Key points

The twofold priority given to both primary school and higher education in the first year of the presidential term is consistent with candidate Macron’s campaign commitments.

The division of classes and the adoption of the “Orientation and Achievement of Students” law reflect a willingness to act: on the reduction of inequalities between pupils for the first, on the orientation and demography of students for the second.

However, there is still much to be done, especially for higher education, where the reform was not able to address the system’s two main issues: under-investment and a lack of real autonomy.

Regarding primary school, an in-depth review of the initial and continuous training for teachers is expected.

Key dates

Gradually dividing up Year 7 (1st Grade) and Year 8 (2nd Grade) classes in educational priority networks and first experiments on the adaptation of school timetables

30 october 2017

Presentation of the Student Plan

october 2017

15 january 2018

Launch of the "Parcoursup" admissions platform

january 2018

14 february 2018

Presentation of the project to reform the baccalaureate

february 2018

15 february 2018

Adoption of the “Orientation and Achievement of Students” law

22 february 2018

Submission of a report on the future of vocational career paths

27 february 2018 - 28 february 2018

"Assises de la maternelle" (Kindergarten Conferences)

1 april 2018 - 30 april 2018

Presentation to the Council of Ministers of a Bill on the reform of vocational education

april 2018

Figures

Law on orientation and school achievement

Description: The law on orientation and school achievement removes the student social security contribution and creates a one-stop-shop “student life” contribution
Campaign promise? Yes
Cost for public finances of €414 to €834 million, revenues up to €172 million
Cost and revenues breakdown:
Weight borne by the State: €172 million of potential revenue for the State, potential construction cost of €420 million
Weight borne by local authorities: 0%
Weight borne by social security: 100% of the €414 million cost

The 8 March 2018 law regarding students’ orientation and achievement transforms the access to higher education. It gives a more important role to the educational teams of lycées (upper secondary schools) in the orientation of future students and personalizes the entry into higher education according to students’ achievements. It also includes 3 measures with a significant financial impact: the creation of additional student places in struggling fields, the removal of the student social security contribution and the creation of a single “student life” contribution.

The removal of the student social security contribution for all students represents a cost of €414 million per year. In the absence of State compensation, this cost will be fully borne by the general social security scheme, which will provide benefits without any additional contribution.

If the capacity of existing facilities were to be insufficient, the construction of facilities for 22,000 pupils could represent an investment of approximately €420 million.

Moreover, the creation of a unique “student life” contribution represents a resource of €172 million. This resource will be used to finance actions covered by already existing contributions. However, the State could benefit from potential excess resources.

Reestablishing tutoring after class: introduction of the “Devoirs faits” (Homework done) program

Description: Introduction of the “Devoirs faits” (Homework done) program to lend free support to any students who would like it after school
Campaign promise? Yes
The costs for public finances could range from €180 to €306 million per year
Cost breakdown:
Cost borne by the State: 100%
Cost borne by local authorities: 0%
Cost borne by social security: 0%

The “devoirs faits” (homework done) program could represent for the State budget between €180 million and €306 million per year. The actual amount will depend on the success the program meets with secondary school pupils and their families (this could reach 25% to 35% of pupils), as well as on the profile of the supervisors selected to tutor, be they teachers or volunteers from civil service of nonprofit organizations.

Gradually dividing up Year 7 (1st Grade) and Year 8 (2nd Grade) classes in educational priority networks

Description: From September 2017, no more than 12 pupils per Year 7 class in reinforced educational priority networks (REP+), then, from September 2018, Year 7 classes in educational priority networks (REP) and Year 8 classes in REP and REP+ will gradually be divided up.
Campaign promise? Yes
Approximate cost of €503 million per year, once the whole operation is fully deployed
Cost breakdown:
Cost borne by the State: 100%
Cost borne by local authorities: 0%
Cost borne by social security: 0%

The division of classes of Year 7 (1st grade) and Year 8 (2nd grade) in two in REP (educational priority networks) and REP + (reinforced educational priority networks) should result in an increase of 14,379 classes of these levels’ number of classes. Just as many teachers will have to be mobilized to implement this system. The overall cost of the measure, which corresponds to the teachers’ payroll, is €503 million per year.

