French to focus on creativity and group work in response to Pisa rankings, minister says

France has reacted to its disappointing ranking in global education league tables by introducing a greater focus on creativity, group work and speaking and listening, the country’s education minister told TES.

Despite sitting one place above the UK in the hugely influential Performance in International Student Assessments (Pisa) tests produced by the OECD, the French have taken the opposite approach to improve their education system.

In response to the league tables, ministers in Westminster have called for a greater focus on more traditional subjects, bringing in policies such as the English Baccalaureate, which emphasises on maths, English and the humanities.

Subject associations, such as the Design and Technology Association and major players in the arts have decried the government’s approach to creativity in schools.

A report led by Warwick University warned that creativity and the arts were being “squeezed out” by the government’s reforms.

In contrast, however, France’s education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem told TES that the country’s education reforms would focus on creativity and collaboration between students.

“We are now carrying out a reform to the collège, the first level of the secondary system, and in that reform there will be more collaboration and cooperation between pupils,” Ms Vallaud-Belkacem said. “There will be more focus on oral expression and more focus on creativity. Why? Because Pisa told us that’s where our weaknesses were.

“Pupils were not very good at expressing themselves verbally, they were not very good at working together, they didn’t develop their creativity sufficiently. So this will reform will focus on that and will come into effect in 2016.”

The Pisa rankings placed France 25th in the world for the performance of its 15 year olds in reading, maths and science, just one above the UK.

In the run up to the Pisa results in 2013, the then UK education secretary Michael Gove called for an end to the “overemphasis on group work”, which he dismissed as amounting to “children chatting to each other”.

The UK’s subsequent performance in the Pisa tests strengthened the government’s approach, leading to an even greater focus on the basics.

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