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Protest forces U-turn on new bac

Education minister Francois Fillon last week backed down from plans to change the baccalaureat school-leaving exam, after an estimated 100,000 upper secondary pupils took to the streets.

After the mass protest in towns throughout France, Mr Fillon announced he would not reform the bac until he had allayed pupils' and teachers' fears.

The lycee protests had been growing in recent weeks, with pupils turning out in force last month to join forces with teachers, who mounted their biggest strike for nearly two years to protest at the controversial changes.

Along with teachers' unions, lycee pupil representatives walked out of a working group set up by the minister to look at bac reform. They were especially angry at proposals to cut the number of subjects where students have to take a written exam from 12 to six. The remaining subjects would be examined by continuous assessment The bac is a national exam that is externally marked. There are fears that replacing parts of it with in-school continuous assessment will favour pupils from elite lycees. Protesters said that a pass from such top schools would be seen as more valuable than one from a school in a deprived area.

Another major bone of contention is the proposed abolition of travaux personnels encadres, a multi-disciplinary bac option of supervised independent study that can boost bac results (TES, December 10, 2004).

The protesters feared some options, notably in social sciences and economics, would be axed. Mr Fillon said they were mistaken, but the fear remains that the loss of thousands of teaching posts and cuts in resources will mean some subjects being axed from the curriculum.

The lycee students also oppose the proposed "common base of skills" for pupils which is at the centre of the Fillon attempts to improve the 3Rs at all educational levels. They claim making room for this this would mean the end or marginalisation of some subjects such as sports, arts and technology.

One of the lycee action groups said the reforms were not aimed at imparting knowledge but at shaping workers who could rapidly integrate into the labour market. Such "simplistic practical training" would "destroy the critical mind", they said Demonstrators in Paris last Thursday numbered between 15,000 and 80,000 according to estimates of the police and the organisers.

Other towns with big turnouts were Lyon, Bordeaux, Rennes, Toulouse, Nancy and Perpignan. Following the massive protest Mr Fillon said he would not reform the bac "so long as we have not lifted the fears which have been expressed".

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