«“Schools of the future”: solution or illusion?». The Chronicle of Monique Canto-Sperber

A few days after his election, the President of the Republic Pap Ndiaye took his new Minister of National Education to Marseille to announce the creation of “schools of the future” intended to renew the education system. The Pisa surveys conducted over the past twenty years among 15-year-old high school students show a steady decline in the results of our students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, making our school system one of the least efficient and most unequal in the OECD to land. Above all, 20% of students go to university without mastering reading, writing and arithmetic, and 60% of students will not be able to obtain their license within three years. This bleak picture should be alarming: our school produces underprivileged young people and social mobility is severely curtailed.

The idea of ​​”schools of the future”, which the President of the Republic and his minister have taken up in Marseille, dates back to September 2021, when they visited the disaster-stricken schools in the city to “discuss Marseille in a big way ” Emmanuel Macron had proposed 59 institutions (11,000 students, 630 teachers) to show autonomy, design innovative projects, and even promised the directors that they would have the freedom to design the new teachers themselves (instead of academy inspectors). to recruit. In response to this call, the teachers suggested some innovative teaching in arts, culture, citizenship, gardening and chess, others “flexible lessons”. At the same time, 38 positions with “special requirements” were advertised for recruitment and filled with the advice of the director.

Patchwork. The autonomy of schools and educational institutions has been an issue for many liberals, from Milton Friedman to Alain Madelin, from Gabriel Cohn-Bendit to the second left. It is the key to the recovery of the French school system. But one remains stunned by the improvised way it was presented, obviously without knowledge of what it means and what it entails. Hence a high risk of failure for lack of serious preparation, as was the case with other reforms of the previous five-year term.

In the past thirty years, most school reforms implemented in developed countries have involved granting greater autonomy to public institutions, or even creating public “free schools”: charter schools in the United States, free schools in Sweden, and England . In all these cases, the reasons justifying school autonomy were identical: a strong ambition for the school, the desire to create a diversity of educational offer within the public system so that parents have a choice, and the desire to empower families and society more. involvement in the implementation of educational missions. These reforms have produced mixed results, sometimes spectacular, sometimes disappointing, but thirty years in retrospect provides an accurate understanding of the risks of failure and the key conditions for their success.

“Autonomy is not reduced to learning new lessons here and there, but to designing a global project and committing to it with a close-knit team of teachers, which must be able to recruit future colleagues and candidates on the basis of the project”

Under these conditions, the first is the commitment to a contract or a charter, translating an ambitious educational project, setting out the school’s objectives to be achieved, its teaching methods and strategies, the reasons justifying them and the indicators according to which the activity will be evaluated. . We are a long way from the patchwork of proposals that the President has invited. Because autonomy is not limited to learning new lessons here and there, but to designing a global project and entering into it with a close-knit team of teachers, which must be able to recruit future colleagues and candidates on the basis of the project. Above all, autonomy is not the autonomy of the principal, but of the entire teaching team, and it should be aimed first at making the students pass, with a no apology (obligation of results) as required by many US charter schools.

Blockages. School autonomy provokes criticism. It has been criticized for fostering differences between schools, each of which can choose a teaching method, for ruining the national model of public education and, above all, for being a source of inequality, for creating “a two-speed school”. that of innovation and that of degradation. But, contrary to popular belief, uniformity can also be a source of inequality, while taking into account the specificities of the environment and even a form of differentiation can be prerequisites for achieving the ambitious goal of a good education for all.

Moreover, autonomy belongs to the history of French republicanism. The Prime Ministers of Public Education of the IIIe République praised what Léon Bourgeois, minister from 1898 to 1906, called “the liberal initiative”, or the opportunity given to teachers to deviate from the common rule. In the same vein, the teachers of the late 1960s, faced with the rapid and significant increase in the number of students, warned of the coming school disaster and called for the initiative to be left to the teachers. Finally, several laws, enacted in 1985, 2005, 2013, and 2017, have allowed autonomy and experimentation. How do you declare that these provisions have had no effect? Nice words for sure, but also locks. The best example is that in April 2018, the Minister of National Education sent teachers a 130-page memoir explaining to them how to do the classroom in the same way in the VI.e arrondissement as in Garges-lès-Gonesse.

All this seems to be ignoring our president and his minister. Nevertheless, it would be necessary to analyze these blocks and remove this reluctance, so that school autonomy has a chance for the future. Her commitment is too important to be entrusted to amateurs. It has to be prepared down to the last detail and then executed with patience and expertise. The stakes are too serious to be used as a gimmick.

Monique Canto-Sperber, philosopher, is research director at the CNRS and executive chair of the Events Foundation. She is the author of numerous works and in particular “The End of Freedoms: or how to refound liberalism” (Robert Laffont, 2019).

Leave a Comment