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With no exams, French pupils break baccalaureate pass record

A record number of lycée pupils passed the baccalaureate this year, putting pressure on university places.

Results were based solely on continuous assessment due to Covid-19 – so 95.7% of the 745,900 candidates passed, compared to 88.1% in 2019. For pupils taking the general bac in science, economics or literature, the pass rate was even higher, at 98.4%. For professional bacs, it was 90.7%, and for technology bacs, it was 95.7%.

Making sense of post-baccalauréat options in France: the French system explained 

What changed this year for school pupils?

This year, there were no end-of-term exams. Pupils were evaluated solely on their test results from the first two terms and on their report notes. Marking was reportedly on the generous side to counter the difficulties of an unusual year. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said, in a BFMTV interview, that the results were not surprising: “As we expected, more passed because of continuous assessment.”

Some have commented that it demonstrates the problems of basing results on continuous assessment, rather than final exams. From next year, students will sit a new-style bac, which will be 40% based on continuous assessment and 60% on end-of-year exams.

Read more: a record number of French students have passed their final exams

The government said that basing some marks on continuous assessment is fairer, particularly for those who perform badly under exam conditions. This year’s bac results have also fuelled criticism that it is getting easier. In 2010, the success rate was 85.6%. It is not yet known whether the new bac next year will be tougher. With more students than expected passing this year, the challenge now is to find places in higher education for everyone.

Every student with a baccalaureate has the right to a place in the public university system, irrespective of grade. This year, there are likely to be more expecting a place than ever before. Jean-Rémi Girard, president of SNALC, the union for French secondary schoolteachers, told BFMTV: “Higher education will have to manage a significant influx of new students while it has itself been affected by the coronavirus crisis.”

The Ministry of Higher Education said it is working with institutions to create new places for students. The Parcoursup admissions site has been set up to allow students to contact higher education institutions directly to find out what courses still have places available for September. According to the ministry, this could lead to up to 7,500 extra university places being filled. The aim is to find a place for each pupil.

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