The new French baccalauréat – the changes so far and what will change in 2021
A new baccalauréat was introduced for the 2018-19 academic year and there are further changes planned from 2021 onwards. These are the key changes and what they mean for children in the French education system
The academic year of 2018-2019 ushered in changes to the French baccalauréat. Despite some resistance from a section of teachers who argue the changes will lead to increased class sizes, they are in reality more evolution than revolution. The primary objective is to give students greater choice, which in turn keeps more options open going forward.
The three principal educational axes available in French lycées remain the same:
Bac général – prepares the more academic students for university
Bac technologique – prepares academic students for the more specific scientific university courses
Bac professionnel – orientates less academic students directly towards a vocational option that may, or may not, involve further studies
In addition, it is hoped the changes will encourage more students to stay the course – while the bac général and bac technologique boast around a 90% pass level, according to government figures only 61% of students finish the course they started, with many of these switching to the less challenging bac pro.
On starting lycée, students will sit a maths and French test to give an idea of their aptitude. In the first year, they receive 90 minutes of careers guidance per week to help them choose their specialty courses. The ‘orientation’ lessons continue throughout the three years of lycée. Each student also receives personalised tutoring to improve their oral presentation skills.
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Previously, lycéens (lycée students) could choose one of three courses, known as séries: scientifique (physical sciences plus maths), économique et sociale (economics, social sciences and maths), and littéraire (French, languages, philosophy, history/geography and the arts). Once on these courses, it was difficult to change direction without re-taking a year.
The new bac général includes six obligatory core subjects: French, history-geography, two foreign languages, sport, and a new subject called humanités scientifiques and numériques, which basically covers science and technology. In the second year of lycée, students can choose three speciality subjects from a wide-ranging list. These subjects account for 12 hours of teaching per week, with the core subjects accounting for 16 hours (often the speciality subject will cross over with a core subject, accumulating hours dedicated to one subject). In the third year, they continue with two speciality subjects, still accounting for 12 hours per week. The government also believes that by allowing students to mix and match all subject fields, it will help to dispel the prejudice that a scientific bac reflects greater academic ability.
Prior to the changes, bac général students sat the French exam at the end of the second year, and all the other final exams at the end of the third year, including an oral exam. From 2021, when the first pupils following the new baccalauréat programme complete their schooling, just five exams, including an oral exam, will account for 60% of the overall mark. Continued assessment will account for 40% (of which 30% from set tests, and 10% from term grades). All the exams and continued assessment marks, apart from the grades, will be marked by external assessors.
As before, students will take the French exam (written and oral) at the end of the second year, as philosophy lessons will continue to replace French lessons in the final year. They will then sit the exam for each of the two speciality subjects immediately after the spring school holiday in the final year, and finally the philosophy and oral exam at the end of the summer term. The 20-minute oral exam is based on a project studied in the final two years.
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There are no changes to the structure of the bac technologique, which continues to offer six séries specialising in various areas of science and technology, including certain core obligatory subjects and usually two subjects of choice. Exams are sat in two phases: at the end of the second year, students take the French written and oral exam, plus an oral exam in another subject (depending on the course). At the end of the final year, they take the remaining written and oral exams.
The key change to the bac pro is again aimed at keeping options open for longer. Previously, students would choose a career option (from around 100 listed) at the end of middle school. Now, the career options are grouped into ‘families’ of careers, with a specialism chosen at the end of the first year of lycée. Teaching is split 60% vocational subjects and 40% general subjects. From the second year, students choose either the school route (voie scolaire) or apprenticeship route (apprentissage en alternance). If they opt for an apprenticeship, they spend every other week working as an apprentice with a company, as opposed to just six to eight weeks in work placements if they choose to study mostly in school. All lycées are now obliged to provide the apprenticeship option.
As part of the final assessment, lycéens studying for a bac pro must present a chef d’œuvre, via an oral exam, linked to their specialist career option. The ministry believes this will add value and prestige to the bac pro certificate. In addition, the French government aims to create at least three campus d’excellence per region specialising in specific subjects, for example aeronautics.
At the end of the final year, students decide whether they want to access the workplace (or work self-employed) straightaway, or if they want to continue in higher education, usually for a further two years.
Students need a total combined mark of 50% or above to pass their brévet and baccalauréat exams in France. Accreditations, known as mentions (‘assez bien’, ‘bien’, ‘très bien’), are awarded for achieving certain percentage thresholds above the median.
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