France. PUPILS will be able to start work-based learning from the age of 14 under measures announced by education minister Luc Ferry to improve and streamline vocational training.
The minister said the package was part of his strategy to reduce school failure. But he faces accusations that the changes will undermine the principle of comprehensive lower secondary education. Presenting his plans, he said the aim was "to change the negative image of vocational education" and remodel it as a "stream of excellence".
Vocational training does not always have the image it deserves, he said, and too often pupils are channelled into inappropriate courses because they have failed in more academic subjects.
"Improving entry conditions will reduce the number of young people leaving with no diplomas - more than 150,000 every year, 60,000 of them without any qualification at all." Reform was also needed to respond to France's future employment needs, he said.
The measures include giving coll ge (lower secondary) pupils aged 14 the option of taking a vocational course. They might study general subjects in the morning but spend the afternoon attending workshops at school or in lycees professionnels (upper secondaries specialising in vocational education) or a place of work.
Coll ge technology courses will be made "more practical and attractive". Lycees professionnels will offer coll ge pupils "mini work-experience sessions" to help them to choose the right course, and partnerships with regional authorities and work-related organisations will hold information meetings in coll ges. Teacher training will include a compulsory spell in a lycee professionnel, so that future teachers can better explain the vocational route to pupils.
Lycees des metiers will be developed. These will specialise in one trade or profession at all levels from the lowest vocational certificate to university-level degrees. But teaching unions criticised the scheme, which they claimed would end comprehensive education at lower secondary school. At present pupils only start specialising at lycee, aged about 16.
The Syndicat des Enseignants said offering job-based training in the workplace from aged 14 for pupils in difficulty would create an "inferior" stream.
Mr Ferry denied he was abolishing comprehensive education.