To fight against “subjected” orientation, help young people to become aware of their potential


Early guidance systems imply a strong responsibility for students, even though training choices are socially constructed. How can we better support middle school students?

Implemented by the Official Bulletin since the start of the 2015 school year, the “Avenir” course , which is aimed at students from sixth grade to final year, aims to support students in their thinking about their orientation. This system, focused on early information on sectors and careers, exacerbates students’ individual responsibility for their trajectories and training choices quite early in their schooling.

The 2023 back-to-school circular proposes and describes the discovery of careers , aimed at students from fifth to third grade, as an implementation of the future path. For educational teams, this involves implementing a set of actions aimed at introducing students to the professional world. A great deal of autonomy is left to establishments, which leads to a diversity of mechanisms (conferences, career days, internships, etc.).

What does such a device bring? Can it encourage academic perseverance and limit inequalities in terms of choice of orientation?

The results of the research that we present in this article alert us to the pitfalls relating to early educational and professional guidance systems.

School sectors: very unequal information capital depending on the students

There are significant inequalities in pathways, particularly in terms of opportunities to choose one’s direction , as indicated by data from a representative sample of students followed from sixth grade to higher education .

While students in the general pathway are distinguished by fairly selective pathways to high school (less than 1% of students would not have chosen this pathway), a significantly larger portion of students in a baccalaureate pathway professional undergo their orientation (more than 19%), with technological baccalaureates being in an intermediate position.

School choices are influenced by the social origin of students, but perseverance in academically ambitious choices is also influenced by the family environment. Thus, the children of teachers or civil service executives, for example, are statistically more likely to present and maintain high levels of aspirations between the sixth and third grades .

In addition to socio-cultural capital, informational capital and families’ relationship to school are variables which increase inequalities in terms of orientation, some families being able to estimate, for example, that the baccalaureate is not a necessary condition for successful completion of their studies. professional life .

The methods of answering the question of useful diplomas in this representative sample of students are obviously not neutral: the more the parents are part of the privileged categories, the more the need to continue long studies is present in the declarations.

Families: resources for choosing training?

What “school logic” can we find in different families, and particularly in those from working-class backgrounds?

The first logic corresponds to students and their families who will seek a “cost benefit” ratio in the pursuit of studies. In general, the final choice of families concerns the BTS courses which would be a “good compromise”.

The second logic is that of families and students who do not have a strategy in terms of academic and professional guidance and accept the proposal made to them by the establishment. It is an unconscious adaptation to a constraint which is not perceived as such.

Faced with these two logics, could the discovery of professions be a recourse, by promoting knowledge of the different professions and sectors which allow access to them?

The results of a study, analyzing 57 interviews and 425 questionnaires with third-year students enrolled in 6 REP+ middle schools and 4 high schools welcoming students from REP+ middle schools, illustrate the important role of families in the academic orientation and career projection of students. 85% of students say they regularly discuss their schooling with their parents. 77% of middle and high school students discuss their choices of orientation towards the second year with their parents, while 60% discuss it with the head teacher.

Families appear invested in their child’s educational future. But they do not all have the same resources and the same skills to evaluate their child’s skills, which raises the question of evaluation for school perseverance.

Promote academic perseverance

We worked on a diagnostic evaluation in vocational high schools with English teachers in CAP (to be published in the journal Measurement and Evaluation in Education ), knowing that this is the least chosen orientation path or, rather , the one we endure the most. We participated in working groups of teachers who designed an assessment planned at the start of CAP and at the end of CAP to measure the level of students.

We found that teachers had several concerns when it came to assessment. The priority for some was not to reproduce the sanction assessment, as it had been perceived in middle school. For others, it is mainly the level of language that should guide their choice. It is therefore not surprising to hear students say that “no one had told them they knew how to do that”.

There is a need to promote awareness of skills and abilities that students have silenced during their schooling, that we have not helped them to see or say, or even that we have not wanted to see or say for them. In a way, these students are “crippled” by the college.

Today, the notion of academic perseverance is favored over the expressions “dropping out” and “dropping out of school” in order to emphasize tenacity rather than failure. A transdisciplinary pedagogy is necessary to make students aware of the lived experience and promote their autonomy.

It is because he sees himself learning, carrying out his job as a student that the young person becomes aware of his potential: the less he believes in his potential, the less he thinks he will succeed, the less he learns and the less he values ​​what he knows.

Perseverance in guidance means autonomy of choice because the student knows what he is worth and what he wants, even if, later, he realizes that there was better TO DO. In this case, he is capable of realizing it and correcting it by giving himself the means to change.

Finally, we note a paradox. On the one hand, there are early educational and professional guidance systems which imply strong autonomy and individual responsibility on the part of students, even though school choices are socially constructed. On the other hand, we see a lack of questioning at the educational level on the means that the education system provides itself to truly support students in an autonomy that is more emancipatory than empowering.

Author Bios: Caroline Hache is a Lecturer, Eric Tortochot is Associate Professor and Noémie Olympio is a Lecturer in the Eonomics of Education all at Aix-Marseille University (AMU)