Authors : Dominique Goux, Marc Gurgand, Eric Maurin
An experiment, conducted among forty-ot-so junior high schools of Versailles district and funded by le Fonds d’expérimentation pour la jeunesse, analyzes the impact of meetings between the school principal and parents of the weakest students about academic aspirations and dropout.
When interviewed, the great majority of parents of students in their last year before senior high school state that their child will obtain the baccalaureate (equiv. GCE-AL), even when their academic results and their chances of success are in reality very poor. In fact, among the students in the greatest difficulty and the most at risk of dropping out, very few envisage the possibility of taking up an apprenticeship or a short vocational course instead. That choice reflects the low esteem in which that kind of training is held in France.
Through an experiment conducted among final year junior high school (collège) classes in the Versailles district, we show that two specific meetings between the school principal and parents of the weakest students is enough to change family plans significantly and to broaden perspectives on the envisaged directions for their children. Such an adjustment to aspirations provokes a marked reduction in dropout rates, due to successful schooling in apprenticeship centres and vocational high schools in the region. Two years after this simple intervention, the dropout rate of 20 per cent among these students was brought back to 15 per cent.
Using the data from groups of friends within classes, we also show that the intervention is accompanied by an improvement in the academic integration of the weakest students. They interact more with their classmates who have better marks: this change in inter-pupil relations in the classrooms is without doubt one of the keys to the success of the experimental policy.
Key points :
- The families of students in the final year of junior high school who have academic difficulties often overestimate their chances of following their studies all the way to the baccalaureate and rarely envisage the possibility of taking up apprenticeships or short vocational training courses.
- A few meetings between the families of the weakest students and the school principals, conducted early in the year, lead to changes in the plans of the young people and their families, and broaden their views of the possible roads ahead.
- As a consequence of these meetings, there is a 25 per cent decrease in the dropout rate, and the students concerned succeed in short vocational training courses.
- The intervention also affects social relations: the weakest students interact more with their more academically-able classmates.
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