In college and high school, soon school leaders from the private sector


A decree dated August 11 of this year breaks with the basic principle of recruiting heads of secondary schools for more than two centuries: that of “esprit de corps” for an institution called first “Instruction. public ”then“ National education ”. Clearly, until now, it was necessary to have worked in education, or come from category A of the public service, to be able to claim a post of principal or principal.

A sign of the times and perhaps of times where we are until having forgotten this “spirit” and its historical reasons, it was decided that henceforth (up to 10% of new recruits), there would be a third route to the competitive recruitment examination for management personnel: anyone from the private sector, the associative sector or simply elected may apply on the sole condition of justifying a professional activity of at least eight years.

Currently, 82% of management staff in post have previously been teachers in primary or secondary education, 16% educational advisers or psychologists from the National Education; not to mention the 2% who came from other administrations, via a fairly recent second channel .

The justification put forward by the ministry is that it is a question of dealing with the drop in the number of candidates and opening up the profession of heads of secondary schools to people “with a managerial profile and less exclusively pedagogical”

School exception

The reference to the “managerial profile” has the merit of clarity; on the other hand, that with “less exclusively pedagogical” criteria denotes a prodigious impasse on the fundamental reasons for the implementation of the type of recruitment of school heads for more than two centuries: they have little to do with for “educational” reasons, not mentioned by its illustrious founders.

The state centralization of the French school was carried out according to very specific modalities, properly speaking “extraordinary” (that is to say, not coming under the “ordinary” administration). We cannot understand the meaning and the singularity of the centralization of the French school if we do not understand that it was a question of setting up not only a public administration but a public corporation.

The very use of the term “University” ( “Universitas” means “corporation” in the Middle Ages) clearly situates what is at stake: to create a body whose spirit would be at the service of the state in place. The Imperial University was set up by Napoleon I st  is an administration: it is a secular corporation .

The national territory is divided into academies (one per court of appeal), at the head of which are placed rectors. It is remarkable that the Emperor – who nevertheless set up the strong presence of the prefects in the departments – does not want the administration of the school to fall under the common administration: teachers and heads of establishments are responsible to a body – the academy and its rector – which has no equivalent (because the regions do not yet exist, and the departments are at a lower level).

Napoleon indeed considers that the school (which is in his eyes a cultural and spiritual magistracy) must be, like Justice, directed in a specific and autonomous way, and by his own.

Finally, and above all, the system of ranks and access to the various positions are arranged so that one can make a career, so that there is body and spirit of the body. As Napoleon himself said,

“There would be a teaching body if all the principals, censors and professors of the Empire had one or more chiefs, as the Jesuits had a general and provincials; if one could only be principal or censor after having been a professor (…); the teaching body being one, the spirit which animates it would necessarily be one; and, in this respect, the new faculty would far outweigh the old corporations ”.

Public corporation

François Guizot, the author of the great law of 1833 on the school, is clearly in the continuation of Napoleon I st  and “University” regarding the mode of organization and school governance .

“Sovereign authority,” he said, “can direct public education in two ways: 1 °) by way and according to the principles of general and ordinary administration 2 °) by entrusting it to a large trained body according to certain rules and submitted to a special government (…). It can only succeed by inspiring the same spirit, a common tendency […] ”.

Ultimately, it is a question of setting up not only a public administration, but a public corporation (a kind of “lay congregation”), that is to say an organization contributing to the achievement of the same end and having a common inspiration and moral unity.

We may be (almost) done with it. But this is what is also and above all at stake. All the more so since we are nevertheless easily (and sometimes at all times) put forward these days the Republic, the republican school, its demands, its rights and duties.

Ultimately, we may be right to make these changes in the recruitment of school leaders. But it would still have to be done in full knowledge of the facts: namely what we can really gain, but also what we can really lose. All this cannot be reduced to considerations of a purely managerial nature. Or, it would be advisable to clearly justify this choice, as political as any other.

Author Bio: Claude Lelièvre is Teacher-researcher in the history of education, honorary professor at Paris-Descartes, University of Paris