While France devotes more than 6% of its GDP to education expenditure (in 2009), international comparisons suggest that the French education system is not necessarily performing commensurately with that level of investment. This is because the educational model first established in France in the late nineteenth century and which has continued in being since then, is perhaps no longer suited to the demands of the twenty-first century.
As Daniel Gouadain shows here, Republican elitism, based on the principle of equality of opportunity for all, does not achieve equality or homogeneity of results at the end of schooling. On the contrary, as currently conceived, the French system is unable to give all French schoolchildren the means to acquire the “common core of knowledge and skills” of which decision-makers so often speak. And though it is difficult to imagine radical reform in the short term, given the many players involved and the past heritage that weighs on the French education system, gradual measures aimed at reorganizing schools to meet today’s social and educational challenges – not to speak of those of tomorrow – are undoubtedly possible.
Gouadain outlines a few such measures here, stressing particularly the importance of secondary education and teacher recruitment, highlighting particularly the need for genuine mixed ability teaching in French classrooms to escape the vicious circle in which a small elite receives a very good education, while the level of the great majority stagnates or declines. To achieve this, it is going to be necessary to take the risk of introducing freedom into the French education system, while being careful not to sacrifice the other educational ideals on the altar of market forces.