“We have invested a lot in France, but not necessarily in the right place”, points out an analyst from the OECD

Expenditure on the French education system “not very balanced”. “We’ve invested a lot in France, but not necessarily in the right place”underlined on Tuesday, December 14 by franceinfo Éric Charbonnier, analyst in the education department of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), after a note from the Court of Auditors on the subject.

franceinfo: Is the budget spent by France on the education system higher than the OECD average?

Eric Charbonnier : Yes. Overall, France, from elementary to higher education, spends 5.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) against 4.9% for most OECD countries. But this cost of education is not very balanced. We forgot in France to invest in the first level of education. For example, the cost per student enrolled in elementary education is 9% lower than the average in OECD countries, while over-investment is made in secondary education. Spending per high school student is 30% higher than the average in OECD countries. That’s why we invest a lot in France, but not necessarily in the right place.

Can we do a little better, as the Court of Auditors has suggested?

Yes, we can do a lot with little. There are examples and counter-examples. But in the Nordic countries, there is an efficient use of money with targeted investment in preschools, elementary schools. And in fact, with fewer resources, we have been able to achieve better performance as measured by OECD international studies. But it requires organization, autonomy, also investment in teacher training. This is a major weakness in France. Today, our teachers, our headteachers are not prepared enough for the challenges of the profession.

The Court of Auditors calls for greater autonomy for schools …

This is what happens, in fact, in the Nordic and Anglo-Saxon countries. But once again, in these countries, we insist on training. That is, if we want to give actors autonomy, we need to train them in the pedagogical part of the job. Now, this does not have to be the case with our principals and head teachers. We also need to create a culture of cooperation. Middle school teachers in France are one of the least cooperating with each other in all OECD countries. So I believe there will be a change in functionality to be had. Give more autonomy, but also create cooperation, create construction projects that allow each school to position itself and thrive.

Should we give more authority to school heads over their teachers, as recommended by the Court of Auditors?

I don’t think it’s an issue of authority. Principal teachers now have the authority to manage the climate of discipline within their schools, in order to create strong relationships with parents. But it’s more cooperation on the pedagogical side that seems important to me. Today, our headteachers are very far removed from their teachers in the whole pedagogical aspect. There really needs to be a dynamic in student service, starting with the head of construction and with the support of teaching teams. But this is not a question of authority. It’s something to change the way we work.

Are French school performances typical, as described by the Court of Auditors?

No, that’s not the right term. This is exaggerated, even in provocation. If we look at the performance of 15-year-old study students in Pisa, which is very popular in the OECD, French students are mostly in mathematics, literacy and science. That’s why it’s not as good as one might expect, especially when it comes to investing. But it’s not as dangerous. The real problem in our school is academic and social inequalities. In France, we have a lot of students with learning difficulties. We have these students who come from poor backgrounds. And then, on the other hand, you have a relatively strong elite, stronger than in most countries. And these are favored students. That’s why we need to minimize this school division. But it’s often the overall performance of our education system.

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