8 September 2023

IShould education lead to a job or does it simply consist in training future citizens? If France has never really succeeded in overcoming this eternal debate, it is undoubtedly because the only valid answer is that the first objective is as important as the second. However, the vocational high schools do not achieve either one or the other, resulting in an immense waste for a non-negligible part of the youth. Therefore, making the reform of these vocational high schools a “national cause”, as announced on Thursday, May 4, Emmanuel Macron, is nothing grandiloquent: it is a duty and a necessity.

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The sector combines the difficulties by concentrating the most fragile students socially and academically. Once they graduate, only a small half find a job after one year. This balance sheet is not tolerable. It is the fruit of several decades of ill-calibrated reforms, wobbly budgets and a system incapable of questioning itself despite the lack of results.

Often chosen by default, the vocational high school ended up becoming for many students a “siding road” allowing, in the general indifference, neither pursuit of studies nor professional integration. At the end of the day, a population with few qualifications, forgotten, feeling downgraded and having become one of the main electoral hunting grounds of the National Rally.

A “pact” with teachers

The reform proposes a series of changes around two pillars. One concerns improving employability. The aim is to match training with the potential of the local employment area. The project aims to be transparent about training opportunities and plans to close those with the lowest integration rates. The idea makes good sense. It remains to explain how the teachers concerned will be supported. Finally, in order to better promote student careers and reduce the attractiveness gap with apprentice training centres, there are plans to remunerate work placements. These will be more numerous in terminale.

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These efforts in favor of professional integration are welcome, but they must not be made to the detriment of the second pillar of the reform, ie the improvement of basic knowledge. This is where it all gets complicated, because the balance will depend on how it is applied. It is a question of establishing a “pact” with the teachers. The latter will be able to receive up to 7,500 euros gross per year in exchange for “missions” such as support for students in difficulty.

Objective : “zero dropouts”, promises the president. But, behind the slogan, few details. If the insertion part is marked out and called to apply uniformly, that concerning the consolidation of general education will vary according to the commitment of the teachers. The proportion of those who are ready to accept the “pact” will partly determine the effectiveness of the reform. On the one hand, the risk is to create a two-speed system between the high schools that will play the game and those that will refuse. On the other hand, it is an opportunity to place teachers face to face with their responsibilities and play on the ripple effect.

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Thanks to an envelope of 1 billion euros per year, Mr. Macron wishes “continue to create more links between the educational world and the business world, assuming that vocational high school is a third way”. But this will only be able to assert itself if the sector knows how to lead employability and general culture on the same level. At this stage, it is difficult to know whether this essential balance will be respected.

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