Debate: Would the “basement school” be a victim of a curse?


The rapporteur of the Blanquer legislation in the Senate, “the school of the base is a good subject, which deserves to be discussed.” Beautiful subject so that a structure covering all levels of compulsory schooling and basic knowledge, but subject too explosive?

How to understand that the prospect of such a school, once viewed favorably by the left, before being apparently abandoned or criticized violent when she again abruptly surface in the form of the Public Establishment of basic knowledge (EPSF ), bringing together a college and one or more neighboring primary schools?

A “technocratic” text?

The criticism of EPSF by staff, their unions, and some politicians is twofold. They relate to both the conditions of emergence and adoption of the parliamentary amendment, as well as its content. The parliamentary amendment was adopted “by bulldozer” , by an ingenious process, but “a rare violence”, leaving on the sidelines both professional organizations, local elected representatives, and the Council of State.

This lack of consultation and dialogue is considered all the more regrettable as this creation seems likely to “dynamite” the republican school. Indeed, the proposed text, perceived as “technocratic”, and disconnected from the concrete concerns of the actors on the ground, poses a direct threat to the principals, replaced by principal assistants.

And, above all, it is suspected of privileging management objectives, in a perspective of cost reduction, by legitimizing “mergers” that would result in many class closures. EPSF would be, at best, an unfortunate avatar of the beautiful idea of ​​school pedestal?

Territorial obstacles

The Fillon law of 23 April 2005, for the first time, set the goal of compulsory schooling as “the acquisition of a common base … which must be mastered”. In the logic of the consensual development of this common base of knowledge, skills, and culture, many were the minds affirming the assets of a school of the base, expression commonly used since 2011.

This is, as recalled by the “summary statement” of the amendment voted on January 30, 2019, “to facilitate the course and individual monitoring of students from the small section to the third”. To construct a continuum of compulsory schooling, admittedly punctuated by two periods (primary and then secondary school), but making it possible to overcome, without too much difficulty, the three-fold cognitive, educational, and educational break that constitutes the transition from grade five to grade six ( report Terra Nova “ of March 6, 2014).

The grouping of schools and colleges has been the subject of many experiments , and positive ones. But, if the school of the base is for some “the school of tomorrow” , was not one enthused too quickly, as the obstacles could be numerous on the way of a school bringing, according to the word of a director, an “added value for all”  ? It has been several decades since the desire to build a “basic school” for compulsory schooling comes up against the category interests and ideological biases.

It is that the business is difficult. It crosses pedagogical, institutional, and territorial problems. It is a question of homogenizing, starting from very heterogeneous realities. Primary and secondary are two different worlds. Admittedly, teachers have become teachers of schools. But there are always two different cultures, two separate administrative entities, two service obligation systems, two sets of social and professional identities. And we have to deal with difficult requirements for equitable development of the territory.

What challenges?

If failure is not inevitable, success will require many efforts. For the foundation school to become a reality, all actors should be able to overcome three challenges.

The first is to go beyond categorial or political interests, taking the interests of students as a compass. Yes or no, do most students benefit from a pedestal school? Experiments clearly suggest yes. To renounce would therefore be a fault.

The second is to be able to go beyond a strictly disciplinary vision of the work of public instruction, understanding that each discipline, beyond its specific technical specificity, contributes to the educational effort, and that the compulsory “instruction” concerns also the competences (even, according to the word of Amartya Sen , the “capabilities”), and the culture. Hence the need to articulate the disciplinary programs and the “common core”.

The third, to rethink the existing patterns of authority in national education, according to functional needs, and not only institutional status. Concretely: not to be prisoner of a scheme of vertical and hierarchical piloting of the school by the college. To know how to give the school directors a role and a status at the height of the symbolic authority which is, locally, theirs. We need authorities “on the spot”, in the right place.

With this triple condition, the pedestal school could become reality, for the benefit of the students, escaping the curse that seems to hit it.

Author Bio: Charles Hadji is an Honorary Professor (Education Sciences) at the University Grenoble Alpes