Reestablishing bilingual classes, European sections and the teaching of Classics

Description: The decree of 18 June 2017 authorizes the reestablishment of bilingual classes, European or oriental languages sections, and the reinforcement of Greek and Latin teaching.
Campaign promise? Yes
Cost for public finances of €49 million per year
Cost breakdown:
Cost borne by the State: 100%
Cost borne by local authorities: 0%
Cost borne by social security: 0%

The reform of secondary schools (collèges) from the previous government, which suppressed bilingual classes and European or Oriental language sections, and reduced the number of hours devoted to the teaching of humanities, eliminated optional teaching hours, thus cutting some 1,300 jobs. Scrapping these teaching jobs represented a potential saving of approximately €49 million, under the hypothesis that there were no redeployment of staff (which nevertheless did take place in practice).

Consequently, in a reciprocal way, the cost of re-establishing these sectors should translate into a need for 1,300 additional jobs, which represents a payroll of around €49 million for the State. The redeployment of staff allowed to limit this cost in the same way that it helped to reduce the economy when secondary school was reformed.

Reestablishing bilingual classes, European sections and the teaching of Classics

Description: The decree of 18 June 2017 authorizes the reestablishment of bilingual classes, European or oriental languages sections, and the reinforcement of Greek and Latin teaching.
Campaign promise? Yes
Cost for public finances of €49 million per year
Cost breakdown:
Cost borne by the State: 100%
Cost borne by local authorities: 0%
Cost borne by social security: 0%

Leave more choice to local authorities to organize school time

Description: By decree of 28 June 28 2017, local authorities were offered more choice regarding the organization of school time, with the possibility of returning to the a 4-day long week.
Campaign promise? Yes
Estimated savings for public finances: €1.35 billion
Savings breakdown:
Savings for the State: €373 million per year (potentially)
Savings for local authorities: €842 million per year (potentially)
Savings for social security: €100 million per year (potentially)

The annual cost of reforming school time is around €1.35 billion. This amount has enabled to finance extracurricular activities in municipalities. The decree of 28 June 2017 allowed municipalities to choose between maintaining a week of 4 days and a half or returning to a 4-day long week as it used to be. More than 40% of municipalities have already chosen to return to the 4-day week. There should be over two thirds of them by September 2018.

This massive return to the 4-day week implies a financial gain for the State, which is thus able to reduce the resources allocated to the reform support fund. A general return to the 4-day week would imply a budgetary gain for the State of €373 million.
For local authorities, a general return to the pre-reform situation would allow a theoretical saving of around €842 million. However, French citizens seem attached to qualitative extracurricular activities. If financial savings are expected by the municipalities, they should not reach the maximum possible amount of €842 million but rather be at an intermediate level. In this regard, a survey led by the Association of Mayors of France (AMF) shows that the cost per student related to extracurricular activities is roughly the same whether or not the municipalities were to keep the 4-days -and-a-half long week or return to the 4-day week. As a result, budget savings could in some cases be nil.

Finally, the elimination of CNAF‘s dedicated allocation could save €100 million per year for social security.

Campaign promises

Candidate Macron made education a top priority of his program. The measures proposed, from nursery to university, all had in common autonomy, the reduction of inequalities and enhanced support for students. The candidate then focused on two priorities: teaching fundamentals in kindergarten and primary school, and at the other end of the spectrum, the achievement of autonomy and the strengthening of the orientation in higher education. The question is already marked out: upstream, preventing inequalities by investing heavily in the first years of school, and downstream, ensuring the professional integration of students by insisting on their orientation, when both entering and leaving higher education.

