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100 % success in primary school : strengthening French and mathematics instruction
[anglais] Key policies - Jean-Michel Blanquer -

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International and French tests show that French students have insufficient mastery of basic skills. Jean-Michel Blanquer gives priority to the mastery of French and mathematics, the basis of all knowledge.

  • An observation : international and French tests show that French students have insufficient mastery of basic skills. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly concerned.
  • An objective : universal mastery of fundamental skills by the end of primary school, because a successful education and the formation of a free and responsible citizen depend upon it.
  • A strategy : give priority to the mastery of French and mathematics, the basis of all knowledge, through rigorous, specific and progressive teaching.
  • The means : invest in and clarify teaching programs, develop annual benchmarks, strengthen teacher supports, encourage reading.

Imperfect mastery of basic skills

Several surveys show that French schoolchildren have poor mastery of basic skills.

The PIRLS survey (2016), which assesses reading comprehension, shows that since 2001, the overall performance of French students in fourth grade has gradually decreased at each evaluation. Moreover, their performance is below the European average (511 points vs. 540).

The DEPP study (2016) of the reading ability of 760,000 young people aged 16 to 25 years who completed their obligatory Defense and Citizenship Day (JDC) shows that 22.5 % of them are not efficient readers.

The TIMSS (2015), which measures results in mathematics and science among fourth-grade students, shows that with 488 points in mathematics and 487 points in science, France is below the European average. These results show a strong heterogeneity of results between students.

In the next four years, we must improve these results so France regains its place as an international reference in educational matters.

Priority given to primary school

Fall 2018 saw the commitment of a greater budget for primary school.

There are 36,200 fewer students in primary school. At the same time, 3,881 teaching positions were created.

Concretely, this translates into a better rate of primary-school supervision in every region. The number of professors per 100 students was 5.55 at the start of the 2018 academic year while it was 5.46 at the beginning of the 2017 academic year.

Rigorous, specific and progressive instruction

The three years of nursery school and five years of elementary school must enable all students to fully master basic knowledge, which is an essential springboard for success. This requires instruction that is :

  • rigorous : teachers should assign exercises on pertinent concepts until all students master the skills expected by the end of the year
  • specific : teaching sequences specifically devoted to reading, writing, vocabulary, grammar, calculus, problem solving, etc.
  • progressive : lessons take place according to progressions established by teachers to meet the educational objectives set by the Ministry.

Actions carried out in 2017-2018

The publication of a reference book, First-Grade Reading and Writing Instruction, a state-of-the-art guide, is intended to aid first-grade teachers. It shows that :

  • the systematic instruction of the connection between written and spoken sounds is the most efficient method
  • writing activities should be conducted in conjunction with reading activities
  • fluent reading, which must be acquired in first grade, is essential to a good understanding of a text
  • a reading manual drives advancement
  • once reading has become fluent, understanding words, constructions, sentences and texts must continue to be the subject of specific exercises in grammar, vocabulary and conjugation.

Four recommendations provide teachers with a general framework for teaching fundamentals. They derive from the best teacher practices and national and international research, and are part of a global strategy of mastery of basic knowledge by all primary-school students :

  • two recommendations concern the teaching of reading, and the teaching of grammar and vocabulary
  • two recommendations concern arithmetic and problem solving.

Clearer programs and annual progress benchmarks for 2018‑2019

At the request of the Minister, the Conseil supérieur des programmes clarified the French and mathematics programs, with the central objective of helping all students master and consolidate basic knowledge. These amended programs went into effect at the start of the 2018 school year in Cycle 2 (first, second and third grades), Cycle 3 (fourth, fifth and sixth grades) and Cycle 4 (seventh, eighth and ninth grades).

In the fall of 2018, annual progress benchmarks will be provided to teachers to assist them in their daily work. They will specify the skills and knowledge that each student must acquire during the school year.

In French, priority given to vocabulary, reading and writing

Elementary school
  • Nursery school curricula (Cycle 1) will be clarified by the Conseil supérieur des programmes to further emphasize vocabulary skills.
  • Educational recommendations published in spring 2018 emphasized the importance of vocabulary. These recommendations are an extension of the guide First-Grade Reading and Writing Instruction.
Primary school
  • By the end of first grade, all students must be able to automatically decipher the alphabet in a way that allows them to read fluently. To this end, teachers give regular and repeated sessions of reading, writing, vocabulary, grammar, conjugation and spelling.
  • Resources are made available to teachers to help them choose their reading manual, to create their lessons, etc.
  • A grammatical terminology text will be published at the beginning of the 2018 school year. This book offers teachers a simple and innovative terminological repertory to teach grammar rules to students.

In mathematics, priority given to arithmetic and problem solving

The new version of the curricula and teaching recommendations concerning arithmetic and problem solving take into account the main conclusions of Cédric Villani and Charles Torossian's report, 21 Measures for Mathematics Instruction :

  • exercise daily mental calculation throughout primary school
  • work on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division beginning in first grade
  • develop an intuitive approach to mathematics.

Project leaders in each academy will be in charge of mathematics instruction.

Developing a taste for reading

The curricula emphasize regular reading practice, both silent and aloud, as well as student discussions about books.

The promotion of books and libraries is a high priority in arts and cultural education.

Improved teaching instruction : better training for teachers and administrative officials

Developing professional skills

  • September 2018 : 1,400 National Education inspectors were trained to help teachers implement this new educational plan in their region.
  • The 18 hours annual training of schoolteachers will focus on French and mathematics instruction.

Giving teachers tools to enable them to help students advance

  • National tests in first, second and sixth grades will give teachers a clear view of the skills and difficulties of each student, and will enable teachers to provide the best response.
  • New resources, in particular the work of the Scientific Council for National Education, will be provided to teachers.

Giving teachers extra time to help the most vulnerable students

  • Throughout the year, in primary school, teachers have one hour per week of complementary educational activities (APC) to help the most vulnerable students.
  • During the spring and summer vacations, willing students can participate in Success Internships.

More key policies

Last updated : nov. 8, 2019

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