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.
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.
“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.