I AM not by nature inclined towards schadenfreude. Deriving pleasure from the misfortune of others seems to me to be a rather impoverished form of satisfaction. With regard to President Macron of France, however, I am prepared to make an exception. This wannabe Napoleonic leader is fond of lecturing others on how the people of our European continent should be governed. Far better that the Brits, for example, continue to hand over their country to EU rule and that the EU as a whole gets behind his leadership! Not that I am blaming the whole French nation for Macron’s hauteur. The rampage of the gilets jaunes was what we rosbifs might describe as his comeuppance.
The latest self-inflicted calamity to strike Macron’s France concerns a severe outbreak of an English malady – ‘mad assessment disease’ (MAD). There was I lamenting the continuing devaluation of public examination results in the UK, when up pops Macron’s France to trump all.
It took our schools seventeen years to raise the pass rate at A-Level by 12.3 percentage points. It rose from 85.8 per cent in 1996 to 98.1 per cent in 2013. Last summer it had fallen back marginally, to 97.6 per cent.
Macron’s miracle is to have achieved more for French school leavers in a single year than our schools managed in seventeen. The pass rate in this year’s A-Levels equivalent, the Baccalauréat, is 91.5 per cent. This compares with just 77.7 per cent last year – an increase of 13.8 percentage points!
Is Macron a secret admirer of the UK’s educational achievement? Does he feel the need to match the UK’s inexorable rise in examination grades? Has he been taken in by the siren voices of self-congratulation emanating from our numbskull educational establishment, the Blob? If so, he has, indeed, contracted mad assessment disease and is making a mistake that is the educational equivalent of Bonaparte’s invasion of Russia.
Coincidently, there is a Russian context for a joke about Macron that is currently circulating:
Emmanuel Macron meets Vladimir Putin and tells him: You lack freedom in Russia. In Paris, anyone can walk in the street and shout ‘Macron is an idiot!’ and nobody will touch them.
Putin stares at the French president in his laconically Russian way and slowly says: In Moscow, anyone can walk in the street and shout ‘Macron is an idiot!’ and nobody will touch them, either.
If Macron really does seek to out-perform the Brits when it comes to exam results, he has made a promising start. However he still has some way to go. An A-Level pass could be achieved here last summer with a score as low as 13 per cent, and 54 per cent qualified for an A-grade.
When it comes to grade inflation, no one does it better than us. And inflating gradually – à l’Anglaise – is, surely, more convincing than the Macron government’s ‘big-bang’ approach. Believe it or not, the Times is reporting that in France: ‘The education sector has been awash with claims that schools have inflated marks to boost their pass rates.’ It even goes so far as to report that there is talk of a ‘laughable’ fall in standards. The French government’s order that juries of examiners show ‘extreme benevolence’ has clearly been followed.
Macron’s pathway for schooling is clear. From next year, 40 per cent of Baccalauréat marks will be based on so-called continuous assessment by the teacher. The dilution of standards is to be entrenched. Britain’s mad assessment disease has taken hold. Macron has learnt nothing, it seems, from the British experience. Unlike in the UK, however, opposition to the dumbing down has come from France’s teaching unions. Continuous assessment, they conclude, rather like this year’s predicted exam grades in the UK, will favour the children of pushy middle-class parents. It will do nothing for the less privileged.
Time for us to feel sorry for the French pupils or time for the French to continue feeling sorry for our youngsters? On reflection, schadenfreude works on both sides of the English Channel.