Emmanuel Macron and education: on the crest

April 21, 2022

In the presidential project that Emmanuel Macron presented on March 17, education occupies a prominent place. This priority of the presidential candidate was reaffirmed in the debate that pitted the two finalists in the presidential election on April 20. Emmanuel Macron remains convinced that strengthening equal opportunities requires educational success. This is one of the strengths of his political philosophy: rather than compensating for inequalities with monetary benefits, as the French left defended and practiced when he was in power for many years, it is better to treat them as roots. And this root treatment goes through the school. In fact, social science work has shown that cognitive inequalities, the source of wider social inequalities, crystallize from the earliest years of life and are very difficult to correct later if not addressed as soon as possible. However, as the President acknowledged at his press conference, France’s results in this regard are disappointing, as OECD PISA surveys regularly show.

Ending educational centralism

What is the president’s diagnosis to explain these wrongdoings and justify his educational program? Essentially, the idea that the hyper-centralized nature of the “National Education” machine is no longer adequate to deal with extremely contrasting local situations in a context of mass education. Giving additional resources to disadvantaged areas is not enough because these policies leave out one essential ingredient: the motivation and involvement of local actors. This motivation and involvement, of course, may exist, but the current system of teacher assignment, essentially by seniority, and the bureaucratic centralism of the administration do not favor them. The Copernican revolution therefore consists of giving more autonomy to the establishments in order, in the long run, to hire teachers for “profile positions” and to build real educational communities united around a common project.

In his press conference, Emmanuel Macron has insisted on one aspect, probably because he talks to the parents of the students, that of the absences of non-substituted teachers. He did not pick up on this argument in the April 20 debate, because it had aroused controversy and seemed stigmatizing. In any case, this is just one example of a much broader issue: the involvement of teachers and the recognition of their efforts for the success of the students for whom they are responsible. Studies in the economics of education have shown – a result that we conceive quite instinctively – that the quality of education (and therefore of the teachers who teach it) is an essential factor for success. of students. The involvement of the teachers, their good adaptation to the position and the students for whom they are responsible, are, therefore, something essential that must be encouraged as much as possible. It is also a question of taking into account better than today in France the fact that each teacher belongs to an educational community whose objectives he must share. The teaching profession is still too conceived in our country in a purely individualized way. The exchange of experiences and good practices should be generalized.

This kind of policy also means leaving some room for establishments to implement their national programs in their own way, which is done in northern European countries with much better results than in France. Such recommendations (which also support the OECD) arouse strong criticism in France from Republican equality supporters. But these critics are hypocrites because the equality they speak of remains purely formal. It is an equality of role, not a real equality, it is enough to convince some to compare the dropout rates of the city’s priority neighborhoods and those of other areas of the territory. Adapting national curricula does not mean giving up national curricula but imagining appropriate educational means to transmit them to populations with specific characteristics. Only local actors directly confronting these audiences can imagine and build these educational tools. They already do to a certain extent, of course, but they need to be encouraged and encouraged even more, and therefore they need to be trusted and given more freedom. “The programs and exams are still national, but we need to take on more freedom,” he said.

Safeguarding this freedom left to local actors is evaluation, and not just a formal and insignificant evaluation as practiced today, but a real evaluation of establishments with relevant indicators of success. Again, the northern countries have been doing this for a long time. In France, we are reduced to fairly approximate rankings published periodically by magazines. Such proposals also face strong criticism, stigmatizing a managerial approach to education and pointing out the risk of wild competition between schools. But here again these criticisms are hypocritical, because this competition does exist, but today it is played out in a black market of education with biased and often fanciful information. The real thing is preferable to rumors and rumors.

Emmanuel Macron also wants to extend and expand the vocational high school reform that began in 2019, in particular by grouping too many vocational high school specialties into 14 craft families, a good idea that prevents students from specializing too soon in a specialty which would not necessarily correspond to their wishes (but there are still 44 specialties for students who do not opt ​​for high school and who start a CAP). The presidential candidate did not go into the details of the planned reform. We understand that he wants to bring the baccalaureate closer to the business world than what happens today and better adapt training to work needs, without hesitating to “de-reference” training professions that would not be “sufficiently qualified or do not lead to sustainable employment.” Above all, we are committed to efficiency in vocational integration by bringing the professional baccalaureate closer to the learning model.

The bet of the negotiation

With this global program (which was only touched on in the long debate on April 20 and which does not present as explicitly as I do here, but that is the spirit), Emmanuel Macron is on the crest line, because he knows that this reform will not be able to succeed against the teachers. He must be able to convince them and the task promises to be difficult[1]. The teachers’ unions that intervened after his press conference are in arms, even the reformist UNSA. For Snuipp, “it’s an ultra-liberal, right-wing Anglo-Saxon program.” Undoubtedly, Emmanuel Macron has promised a significant increase in the remuneration of teachers (less well paid than in the rest of the OECD at the beginning of his career), but with additional commitment counterparts (replacement of absent teachers, support individual to students, etc.). …). Perhaps it recalls the experience of the Prime Minister of Education of François Hollande, Vincent Peillon, who, since the beginning of his term, made many concessions to teachers’ unions without asking for compensation and whose end results are still very disappointing. despite good intentions.[2]. Emmanuel Macron is committed to a negotiation, with give and take, that can be committed to the representatives of the world of education. An important point to note is that this consultation will be broad, as it will have to involve not only teachers and educational and administrative teams, but also parents of students, elected officials, associations and also middle school and high school students. Undoubtedly, the candidate hopes that the voice of users of education, and not just professionals, can be heard and encourage commitment. However, the bet is far from being won, as the success of the reform seems to depend on the outcome of these negotiations. In the mind of the candidate, it seems that the validation of universal suffrage is no longer enough to impose the legitimacy of a reform. Education will be a field full of traps for this new (still vague) philosophy of political action.

[1] On this subject, see the paper by Iannis Roder in The Express March 24: “Reforming the school without losing sight of the interests of teachers is a real challenge.”

[2] See “Candidate Vincent Peillon: Was He a Good Minister of Education?” », The ObsDecember 12, 2016.

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