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Working-class neighborhoods: the disappointing assessment of the splitting of classes



Very timid, even disappointing results. The flagship social measure of the five-year term – halving the numbers of CP and CE1 classes in disadvantaged neighborhoods – has not kept its ambitious promises. The action carried the heavy task of embodying the Macronist project to fight against “birth injustices”by tackling the Achilles’ heel of the French education system: the reproduction of inequalities.

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The announced objective of the device, called “100% success”, was to fill the gap in level between the pupils enrolled in priority education and the others. However, although the most recent results (1) show slight gains in the performance of pupils benefiting from the splitting of classes, overall the gap in level between them and pupils from more privileged neighborhoods has not narrowed. After five years of splitting classes, the results of the system are almost half as good as expected, given similar foreign experiences (around 9% to 14% improvement in results) .

A measure pushed by the Institut Montaigne

The splitting of class was however a daring gamble. The measure, pushed by the Institut Montaigne, a liberal think tank (to which the current Minister of Education is close), had seduced the presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron in 2016. Borrowed from more or less conclusive international experiences, the idea is simple: less busy classes means more time allocated to each student in difficulty.

Emmanuel Macron, who positions himself as the champion of “the fight against determinism”, is enthusiastic about this measure for the general public, popular with teachers. He included it in his campaign promises and instructed his minister Jean-Michel Blanquer to put it to music after his election in 2017. The teachers are trained. And, for the first time, under the influence of a minister keen on neuroscience and international comparison, the educational machine decided to rigorously evaluate a policy carried out on a large scale.

Children’s progress stops mid-CP

Five years later, the results raise questions: among pupils, modest progress occurs only during the first six months of the two years of splitting, that is between the beginning of the year and the month of February of CP. Then and until the end of CE1, no additional benefit to the reduction in the number of students is detected on the level of the pupils. “The fact that children’s progression stops from mid-CP is surprising and relatively unexplained”admits Pascal Bressoux, researcher in educational sciences and member of the scientific council of national education.

Same perplexity Rue de Grenelle: “Our teams are working right now to analyze phenomena that we don’t yet understand very well,” concedes Édouard Geffray, the director general of school education. However, he points to two hypotheses to explain a worse than expected balance sheet. First, the health crisis, which caused schools to close for six weeks in the spring of 2020. “Containment erased the benefits of duplication in 2020”assures the senior official.

A “summer vacation” effect?

On the drop in level observed between the middle of CP and the beginning of CE1, the number two of the ministry pleads a “summer vacation effect”: “For two months, the children are much less stimulated, it’s a real problem. » Above all, Édouard Geffray calls for waiting for the start of the school year in September 2022 to judge the effectiveness of the policy chosen by the government.. The first students who benefited from the measure in 2017 will then return to sixth grade. “By evaluating their level at the start of college, we will know if what we have been doing for the past five years has had long-term effects on their education. »

The Senate did not wait. At the beginning of March, he produced a report on the results of the Minister of Education which smacks of the policy of splitting classes in priority education. “This policy cost 500 million euros, mobilized nearly 11,000 teachers and we are very, very far from the announced effects”, claw Senator (LR) Max Brisson, former inspector of national education and co-author of the report. Shortly after the publication, furious, Jean-Michel Blanquer made his dissatisfaction known to the president of the education commission of the upper house.

The subject is indeed sensitive for macronie. Emmanuel Macron could, if re-elected, extend this measure to CM2 class. Asked about his educational record in Poissy (Yvelines) on March 7, the president confessed: “On the question of the fundamentals (maths and French, editor’s note), we have made investments but it is still fragile. »

“In CP, it’s already too late”

In view of the mixed results of the reform, the choice to extend duplication to the end of primary school raises questions. According to many specialists, we would miss the target by forgetting the importance of kindergarten. In 2018, when the ministry received the first results of student assessments, analysts realized that the level differences between schoolchildren from different social conditions were already substantial at age 6. “We realized that lowering the numbers in CP as in CE1 was surely already a little late to have an impact on the course of the students”, explains the director of school education. In a hurry, the Ministry of Education decides and decides at the start of the 2019 school year to start halving the number of pupils in the large section classes, a duplication which will not be completed until the start of the 2023 school year.

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Above all, a good measure, isolated, does not constitute an educational policy. “In working-class neighborhoods, we need a global approach: we lack social workers, school psychologists, teachers specializing in learning difficulties, seasoned teachers…”, lists Guislaine David, general secretary of the SNUipp-FSU union. “It’s not a bad measure, but it has become the hiding place of the policy of reducing inequalities in education. It cannot, on its own, be enough to change the situation”, still squeals a researcher from the scientific council of national education who supports the principle of splitting classes.

A better school climate

Another blind spot of the Blanquer era: the fight against school segregation in these establishments which concentrate all the difficulties. The level of students in priority education is weighed down by the lack of social diversity, a reality that a reduction in class size will have difficulty in transforming. “It could be decided to make a reform to encourage social diversity in these establishments, but it is generally quite badly perceived in public opinion”, anticipates Julien Grenet, research director at the CNRS and associate professor at the Paris School of Economics.

Should we therefore come back to the duplication? If the results on the level of the pupils are mixed, the teachers are on the other hand unanimous in welcoming a school climate transformed by the reduction in the number of students in their classes. “We save a lot of time a day on discipline and the climate is much more conducive to learning”, testifies like many of his colleagues Matthieu, a teacher from a REP + school in Saint-Étienne (Loire). With regard to both teachers and parents, it will therefore be politically very difficult simply to eliminate duplication, regardless of its effectiveness. Sign of consensus: no competitor in the 2022 presidential election is proposing to delete it.

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A widening gap in French

Launched at the start of the 2017 school year, the reduction in class size (from around 20 to 13 children) now benefits 380,000 pupils (20% of the age group) in the 1,050 establishments labeled REP and REP +.

At the end of CE1, students in priority education have higher results than those in similar schools that have not benefited from the reform. The effects are positive but minimal: + 9% in French and + 14% in mathematics (almost twice less than expected with regard to foreign experiences).

But the gap in level between pupils in priority education and those outside priority education has not narrowed. In French, the gap has even widened.

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