French pupils stage blockades to demand the cancellation of exams

High schoolers in France this week began several days of protest action against the French government's decision to maintain some of the baccalaureate end-of-the-year exams.

French pupils stage blockades to demand the cancellation of exams
High school pupils and university students have organised several protest actions to draw attention to what the degrading situation for young people in France, due to the pandemic. Here under a protest in January, with banners reading "ghosts students", "I belong to a sacrificed generation" and "faculty closed, want to give up". Photo: Alain JOCARD / AFP

As French high schools (lycées) reopened on Monday after two weeks of rescheduled Easter holidays and two of remote learning, some pupils refused to re-enter the educational establishments.

Calling for the education ministry to cancel their final exams in June after a turbulent year due to the ongoing pandemic, teenagers pushed garbage cans and other objects in front of their schools to stage un blocus (a blockade) in protest.

The protest, labelled “BacNoir” (Black Bac), denounced Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer’s decision to maintain some of the baccalaureate exams, which the protesting pupils said would “increase inequalities” caused by the Covid-19 virus.

“We are demanding the total cancellation of exams for all high schoolers,” five high school unions said in a joint statement, published on Twitter, where they asked to instead only use continuous assessment (contrôles continus) where pupils are graded based on their assessed work over the year.

Eighty-two percent of this year’s baccalaureate has already been replaced by continued evaluations.

Some 100 high schools across France faced blockades in Monday’s protests, most of which passed off without clashes.

In Aubervilliers, north of Paris, a police source confirmed to French daily Le Parisien a report that there had been fireworks thrown at police on Monday morning, but said no one was injured in the incident.

Some schools continued the protests on Tuesday morning, but the big day – according to high school unions – will be Wednesday, May 5th, when they are calling for a national day of blockades.

“For 14 months now, we have been studying in terrible conditions, with long distance learning, cancelling of classes and a lack of teachers,” the unions’ statement said.

It added that pupils were “anxious and vulnerable, and yet they are forced to come in thousands to take their exams inside the establishments.”

Blanquer on Monday said he was “open” to making changes to the exam period, but said he remained convinced that maintaining some tests would be in the pupils’ best interest.

“We will reevaluate again so that this becomes the best possible options for the pupils,” Blanquer told Europe 1.

The government used continued evaluations last year when schools closed for months in spring as part of the first nationwide lockdown set up to halt the spread of Covid-19. During the second and third lockdowns schools largely remained open, with a rescheduled Easter holiday and two weeks of remote learning for older pupils.

Lycées have also been authorised to operate up to 50 percent of remote learning in areas with high infection rates.

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REVEALED: France’s new holiday dates for the 2022/23 school year

School in France is far from out for summer but the dates have been released for the 2022/23 school year complete with holidays and "bridges". Take a look so you can plan your holidays.

REVEALED: France's new holiday dates for the 2022/23 school year

It’s the time of year children dislike most – as is traditional, rentrée in France is on September 1st this year, a Thursday, a day after teachers return to the classroom to prepare for the new term.

The 2022-23 school year then ends – 36 school weeks later – after classes on Friday, July 7th, 2023, later than in recent years and just a week before the fête nationale on July 14th.

 “My class will be almost empty the last week, families will have gone on vacation, especially if the tourist prices are considered out of vacation, therefore less expensive,” a  teacher in Paris told Le Parisien.

Another was concerned about the weather at that time of year. “The longer we get into the year, the hotter it gets. They already forecast 35C on May 18th, so on July 8th, I can’t imagine the heat in class,” she said.

School holidays in France have long been divided into three zones. Summer, autumn and Christmas holidays are taken at the same time across the whole of the country, but the winter and spring breaks are staggered according to which zone a school is in.

The educational zones in France are here 


The Ministry of Education has published a calendar planner for the 2022/23 school holidays on its website, showing the holiday periods for all three zones in France.

Image: ministère de l’éducation nationale et de la jeunesse et des sports

The calendar is available to download as a pdf, here

Notably, pupils in Zone A schools – those in Besançon, Dijon, Grenoble, Lyon, Clermont-Ferrand, Limoges, Poitiers and Bordeaux – face a longer-than-usual summer term, a two-and-a-half month stretch from April 24th to July 8th. This is a longer term than is usually recommended by education experts – longer even than the 10-and-a-half weeks at the same time last year for two zones, which was described as “a marathon” by both families and teachers.

There will be some breaks in that long run of school weeks, however. May Day and VE Day are both on Mondays next year, Ascension is on Thursday, May 18th, with schools traditionally ‘bridging’ the Friday, and Pentecôte holiday is on Monday, May 28th.

On the flipside, pupils in the same zone also get the shortest term on record in the next school year. They return after the Christmas holiday on January 3rd, and break-up for the winter holidays on February 4th.