An unusual student gripe: too few exams

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TENS OF thousands of French lycee students - the equivalent of sixth formers - took to the streets yesterday to protest against plans to lighten their exam burden.

More than 10,000 marched in Paris, and similar numbers in Lyons, Bordeaux and other cities, to reject a government plan to introduce continuous assessment into the baccalaureate system - the French equivalent of A levels taken by 620,000 students a year.

On the face of things, one might expect 17- and 18-year- olds to detest exams, especially in France, which has one of the most examination-heavy education systems in the world.

The Education Minister, Francois Fillon, wants to reduce the punishing schedule each year in June. Instead, he suggests, there should be six written examinations in the major subjects, such as French and maths, and the rest of the "Bac'' should be decided by some form of continuous assessment. The National Assembly will debate this next Tuesday.

Left-wing students and teachers' unions, who oppose any attempt at school reform, say abolishing centralised exams would allow employers to pick and choose between Bac scores given in lycees in affluent districts and those declared in poor, racially mixed suburbs of French towns.

Manuel, 17, from the Lycee Sophie-Germain in Paris, said: "This reform goes against the notion of public service education. It will encourage elitism."

But the system is already elitist - the top state lycees poach the best students and resources are unequally divided between successful and sink schools.

Philippe Meirieu, France's former chief inspector of schools and head of a teacher-training college in Lyons, said: "The need for reform is urgent because the Bac, as it is, has become an infernal machine, which is much too expensive and forces the school year to end too early."