Teaching unions and training colleges have expressed concern over reports that the ‘Capes’ exam which student teachers must take to teach a chosen subject in secondary schools may be ended.
Passing the exam ensures lifelong civil servant status including a job for life (the jobs can only be lost under very rare circumstances or for up to a four-month long period).
The Capes - pronounced Capès in French - is a two-stage exam open to second-year Master’s students with two writing assessments in April and two additional oral exams in July for selected students.
Mr Macron, who has yet to declare himself candidate for re-election at April’s presidential elections, is thinking of the change as part of a review of the French education system, reports the public-service media Franceinfo, referring to a minister (not named) as the source.
Macron is considering building a ‘super minister’ by merging the minister of Education with the minister of Culture. It would be run by Mr Bruno Le Maire, the current Minister of Economy, according to Franceinfo.
The proposal aims to streamline a staffing system often characterised by red tape and sluggishness.
Currently, teachers who pass the Capes exam get a lifetime civil servant statute, essentially protecting them from unemployment. They can only lose their jobs for a ‘faute grave’ (serious issue, such as using violence). What could replace it has not been identified.
Many liberal politicians claim the protected status kills competition and engenders complacency, thus reducing teaching quality and wasting taxpayer money.
Mr Macron’s supposed proposals reactivated references to the iconic quote from the then Socialist Education Minister Claude Allègre who said “the mammoth has to shed some fat” on June 24, 1997, comparing the functioning of the school system to the immense, cumbersome size of a mammoth.
By getting rid of the Capes, President Macron may also hope to improve the efficiency of national educational structures.
“It would be like a casus belli,” warned Pierre Claustre, national secretary in charge of teachers’ formation at the SNES-FSU union, employing a latin term in reference to an act provoking or justifying war.
Mr Claustre said the recruitment of teachers through an exam enables the State to guarantee a reservoir of teachers which can be hired to work in the country’s highest priority but worst supplied areas.
The civil servant status also encourages more people to go into teaching, helping to combat widespread workforce shortages which have been affecting many schools since the start of the pandemic.
“If the State shies away from an exam, how are we supposed to recruit teachers?” said Mr Claustre, adding that putting an end to the civil servant status would have the opposite effect.
‘A recurring issue’
Mr Macron’s ambition is seen by unions of the education industry as part of a policy to reduce the State’s power to three main sovereign powers: the police, the military and the judicial.
Putting an end to the Capes would open to competition of private sectors and reduce the ability of the State to have a right of inspection of candidates.
“It is a recurring issue,” said Mr Claustre, adding that politicians’ desire to open education up to greater competition and reduce the State’s control on teacher training has been an issue since he joined the SNES-FSU over 25 years ago.
However, unions’ and professionals of the industry have suggested that it is not just the potential removal of Capes but also problems with a lack of resources and low wages which are also causing the widespread problem of unfilled teaching positions experienced by many schools around the country.
These disincentives have resulted in shrinking candidate numbers in Capes exams, which reached an all-time low in 2021 with 29,992 students applying, according to figures from the Ministry of Education. Exam sittings for Greek and Latin teachers are almost non-existent and maths is declining.
Read more: Changes for the new school year in France
The Institut National Supérieur du Professorat et de l'Éducation (INSPE), the official institute which prepares teachers for the Capes, is pleading for an increase in the length of training programmes and the creation of dedicated master’s and undergraduate diplomas to guarantee a minimum number of students taking the Capes exam, as revealed in an eight-page-long document provided to The Connexion.
There are 32 INSPE's throughout France.
Macron has already tightened his grip on the education system.
“The government has already pushed toward liberalisation,” said Claude Lelièvre, an historian of the French education and schools system, citing the increasing number of teachers under short-term contracts.
Mr Lelièvre said Mr Macron’s proposal is based on the education system models of other European countries where no exams are required to become a teacher and where only a Master’s degree opens to teaching positions.
Mr Lelièvre said the Capes is a relatively new idea when compared with the Aggrégation, a further exam, which opens up positions in universities. with the former having only existed since 1950 while the latter dates back to before the Revolution. This is another factor which could explain why the president is pushing for reforms.
Mr Lelièvre fears ending the lifetime civil servant statute by pushing for more short-term contracts could deter even more students from doing the job.
“It will certainly not facilitate recruitment,” said Mr Lelièvre.