Pupils, parents and teachers have expressed outrage at education minister Francois Fillon's decision to abolish a popular multi-disciplinary baccalaureat that was introduced just a few years ago.
Several petitions have been launched in defence of the programme, known as Travaux personnels encadres (TPE), and last week the Conseil superieur de l'education, a consultative but powerless council that includes teachers, parents, lycee students and representatives of other educational bodies, voted overwhelmingly against the plan to scrap the exam option.
TPE, which will remain part of the curriculum in the penultimate year of school, has brought two innovations to secondary education. First, pupils choose topics and carry out their own research, an approach seen by its supporters as useful preparation for higher education.
Second, teachers must work together because TPE combines at least two subjects. A project on bioethics, for example, might encompass work in biology and philosophy.
TPE began as a pilot scheme in 1999 and was soon extended to all lycees.
Some 90 per cent of pupils in their final year now add the option to their school-leaving exam in the hope that it will boost their scores with what can be decisive marks.
Mr Fillon wants to drop TPE because he believes it will ease the workload on pupils in their final year "to the benefit of preparing for the exam".
But the option has enjoyed huge popularity. Now, as well as an internet petition in defence of TPE begun by 13 education groups, the national union of lycee students has also launched an online protest.
Most teachers' unions have shown support for the protests. The biggest union for secondary teachers, SNES, which originally opposed the introduction of TPE, is focusing on the budget cuts and loss of teaching posts which it believes will result from the move to scrap the option.