French pupils' spelling is deteriorating alarmingly, according to a report which revealed that more than half of 16-year-olds who took a test in dictation scored zero marks out of 20 - twice as many as four years before.
The dictation was given to 2,298 pupils in their first lycee year by members of Sauver les lettres, an action group composed mainly of teachers of French who claim that standards are falling.
The text of about 160 words, first used in 1988 in an exam for pupils aged 14 or 15, was not considered particularly difficult.
Some mistakes are penalised more heavily than others, but zero out of 20 means that roughly 15 mistakes or more have been made.
Sauver les lettres had given the same dictation to a similar sample of 16-year-olds in 2000, and in its report it compares the results of the two assessments.
More than half the pupils who took the test recently - 56 per cent - gained no marks at all. Only 18 per cent obtained 1020 or more, including 6 per cent who scored from 1520 to 2020. They performed much worse than the 2000 group, of whom 28 per cent scored zero out of 20 and 30 per cent gained 1020 or more, with just under 10 per cent achieving 1520 or more.
Reasons for the dire results, says Sauver les lettres, are a fall in the hours in class spent studying French, global methods of teaching reading, and programmes introduced in 1995 when today's lyceens were in primary school.
In response, education minister Francois Fillon said his new education reform would concentrate on teaching children a common base of skills, including mastery of the French language through a return to "traditional exercises".