What is the French baccalauréat?
Instead of A levels, French pupils take the baccalauréat, a complex system that provides an all-round education
Napoleon instituted the baccalauréat, popularly known as le bac, in 1808 as the French Revolution had wrecked the educational system. Mandatory for entering university and restricted to males, the examination was an oral, giving the utmost importance to Latin.
These days, pupils are faced with three baccalauréats. Which one to choose?
1. The ‘bac général’ is considered the most prestigious and is subdivided into three sections: ES (Economy and Social Sciences), L (Literary), S (Sciences).
2. The ‘bac technologique’ created in 1968 offers eight streams: management, design, sustainable development, path lab, health, agronomy, music-dance and hotel business.
3. The ‘bac professionnel’ established in 1985 has no fewer than 80 vocational specialities.
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Whatever the choice, the target is clear: reach an average of 10 out of 20 for the multitude of subjects taken. Beyond 12, honours are awarded. The final total also includes the French exam marks obtained in the lower sixth and options, for example additional sport or the Breton language.
Le bac, always kicks off with a four-hour philosophy dissertation. Last year set questions included ‘Is desire by nature limitless?’ or ‘Is working less, living better?’
Results are available on 5 July. For pupils who fall below 8 out of 20, it is goodbye until next time. For those who get 8, there is a second chance in the form of oral exams on 6 and 7 July, in order to get the much-coveted 10. Phew!
The bac has happily become accessible to all. Not so long ago, in 1967, my region did not teach Latin to girls. Five parents asked the Minister of Education if their daughters could study it at the boys’ school (thanks mum and dad). Three of us took the 1973 literary bac. Out of a mixed class of 28 pupils we were the only ones to pass. Vicimus! We conquered.
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