The minister for French education, M. Darcos, is coming to London this week to discuss the possibility of a Franco-British qualification, a 'bi-certification', with his British counterpart. The lycée, which up till now exclusively pursued the French system, will gradually merge with the British system. At the age of 14, the lycée splits into 2 schools, the French section which follows the baccalaureat and the British section which studies for GCSE's and A' levels. Already one of the French junior schools (Clapham) that feeds into the Lycée, has classes that are 50% anglophone and 50% francophone. The first year at the lycée, (year 7 or 6 eme), has now half a dozen classes that are taught bilingually.
My daughter who is in her first year of GCSE's will not be affected. This new system will take 4 years to be in place.
The 'proviseur', the head, announced these upcoming changes to the parents of pupils in the British section, who immediately, French style, panicked and started rowing. They seemed to feel that some of the teachers in the British section would leave. They worried also that the new qualification would not be taken seriously by universities.
The proviseur said:"We need to talk to you parents who have experience of both systems and we need to keep our British teachers as they will now start to teach our French pupils. We want to open up our very Francophone school to England, to the England that lies outside our doors."
In my opinion, this is a good thing. It always stuns me how many of the French pupils do not adequately speak English, arguably the lingua franca of today. (Link to this story)
I was surprised however to learn that even in the French section, 60% of the pupils apply to British universities rather than French. The Lycée Charles de Gaulle, more than any other international lycée in the world, has a higher percentage, 68%, of French pupils, no doubt in part due to proximity to France. Only 18% of the school are non-French. The majority are of mixed parentage. A mere 9% are purely French.
However there are genuine practical problems with opening up the school to British pupils. Already the French lycée in London is over-subscribed. I actually had to move to France for a year in order to gain entry for my child. During the last 15 years a huge influx of French people have come to London for work. When the credit crunch really hits, this may change.
Some French parents were concerned because one of the advantages of the French system is that it is homogeneous. If it is 9 am on a Wednesday and you are doing Geography, then every class in that year, in the world, is doing Geography. (Something the National Curriculum attempts to emulate). This is useful for French parents who regularly move from job to job throughout the world. Their children will have a consistent education throughout.
Germany, always at the forefront of any European initiative, has been pursuing the 'abibac' for several years now and are the driving force behind merging European education systems.
This has taken place in Spain, Italy, Czech, Slovakia and Austria. True to form, Britain is last on the list for this merger. These bi-national agreements are part of the Lisbon agreement.
I asked: "Is this a pilot scheme for an eventual pan-European system of education and certification? A bit like an educational euro zone? Is this what we are looking at in the next 10 to 20 years?"
There were a few chuckles and somebody quipped that Britain needs perhaps to adopt the euro first. The proviseur didn't answer clearly but at the end of the meeting admitted that there was a 'political desire' for a 'fusion' between European educational systems.
It could be an exciting development, the best of the French system; the academia, the emphasis on hand-writing, presentation, and generalisation; and the best of the British...creativity, lateral thinking, multiple teaching methods, specialisms, inclusion of art, sport and music. However the bac generally contains at least 6 subjects whereas few people do more than 4 A'levels and people are reluctant to drop their own systems.
As one mother said: "If your child wishes to become a vet in British education, it is impossible with a bac or an I.B. They will only accept A'levels. The British are chauvinist about their system just as we are about ours".
The I.B. is the International Baccalaureat, but apparently this isn't taken very seriously by universities.
One parent asked "How is history going to be taught? Will there be a special textbook? I imagine the German point of view on World War II is rather different from the French view."He has a point. French perspective on history is very different from the British. For instance Dunkirk, for the French, was an example of English cowardice, hence the phrase 'filer à l'anglaise' (run away like the English) whereas for the British, it was our finest hour.