“All countries that do better in school than us have fewer school holidays,” said Yannick Jadot in an interview about the school published by The cross March 16. The environmental candidate relies on this observation to defend a reform of the school rhythm. But it seems difficult to directly link academic achievement and time spent on vacation.
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The school year has 36 weeks in France, as the Ministry of National Education reminds us. This is slightly less than the average length of a school year, which reaches 38 weeks, according to the OECD. The record is held by Denmark, with 40 weeks and 1,050 hours of annual lessons. The European average is 760 hours, while in France, a school year has 864.
Not directly correlated
French summer holidays are relatively short: they last nine weeks, compared to ten to thirteen in other countries of the world, according to the OECD report “Views on Education”. The difference is made with the other annual holidays: French pupils have two weeks of holidays on All Saints’ Day, against a single day for the Poles.
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As for academic performance, it is assessed by the Program for International Student Assessment (Pisa). It assesses skills in reading, mathematics and scientific culture at the age of 15.
In the overall ranking, European countries such as Estonia, Finland, Ireland and Poland are ahead of France. However, Finland has 693 hours of lessons per year, or 171 less than France (864). Ireland has 915, Estonia 661, Poland 567. Chile, where students take 1,020 hours of lessons per year, is less well ranked in Pisa than France. The number of hours of lessons per year therefore does not seem to be directly correlated with academic performance.
“Arrangement of school rhythms”
A report from the Ministry of National Education indicates that the results obtained at Pisa are, on the other hand, closely linked to the students’ socio-economic background. Thus, in writing, the average score of very disadvantaged pupils is 445, against 534 for the most advantaged, a difference of 89 points. In France, this chasm is even greater: 107 points.
As explained by the education branch of the Union of Autonomous Trade Unions (Unsa), “school rhythms are part of a specific context where the school system as a whole and the culture of the country are to be taken into account”. Observing that some countries offering fewer vacations to their students obtain better results in Pisa does not establish a definite causal relationship, while socio-economic inequalities remain a determining factor in explaining educational inequalities.
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Yes “arranging school timetables is a lever for action”it is not enough to “explain by itself the educational performance of a country”, also notes the OECD report. “There are other factors to take into account such as teacher training”insists the document.
On the other hand, Unsa recalls that school rhythms have significant impacts in other areas. By adapting them, it would be possible in particular to allow both parents to work and thus to facilitate the access of mothers to employment.