauréat and to check out the opinions of those most directly involved, namely the pupils and teachers.

The first baccalauréat dates back to 1808 andwas introduced by Napoleon as a common examination to give entry to university. There were 31 students who took the first examination in 1809 which comprised a viva voce on classical authors, history, geography, philosophy and rhetoric. However, far from being an examination sat by a very small number of students, over the last few decades in particular, it has increased rapidly both inparticipation and pass rates, in response to governmental policy objectives. The following chart, produced by the Académie d'Amiens to celebrate its 40th year, illustrates this. In this time the number of young people in Picardy passing the baccalaureate has increased from 1% to more than 56% (slightly below the national average of over 60%).

| |1964|1974 |1984 |1994 |2004 |

|Number of pupils entered |3,417 |8,007 |11,150 |20,621 |18,471 |

|Number of passes |2,272 |5,003 |6,597 |14,550 |13,894 |

|Pass rate|66.5% |62.5% |59.2% |70.6% |75.2% |


Source: Regards sur l'école en Picardie, September 2004, Académie d'Amiens

In addition, by the 1990's, the number of different baccalaureates had become so large and complex that reforms were put in place to rationalise both the number of routes (voies) as well as the number of options within them.The reforms were introduced for the Seconde (Year 11) taking a baccalauréat général et technologique in the Autumn of 1999 and are thus now in the fifth year of being in effect. So what is the current range and structure of the baccalaureate in France?

For the purposes of this study, we are only going to look at the baccalauréat général although it should be borne in mind that there are twoother types of baccalauréat, namely the baccalauréat technologique and the baccalauréat professionel, both of which offer a considerable range of options within them. For a pupil starting their 3 years at the lycée, a choice has already been made between a vocational pathway or the general and technical routes. However, pupils hoping to take the baccalauréat général have to follow a year ofcompulsory subjects alongside a range of options which are designed to help them choose the type of baccalaureate they are going to follow in première (Year 12) and terminale (Year 13). (See Appendix 1.)

There are three different options for pupils taking a baccalauréat général, a literary option (the baccalauréat littéraire or Bac L), an economic and social option (the baccalauréat économique etsocial or Bac ES) and a scientific option (baccalauréat scientifique or Bac S). These all have some common elements but an important consideration for many pupils is the 'coefficient' or weighting given to each subject. Thus, although Mathematics is compulsory for all pupils, in taking the Bac L, it only has a weighting of 2, compared to 5 or 7 for a pupil taking a Bac ES or 7 or 9 for a pupil taking...