The Vocational Baccalauréat (Bac Pro) in France
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Issue The vocational baccalauréat in France was created in response to three major concerns:
    Firstly, the modifications in industrial organisation, combined with the technological advances introduced in the early 80s, revealed certain shortcomings in the provision of labour.  These shortcomings took the form of a generalised need for employees with a skill level situated between that of the skilled worker and the qualified technician in addition to the need for highly-qualified professionals in the sectors that first adopted these new organisational approaches and new technologies.  The educational system offered no programme or degree that meets these new demands in a satisfactory manner. 
    Secondly, in the training system, the first vocational qualification (CAP and BEP) offered few possibilities for those achieving them to move on to more advanced programmes, and the value of these qualifications on a strongly depressed job market was clearly losing ground.  An early orientation towards vocational training programmes started to become a form of marginalisation for those involved in such programmes.  The vocational baccalauréat formed part of a broader drive to recognise technical culture, and this new qualification is aimed primarily at students who already have an initial vocational qualification, in reality at those who have completed the BEP programmes.  For the first time, the vocational baccalauréat gave students in vocational programmes access to higher education.
    Thirdly, in addition to meeting the specific needs of qualified labour and the pressing need for regenerated vocational training, the creation of the vocational branch takes account of  a broader concern for social equity, which was one of the main priorities of the government at the time.  The aim was to raise the training level for young French people, as a whole ensuring that 80% of a given age group would reach baccalauréat level by the year 2000. (S.M. ed. 14/09/99 - based on Eckert & Kirsch 1997)
Demands for developing the French vocational education system seem to be similar to those encountered by most of vocational educational systems. Rapid changes in industry and technology have required continuous development of vocational education and training. The rise in the level of education has been important in an effort to develop vocational baccalauréat. It will give access to higher education. The objectives of reforming vocational education and training seem to stem from extra educational factors and to be connect to the status of vocational education. In spite of the differing educational systems, Finland has witnessed similar aims in view of reforming vocational education. (M-L.S. 18/11/99)
Measure The curriculum of the Bac Pro is grouped into four major domains:
(a) science and technology (including mathematics), accounting for 17 to 18 hours of course work per week;
(b) expression and awareness (French, foreign language, history, geography, civics), accounting for 7 to 8 hours of course work per week;
(c) arts and crafts, accounting for 2 hours of course work per week;
(d) physical education, accounting for 3 hours of course work per week.
    This approach thus attempts to integrate both academic and vocational subjects, with mathematics, physics and management being considered as vocational subjects. The list of basic competence types goes well beyond the division into vocational and academic education.  Both of these considerations are in fact included in a common project.  It must be remembered that professional competence cannot be reduced to the technical considerations alone, a situation in which individuals must call upon their entire personality in dealing with the surrounding world.
    Likewise this process has led to the introduction of innovative teaching methods.  The most striking aspect is certainly the introduction of an average of sixteen weeks of on-the-job training during the two year programme.  These training periods are regarded as an integral part of the programme, they are assessed separately and are taken into account by the jury in the decision whether to award the qualification.  This French style 'alternated training' has led to various developments in the theory of learning and apprenticeship, notably in recognising specific types of vocational knowledge which are transmitted using unconventional academic.
    The organisation of the vocational baccalauréat programme requires by its very nature a level of flexibility not found in conventional educational programmes.  The professional habits of teachers have been fundamentally altered as a result of the obligations imposed by such an approach.  What is more, the background of the students varies considerably as do the companies in which the training sessions are carried out.  Lastly, most of the students in these classes are legally adult, i.e. over 18 years old at the start of the programme.  This requires the teaching relationship to be based on a principle of shared responsibility and not on teacher authority. 
    All these factors call into question any educational organisation that is based on intangible and regular pedagogical progression.  The teaching approach tends toward a personalised relationship based on a mutual contract between the teacher and the student.  The aim of this contract is to remedy the weaknesses of each student and to take into account his or her acquired knowledge. (S.M. ed. 14/09/99 - based on Eckert & Kirsch 1997)
The curriculum of the Bac Pro attempts to integrate academic and vocational subjects. Correspondingly, academic and vocational subjects are already integrated in the Finnish vocational education and training curricula. Those students who take the Finnish dual qualification naturally choose both academic and vocational subjects in their personal curricula. 
    On the job training has been included into the Bac Pro. Improving links between vocational education and working life seems to be a trend in an effort to develop vocational education and training in Europe. A year and half's workplace learning period has also been included into Finnish vocational education since 1999. 
    The vocational baccalauréaut requires flexibility and a change in the professional habits of teachers. Similar results have been found in the Finnish youth education experiment. The need for flexibility in the Finnish youth education experiment has been even greater than in the French vocational baccalauréaut because of the individual design of the programmes.  (M-L.S. 18/11/99)
Impact From the experience of the vocational baccalauréat programme, three main points can be advanced: 
    The first point concerns the search for a means of handling school failure other than orientating students towards vocational programmes.  As was pointed out earlier, the vocational baccalauréat can be considered as a new opening for students leaving level-1 or level-2 programmes.  On the other hand, students who do not reach or exceed these first levels are heavily stigmatised.  Only early treatment of school failure would allow vocational baccalauréat students to enjoy the same reputation as students from other branches.
    The second observation concerns the way in which the transition to the world of work is organised.  The dual objective of the vocational baccalauréat cannot be upheld unless it ensures adequate entry into the work force.  If this question is left up to the forces of the labour market, we will undoubtedly be heading for disenchantment.  It can thus be asked whether the new relationships developed between educational establishments and companies cannot be used to facilitate the professional integration of the students.  But this would imply a major transformation of the teaching profession, with the recognition of this new responsibility in the criteria that shape the reputation of individual establishments and teachers.
    Finally, we can ask whether the vocational baccalauréat might not play a more important role in continuing adult education.  It seems that the targeted jobs correspond to a number of individuals who already have a certain amount of work experience.  In this way, the vocational baccalauréat might reinforce the overall management of human resources and the organisation of employee career plans.  (S.M. ed. 14/09/99 - based on Eckert & Kirsch 1997)
It is hoped that the vocational baccalauréaut will raise the status of vocational education and improve social equity. Likewise access to higher education seems to offer an important opportunity for further education. This is intended to avoid dead-ends.
    The opportunity to get a job is one of the most important questions facing vocational education. One way of assessing the success of this vocational reform is to see how easy it is to find a job after taking the vocational baccalauréaut.  (M-L.S. 18/11/99)
Reference The national case study on the Bac Pro as a dually oriented qualification, prepared by Eckert & Kirsch 1997a, is summarised in Brown & Manning 1998a (pp 14-17). Detailed evidence on the careers of Bac Pro graduates can be found in the topic study on "tracing careers" by Eckert et al. published in Brown & Manning 1998a (pp 99-118). The context of the French national reform of upper secondary education, including the role of the Bac Pro, is discussed by Levrat and Levrat & Lazar in Lasonen 1996a (pp 125; 133-143).  (S.M. 14/09/99)
Further information on the Bac Pro, including the success of these graduates in finding jobs, is available as part of the transnational comparison published online by Manning 1998 (e.g. the section "dual orientation towards employment and higher education"). (S.M. 20/11/99)
Author Jean-Louis Kirsch/ Henri Eckert/ Sabine Manning (ed)  

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  First set up: 14/09/1999
Latest update: 04/12/1999
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