  • Regarding schooling: the division in two of classes of Year 7 (1st grade) and Year 8 (2nd grade) in REP (educational priority networks) and REP + (reinforced educational priority networks) was a key proposal of the candidate’s program. The individualization of learning thanks to digital technologies and changing teaching practices made Emmanuel Macron stand out from other candidates, who were often more reluctant to bring digital technology into schools. Aware of the reluctance that such measures could generate among teaching staff, the training of teachers to the use of new pedagogies is also mentioned in the program.
  • Regarding higher education: the measures covered both the governance of educational institutions and students’ academic process. On the former, the stated goal was the achievement of autonomy, with more leeway for the hiring of teacher-researchers, the consolidation of mechanisms assessing the courses delivered and the diversification of funding sources. Research, for its part, is established as “national priority”. Campaign promises targeting students focused on orientation, improved by transparency on success rates and career opportunities, the formalization of “prerequisites” and enhanced individual support in order to curb the “selection by failure” .

Overview

Emmanuel Macron and education: arithmetic sequence with a common difference of 2

Deploying an almost mathematical rigor, Emmanuel Macron and his Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, marked “year 1” with a series of reforms conducted at a brisk pace. Such a start allowed Emmanuel Macron to strengthen his image of an “active president” and Jean-Michel Blanquer to be quickly perceived as one of the main figures of the government.

Demonstration:

  • N+2: as of July 2017, the newly elected President convened education and higher education players for a broad consultation on students’ integration and success. This consultation planted the seed of the “Student Plan”, which blossomed and was presented a few months later at the Council of Ministers.
  • N+4: in September 2017, in the first year of his term, Macron and his Minister of Education divided up the number of pupils in Year 7 (1st grade) classes in REP +. This measure will apply to Year 8 (2nd grade) classes from September 2018 onwards. Back-to-school day was also the opportunity to launch the first experiments regarding the adaptation of school timetables, as well as the “Devoirs faits” (homework done) program.
  • N+6: November 2017, after primary school, came higher education. On November 22, the Council of Ministers unveiled the bill on students’ orientation and achievement, which will inspire the “Orientation and Achievement of Students” bill, discussed in the National Assembly a month later. Primary school reform was engaged, and along with it the lottery draw and the French admissions platform Admission post bac (APB) were removed, and the latter soon replaced by Parcoursup. However, the word “selection” is carefully withheld from Ministers’ statements and semantic field.
  • N+8: January 2018: after primary school and higher education, Emmanuel Macron looked into secondary school and the Baccalaureate. Pierre Mathiot, former president of Sciences Po Lille, became the reform’s emissary. Four tests, a final oral exam and a “dose” of continuous assessment during the academic year. After Admission post bac (APB), it was the Scientific, Economic and Social Affairs, and Literary tracks’ turn to be removed imminently.
  • N+10: March 2018, the hasty shift from higher to primary education and from primary to higher education went on. On 27 March, Emmanuel Macron launched the Assises de la maternelle (Kindergarten Conferences) and announced the decrease of the compulsory schooling age from 6 to 3 years old, from the start of the 2019 school year onwards. According to the President, this reform will foster “real equality”, while many commentators consider it to be merely “symbolic” since only 20,000 young children are not currently enrolled in school from the age of 3.

Analysis

Education is undoubtedly one of the public policy fields where the President and his Ministers have been the most proactive. Concrete steps have been taken, in line with campaign priorities, and at a steady and consistent pace. However, let us not proclaim victory too fast. It is necessary to remain vigilant on some topics:

