The lower secondary school system is failing to promote greater social equality and needs a radical overhaul, according to a report on the country's 6,700 coll ges.
The government has accepted the conclusions of a 150-page survey which drew on a questionnaire filled in by 80 per cent of coll ges and written evidence from 5,000 witnesses.
Coll ges cater for pupils from the age of 10 or 11 who follow a four-year cycle before moving on to lycee. For the past 20 years the schools have been non-selective and, in theory, unstreamed. But they have increasingly come to be regarded as the least satisfactory in the education system.
Schools minister Segol ne Royal, introducing the report, said: "Let's not be afraid to say it; the standard is rising but the gaps between pupils and individual schools are deepening."
She said the comprehensive coll ge had been successful in extending educational opportunity in junior secondary schools to working-class children, raising standards and increasing the numbers going on to higher secondary education and the baccalaureat.
But there had been major problems in integrating large numbers of pupils into the schools, the number with severe learning difficulties appeared to be static and streaming was returning.
"Inequality is reappearing just where we were wanting to create greater equality, by placing our faith in mixing (pupils)," she said.
The report said coll ges' problems included violence, pupils' lack of motivation, social inequality and the creation of a hierarchy.
The report found that few teachers wanted to return to a selective system. Three-quarters wanted to retain the present system, provided it was made more flexible and offered more help to children in difficulty. The report rejects the idea of a return to streaming, while leaving open the possibility of more working in small groups.
The authors of the report identified the core of the problem as confusion as to whether the coll ge should be regarded as the continuation of the primary school or a preparation for the lycee.
The report underlines the importance of ensuring that children arrive at the coll ge adequately prepared. It is estimated that 20 per cent of entrants do not have satisfactory literacy skills. Another recommendation called for more emphasis on oral and practical work.
There were also calls for closer links between the schools and the vocational lycees which many of the pupils go on to. The report underlined the importance of avoiding a system under which a hierarchy of colleges emerged, with some establishments becoming elite institutions while others turned into ghettos.