French schools falling further behind, shows major new study

Maths, literacy and science skills have declined since 2019

Education Minister Gabriel Attal has announced a raft of changes to stem the decline of pupils’ maths and literacy skills
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Education in France has deteriorated since 2019 with a marked decline in maths, reading, writing and science, a major international report claims. We look at the data behind this and what the Ministry of Education proposes to do about it.

The study by the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tested 8,000 pupils aged 15 in 335 teaching establishments across France and performed equivalent tests in 80 other countries.

This PISA evaluation has been performed every three years since 2000 so this new one relates to 2022.

What did the study find?

The results make grim reading for the Ministry of Education:

  • A deterioration in maths, reading and science:
  • Fewer high-performing and more under-performing pupils than in 2019
  • An increasing gap between privileged and underprivileged pupils
  • Since 2019, France has slipped from 23rd to 25th place in the PISA rankings:

How has the Ministry of Education reacted?

The report’s findings will come as no surprise to the Ministry of Education.

Earlier this year, a government report found that more than a quarter (27%) of pupils do not have the required level of French or maths when they reach secondary school.

In September, Minister of Education Gabriel Attal announced that primary schools need to place a greater emphasis on reading, writing and maths.

In concrete terms, this meant prescribing two hours of reading each day for six-year-olds in primary school class CP.

The minister also announced new maths tests for nine-year-old pupils in class CM1, intended to identify those that need extra attention.

Read more: What’s new for pupils as schools restart in France

Since the PISA report studied 15-year-olds in 2022, it does not account for these recent reforms.

However, the embarrassing deterioration of literacy and maths skills have forced the Minister of Education to present a raft of new changes.

“Our schools need to hand teachers a revitalised education system,” announced Mr Attal on December 5.

“From next September, there will be new programmes at primary school from nursery classes to CE2.”

Mr Attal also announced that from September 2025:

  • Teachers will have the final say on whether pupils need to repeat a year (currently parents can refuse this)
  • From age 12-13 (6eme) schools will teach French and maths in groups determined by ability level
  • Holiday classes (stages de réussite) for struggling pupils from age 12-13
  • The introduction of an artificial intelligence tool (MIA) to help students from age 15
  • More maths and French for students doing a general or technological Bac.

The decline of language and maths learning is not unique to France. The UK also scored lower in the PISA rankings than it did in 2018, however it actually went up one position from 15th to 14th place.

They have also deteriorated in the US, which slipped from 13th to 18th place in the rankings.

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