IN TEN years the proportion of 18-year-olds successfully sitting the baccalaureat exam, which is the gateway to higher education as well as acting as a school-leaving certificate, has risen from 36 per cent to a little over 61 per cent of the age group.
In the mid-1980s the socialist government set a target that 80 per cent should take the exam. Official figures suggest that 77 per cent - 610,000 - did so this year with a pass rate of almost 79 per cent, the best for almost 30 years.
But the figures need to be treated with some caution in the light of the changes in recent years and the growth in the numbers taking the vocationally-orientated professional baccalaureat.
Slightly over half of all bac candidates (55 per cent) now take the general bac, 29 per cent the technology bac and 16 per cent the professional bac.
In fact the number of candidates sitting the traditional bac general - which is now slimmed down to three streams: science, literature and economic and social sciences - actually fell this year, though the pass rate rose from 76.9 per cent in 1997 to 79.1 per cent, so that a smaller number of candidates produced a higher number of passes.
The great growth area has been the professional bac, taken by students who attend vocationally-orientated lycees professionels. The number sitting this exam has risen from 8,600 in 1988, when it was first introduced, to 96, 000. Most of those who pass do not go on to further study. It offers 41 specialist subjects with a total of 60 options; from aeronautics to hotel work and the building industry.
Technology bac entries rose from 145,821 in 1988 to 176,421 last year. Comparisons between standards in the different types of baccalaureat are difficult. The exam is marked according to a complicated system which gives different weightings to results according to the subject and the type of baccalaureat. There is no grading system similar to that in A-levels.