Bac to the Future? From College to Lycée

Originally posted on & updated on 11th January, 2024

With record numbers of UK pupils passing their ‘A’ levels with increasing ease each year, has the time come to adopt the French baccalaureate system?

The majority of British students study the three subjects they excel in, forget the ones they struggled through and if all goes well their university of choice welcomes them with open arms.

But is has it all got too easy? Perhaps we should be looking at a successful alternative practiced not too far from us and debating whether the baccalaureate method is the way ahead.

The ‘bac’ demands all students achieve a high standard of achievement in all subjects thereby providing a genuine incentive to further education at a higher level. From an early age the baccalaureate instils a greater educational awareness in all students and informs them university education will be well earned, rather than seen as a complimentary rites of passage.

For many, their introduction to French education begins at the age of two at an Ecoles Maternelles where the emphasis is focussed not only on the three basics of reading, writing and arithmetic but in many cases with the addition of a foreign language.

Upon reaching the age of six, pupils move to an Ecole primaire where they remain until they reach 11. Loosely modelled on a UK primary school, the curriculum here includes further study of a foreign language along with the arts, history and geography.

Compulsory from the age of 11, College unique contains four tiers and it is here students will be exposed to their first taste of ‘streaming’ with options geared towards either the Lycée (High School) or to sitting the Brevet exam which allows them to either end their studies or continue on to a Lycee Professionnel.

The main purpose of study at the Lycée is passing the baccalaureat and larger towns offer students the choice of either a Lycée General or Lycée Technique with everyone studying philosophy during their final year.

As its name implies, the Lycée Technique gives students the opportunity to study a specialised, technical discipline while the majority of entrants to a Lycée Professionnel tend to favour blue collar professions.

After several years of study within one of the most comprehensive educational systems in the world, a student either passes the baccalaureat or fails it. And therein lies the beauty, a student must be fully competent in all subjects in order for them to pass, there is no opportunity for favouring one subject over another.

Failure brings several options including a single oral re-sit exam with the worst case scenario seeing the student held back in order to repeat their final year of study.

More often than not, success leads to a place at university which a student enters with a clear, proven understanding of even their so-called weaker subjects – in stark contrast to their UK counterparts who are given the option of cherry-picking their way to further education.

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