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Anger after ‘mistakes’ over new French bac roll-out

The first set of contrôle continu [ongoing testing] exams for the reformed baccaulauréat were set to take place across France from January 20 to the end of February. The new system has sparked parents’ associations’ and teachers’ anger due to what they say was a lack of preparation.

If you have a child in lycée, you are probably aware many teachers are unhappy about the way the new-style baccalauréat, is being introduced.

In some lycées there have been strikes and other action after the government decided to go ahead with the first set of contrôle continu exams in history and geography and languages for pupils in première, the second year of lycée.

Teachers’ unions, at least two local education authorities and the biggest parents’ association, the FCPE, have called on Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer to postpone the exams.

They said teachers had not been able to prepare pupils adequately due to a lack of information and resources, and schools were not ready. Some teachers have gone on strike, others have refused to set exams or invigilate them, and others have refused to mark papers.

The changes involve more mini-exams spread over the final two years plus taking into account other test and essay marks, and therefore with less of the bac mark dependent on final exams. Students are also now freer to choose the subjects that make up their bac as opposed to there being three main kinds of ‘general’ bac.

Christine Guimonnet, President of APHG, representing history and geography teachers, said teachers are not necessarily against the reform, but are battling to cope with with delays in the way it has been introduced.

“This year, we find ourselves working in very difficult circumstances with not enough information and information that comes too late,” she said.

“We were promised access to the exam bank in October, but only got it in December, so it has been difficult to prepare for these current tests.

“In my lycée we only received our text books the week before the Christmas holidays. We have absolutely no information about the new oral exam next June which we should already be helping our students with.”

She added: “We will have to mark papers online, and it is much harder when you cannot physically handle the paper, and the software does not always work. The climate is difficult with teachers on strike over pension reforms. Some pupils have missed several important lessons. Continual frustration is making us angry, stressed and exhausted.”

The fact the exams are not all held on the same date for the same subject around France has also led to complaints.

Teachers’ union SNES says it is unfair as those who sit the exams at the end of February may have seen exam paper examples leaked on the internet. However the Education Ministry says it is unlikely they will see the one they will sit as teachers can choose between more than 1,500 different papers.

The FCPE parents’ association said the exams should be postponed. It has a parents’ questionnaire at – to understand what is happening across France.

Co-President Rodrigo Arenas said parents do not understand the reform and need clearer information: “It is scandalous that our pupils will lose out because of mistakes made by adults. They are victims of insufficient preparation by the Educa­tion Minister.

“We are not against contrôle continu, but these exams should have been postponed until every lycée is ready to carry them out. The system should be fair for everyone, so even if only a minority of pupils are affected the exams should not be taking place.”

Hubert Salaün of the Peep parents’ association said: “There are 1,700 lycées and there are, most likely, real problems in only a few. Any inequalities between schools, were already there before the reform, and that needs to be worked on separately.

“We support the government in holding these exams now. The marks only represent five-hundredths of the total bac score, so their importance has been exaggerated.

“When you introduce a radical change there are bound to be difficulties but we do not think it has been as bad as it has been made out.

“We think it is a good reform and benefits students.”


How old and new systems work

Pupils spend three years in lycée. They start in seconde, aged 15, a general year before choosing the options they will study in première and then terminale.

Up to now, final bac results have been obtained based on a single exam in French in première and a week-long exam period in June in terminale for all other subjects.

Mainstream bac général students could choose either a science, literature or economics and social sciences-orientated bac, but with shared core subjects, including maths, French, history/geography and languages.

This year’s terminale class is the last to sit the bac in the old way.

The new style bac has 40% of marks from contrôle continu [ongoing testing] and four other exams making up the remaining 60%.

Of the four exams, French will take place in première and three others in June in terminale.

Two of the exams are on students’ speciality subjects and one is a new-style oral exam, with a presentation on a theme chosen by the student and worked on over two years.

Students will share core subjects but have a greater choice for their main subjects, than before. In most lycées there are at least seven choices, out of which the student chooses three in première, and drops one in terminale to concentrate on two for the exams in June.

It means they can choose both science and arts subjects to major in, which was impossible in the old bac.

There has been criticism that maths is no longer a core subject for the bac général, and you can only do it as a speciality subject.

The exams pupils in première were sitting this January and February are the first of the contrôle continu system.

They have been dubbed E3C, épreuves communes de contrôle continu and are on three of the core subjects; history/geography and two languages.

For those doing a bac technologique, rather than a bac général, there is also maths.

Schools choose from a national bank of exam subjects and it is then up to the schools to organise their own timetable for the two-hour exams up to the end of February.

Exam papers are given a number for anonymity, scanned and sent off for digital marking, using newly installed software.

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