23 SES 14 D, Priority Education Policies in Europe: Can education compensate for society?
One of the first policy decisions of the French left-wing government elected in 1981 was to launch an ambitious programme of positive discrimination by area called Zones d’éducation prioritaires (ZEP). This programme borrowed from the English Educational Priority Areas three main policy innovations: a redistribution of funding towards the most deprived schools, an emphasis on the development of specific pedagogical projects in these schools and a new focus on local partnerships (Henriot-van Zanten, 1990). The ZEP started to be strongly criticised in the 1990s partly due to research studies showing not only the persistence of learning difficulties in ZEP schools, but also that disadvantaged students were succeeding better in non ZEP schools and that there was a gap between ZEP students’ school careers, comparable to those of students with a similar background in non ZEP schools, and their lower academic results (Rochex, 2008). While these studies chose to ignore the inadequacy of the resources provided to ZEP schools (Robert, 2009) and their increasing levels of academic and social segregation (van Zanten, 2001; Broccolichi et al. 2010), they gave credence to the idea of the failure of place-based positive discrimination. It was against this background that a selective higher education institution, Sciences Po, launched in 2001 a programme called Convention éducation prioritaire (CEP), offering to a small proportion of successful students from ZEP and other disadvantaged schools the opportunity of being admitted through a specific procedure. Given the specific position that Sciences Po occupies in the French political and academic space and the will of its director to become a major policy actor, this scheme fuelled a public debate on individual positive discrimination and gave way to less radical initiatives from other institutions and the Ministry of Education (van Zanten, 2017). The presentation will use data from a former study on the ZEP policy (Henriot-van Zanten, 1990), and, to a greater extent, from an ongoing study on the CEP policy, comprising interviews with institutional actors, case studies of four CEP lycées (Fernandez-Vavrik et al., 2018) and an analysis of CEP students’ educational trajectories and experiences at Sciences Po. It will focus on continuities and changes between the ZEP and CEP policies concerning the conception of disadvantage and desert, the role attributed to the local environment and to various educational actors and the choice and reception of policy instruments.
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