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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: École: une refondation de Peillon a minima

by Laurent Mouloud

French Schools: Peillon’s Minimal Reorganization

Translated Friday 1 February 2013, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Henry Crapo

On the morning of Jan. 23, Vincent Peillon presented a bill intended to “reorganize” our school system to the French Cabinet. The bill is an ambiguous text that juxtaposes good intentions and renunciation.

Against a backdrop of teacher mobilization, Vincent Peillon, the minister for national education, presented his bill to orient and program the “reorganization” of the school system to the French Cabinet on the morning of Jan. 23. The bill embodies one of François Hollande’s campaign promises. Hollande made youth his priority and promised to create 60,000 jobs in teaching over his five-year term in office. But to tell the truth, the term “reorganization” has a hard time finding its full meaning in the 53 articles and the annex to this bill which – a necessary characteristic of a bill to orient – leaves many crucial decisions to future decrees or laws (school districting, high schools…). In sum, it is a mixture not only of good intentions that are a clean break with the Sarkozy presidency but also of measures that are a perfect continuation of Sarkozy’s policies, and worrying renunciations. Our analysis.

1. The true breaks

We’re a long way from Xavier Darcos’ talk of kindergarten teachers and “diapers.” With 15% of pupils in “serious” difficulty at the end of fifth grade, the primary schools are well and truly the priority in this reorganization. They will get two-thirds (14,000) of the new teaching jobs to be created during the five-year term. These job creations will mainly serve to set up the “more teachers than classes” measure which is to promote innovative pedagogical practices in difficult zones. They will also serve a return to the schooling of the under-threes (article 5), which was decimated under Nicolas Sarkozy.

The specific role of kindergartens is also consolidated (article 30), notably to halt the tendency to transform kindergartens into primary schools. Kindergartens have too often become an antechamber to primary school. The bill also reaffirms the principle of one junior high school for all pupils and eliminates the early-selection measures like the DIMA (apprenticeship as early as age 14).

Another break is evidently the desire to reconstruct teacher training, which was wiped out by Xavier Darcos’ “masterization.” Five articles are dedicated to this, which confirm the elimination of the IUFMs (article 43) and create higher schools of teaching and education (ESPE) for the 2013-2014 school year. The mission of the ESPEs will be to ensure “the initial training of all teachers and education personnel and to participate in their continuing education.” They will ensure “the development and the promotion of innovative pedagogical methods” and will grant a master’s degree in teaching, education and training (MEEF). It will be necessary to await the ministerial decrees to know the details of this training. Already, however, several points have aroused discontent, notably the position of the competitive exam at the end of the first year of the master’s program, the fate during their second year of those who pass the exam, and the lack of prerecruiting in the bill, which nonetheless is the ideal solution to remedy the lack of candidates at competitive exams for the teaching profession.

2. The false breaks.

Above and beyond the vagueness that is characteristic of orientation laws, the Peillon bill teems with ambiguities and measures that continue the previous schools policy. “You get the impression that Vincent Peillon tried to find a mix between the 1989 Jospin law, which put the child at the center, and the Fillon law that adopted the utilitarian logic of the Lisbon strategy,” is the way Gisèle Jean, the director of the Poitiers university institute for the training of teachers (IUFM) and a member of the Left Front group on education, summed it up. “In the final analysis, this doesn’t go far enough.”

Thus the idea of a common skills and knowledge base, much decried by teachers and a symbol of educational utilitarianism, is indeed reexamined. It becomes a common knowledge, skills and cultural base, it will be rewritten by a Superior Council on Curriculum, created from scratch, and the modes of evaluation will be changed… But it will not disappear.

Other terms betray a lack of ambition. Right from article 3, the lawmaker reaffirms that “the public education service is conceived and organized in relation to the pupils and students in order to promote their success in school.” But why merely “promote”? And why not spell out the success of “all” pupils, as was underlined last week by the Environmental, Social and Economic Council in its evaluation of the bill? Worse yet, this same article 3 states that the public education service “contributes to equal opportunity,” an expression that Luc Chatel would not disavow. As if giving the same “opportunities” at the start suffices to eliminate the influence of social inequalities in success at school…

“We reject our schooling being subject to bets. The society in which we live feeds on inequalities, and the school system must not deny them; it must correct them,” was the reaction of the Young Communist Movement of France and the French Communist Party’s schools network in a letter addressed to the minister.

3. The dangerous breaks.

In connection with the third act in decentralization, finally, the Peillon bill seriously infringes on the national dimension of education. Alongside an itinerary to learn about jobs, which starts from the sixth grade (!), from now on it will be the French regions, together with trade and business organizations, which will in part steer the school information and orientation centers and the vocational training that is offered. They will thus decide on the opening and closing of vocational training sections in order to “better adapt the training system to the needs of the regions.” The pupil at the service of the little bosses? That’s not a very cheering reorganization…

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