French schools among the most unequal in the world, new report reveals

France remains one of the most unequal education systems in the world, according to new international rankings, with children from disadvantaged backgrounds less likely to succeed.

French schools among the most unequal in the world, new report reveals
Photos: AFP

The word égalité is carved over the door of every school in France (along with liberté and fraternité) but in practice it seems that equality is not happening in the French classroom.

The latest world education rankings from Paris-base OECD think tank PISA scores France slightly above the OECD average overall – but one of the worst in the world for equality.

READ ALSO These are the new reforms set out for French schools

With a score of 107 points difference between pupils from an affluent background compared to a disadvantaged background, compared to an OECD average of 87, only Israel and Luxembourg ranked worse on inequality.

And it's not the first time that this problem has been pointed out, the French schooling ranked poorly for equality in both the 2016 and 2013 reports from PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment).

Pupils in France who come from a disadvantaged background are five times more likely to have trouble with reading and are much less likely to continue their education after the age of 18, even if they get good results.

The score compares poorly to the UK, which has a fairly comparable population to France, but scores much higher on equality.

“[France has] an honourable place, but the big black spot is still social inequalities in performance,” says Eric Charbonnier, an analyst at the OECD specialising in education.

He added that efforts have been made, but it is still too early to measure their effects.

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“The first pupils to have benefited from the priority given to primary education, and to the creation of new teaching posts, under the five-year term of François Hollande, will only be tested by Pisa when they have become high school students… for the 2024 edition.”

The PISA report also points to poor scores in classroom disciple and suggests that France needs to invest in more training for its teachers, both in teaching core subjects like reading and maths and in keeping order.

Generally speaking, “the most successful countries in Pisa are those that invest massively in the upgrading of the teaching profession and in training,” added Eric Charbonnier. 

Since he became president in 2017, Emmanuel Macron has also made efforts to improve the education system, setting into progress a major reform known as the Loi Blanquer, after education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer.

Among the reforms are measures aimed at tackling inequality such as the lowering of the compulsory school age in France to three.

Although in practice most parents took advantage of the – free – école maternelle system for three to six year-olds, take-up was lower in more deprived areas.

Ministers hope that the earlier starting age will mean children will be starting from a level playing field when they start formal education in the école élementaire at the age of five or six.

The reforms also suggest extra training for teachers and the creation of a new inspection body for schools although other elements of the reform such as the proposal to merge primary and second schools under one leadership team prompted teachers to take strike action earlier this year.


Member comments

  1. Very useful articles. We are having a discussion in our French conversation group on inequalities in education and this article is a useful starting point. However the national scores under PISA must be taken with a pinch of salt as some countries e.g. China are very selective in the results they submit. The Chinese results cover only the economic area of Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang which is a little unrepresentative of the whole of China to say the least.

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What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer


But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.