  • On higher education, candidate Macron’s program had a major weakness: the lack of reinvestment, even if spending per student has declined in France in recent years (below those of some major developed countries, it declined by 8% over the 2013-2016 period for French universities). A budget freeze was planned, while massive investments were expected. While an increase was effectively voted in the 2018 Budget Law, nothing guarantees today that these credits will be available and used. It must be acknowledged that universities’ autonomy, while promised during the campaign, remains largely unfinished.
  • Admission Post Bac‘s failure in Spring 2017, which left thousands of senior high school students unassigned, some of them even having to resort to drawing lots, prompted the government to react quickly. Hence the creation of Parcoursup, a device created by the “Orientation and Achievement of Students” law. Thanks to this reform, the government has treated the problem’s symptoms but has not yet frontally tackled its roots. This gives an explanation to our system’s obvious failure.
  • The “Orientation and Achievement of Students” law instills a positive dynamic, yet remains insufficient in view of the significant challenges faced by our system. It provides no answer to the three main challenges to the French higher education system: the lack of funding, the lack of autonomy for the educational institutions and the demographic influx (according to the Ministry, there will be 204,000 additional students by 2022, which is highly significant). Governance is poorly managed, funding is too linear and not differentiated enough, the Ministry continues to play a supervisory role, assessment is not developed enough… These topics, which it would have been illusory to hope to treat in a single year, must imperatively be addressed in “phase 2” of the Macron’s presidency.
  • Finally, it is worth noting that the Baccalaureate reform overlooks – at least for now – professional pathways, which nevertheless concern a third of all graduates, and those who are most affected by dropout. It is thus urgent to reform and enhance this examination, in order to make it more appealing to our young students. Shorter and work-oriented pathways such as IUT (University Institutes of Technology), which should in theory welcome them with open arms, continue to turn their backs on their natural audience.

And now?

The movement initiated regarding primary education must be pursued. From the start of the next academic year, the division of Year 7 (1st grade) and Year 8 (2nd grade) classes in REP and REP + will take off. It is necessary to continue to focus our resources on the most disadvantaged so that the unbearable inequalities sheltered within our primary schools finally scale back.

Measures announced during the campaign on pedagogy and the introduction of digital technologies will have to be implemented. They must support an in-depth review of teachers’ initial and continuous training. It can no longer be the forsaken part of the education system, nor can it be based on a compromise of “low intensity” as it is today, i.e. an almost non-existent training, or one of mediocre quality, but set during teaching time. The principles regulating the major reform on continuous training for private sector employees should apply to teachers’ continuous training, thus placing this fundamental lever for personal evolution and career management in their own hands.

The right to experimentation and the evaluation of secondary schools are both top-priority projects requiring urgent action. Lycée (upper secondary school) pupils will be the first ones to experience the Baccalaureate reform, which aims to profoundly transform secondary education.

On higher education, priority goes to autonomy and evaluation. This time however, the target is full autonomy, not a managerial autonomy, which has proved so difficult to achieve since the 2007 reform. It is necessary to start an in-depth transformation of the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, the organization of which has hardly changed since 2007. It should concentrate its future actions on the reflection upon our higher education system’s strategic evolution, and deploy all of its missions within an evaluation agency – on the strengthened basis of the one that currently exists – and an agency for the allocation of funding. All other missions – including that of the famous school counselors – are no longer necessary.

Without financial autonomy particularly, our institutions will not be able to undertake the reforms necessary to their modernization and to the reinforcement of their attractivity. A promise of candidate Macron, “the diversification of funding sources” used by educational institutions will, first and foremost, come from tuition fees, especially when applied to non-EU students. The implementation of fair and flexible tuition fees adapted to each student’s contribution capacities and to each institution’s specific policy is mandatory for the sustainability of our system in the medium term.

Pedagogical autonomy must then allow each educational institution to overcome the current three-fold deficit on orientation, qualification and information.

Finally, French higher education – universities and schools – must build a much more ambitious policy on international attractiveness. France, relegated from the third to the fourth position in worldwide rankings on the welcoming of foreign students, is now behind the United States, Great Britain and Australia. In the latter, foreigners account for 25% of all students, and thanks to them, higher education has become a real export and competitive industry for the country. Food for thought.