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The main sphere of activities of the new Association has been communication with the French and English partners involved in the running of the International Option. This is something that schools have been involved in to some degree since the inception of the examination. It is worth underlining what ASIBA has done which is distinctive in this area:

  • It groups schools together in a way which is instantly recognisable under French law, so that contact with French administrators about the OIB comes with a new force of representation, that of “la vie associative”.
  • In addition to representing schools and sections, it represents parents’ associations, bodies which in many schools play a key role in supporting bilingual education, but which had not, before the founding of ASIBA, found a way of federating their interests or voices.
  • ASIBA was born in a period of crisis; yet it had not the means to solve this crisis. Its role was to try to influence two large bodies for which the OIB remains a rather small concern: the French Ministry of Education (represented by the DRIC) and the Cambridge board (UCLES, now part of OCR).
  • In particular, the Association has tried to promote effective communication between these partners.
  • The Association was born in part from the financial aspect of the recent OIB crisis: the question of fund raising to facilitate the running of the examination has therefore been part of its field of reflection and enquiry.

This report will deal with the Association’s activities since its founding, and highlight questions remaining unanswered.

The OIB “crisis”

Is the crisis caused by the decision of the Cambridge board to change its role in the examination now finished? In a sense, it is. A meeting between the DRIC and Cambridge took place at the end of January this year at the CIEP in Sèvres. Cordial agreement was reached on the new arrangements for running the OIB. The schools will, it is clear, be taking on administrative work that Cambridge has performed until now.

Prior to this meeting, the Association had put many questions to the DRIC about the future of the OIB and the commitment of the French authorities to this examination. Some of these questions were asked so as to try to encourage greater rapidity and explicitness in communication between the DRIC and Cambridge at a crucial juncture. Most of the responses received were very positive.

In particular, M. Links, who has responsibility for the OIB within the DRIC, emphasised to us on two occasions the support within the DRIC and the Ministry for this examination. He has stressed the commitment of time and effort put into working groups over recent years to try to rationalise the diversity of national versions and improve the coherence of the overall OIB structure. He pointed out that this work has never been seen as the prelude to abolishing the examination, and that certain fundamental issues such as the “principe de substitution” have not been recently called into question in such reflections.

In these discussions with ASIBA, he underlined that reform of the examination remains a midterm goal, and that this has nothing to do with dissatisfaction with the way the British version is run, nor with the recent decisions of the Cambridge board.

The mid term future of the examination

M. Links communicated to us something of the size and complexity of the working groups that have met on various occasions over recent years to consider the future of the examination, and he sketched the diversity of opinions represented. He was frank about the sense within the Ministry of an examination that has, in its widest multi-national form, become cumbersome and difficult to square with French law. It is clear that what may be seen as excellent signs for the future of the examination, the forthcoming creation of both Japanese and Polish versions of the OIB, further complicates the nature of the underlying problem. This is the diversity of educational cultures and foreign end-of-school or university entrance qualifications with which the French baccalauréat becomes enmeshed via the OIB.

Radical versions of reform have been entertained in reflections on the OIB. It seems that the desire could be to create a wider but well-defined general structure, which all nationalities adhere to, and then, within this, to legislate for more adaptation to national practice as well as more adjustment to the various partner educational cultures.

The strategic view sketched by M. Links for the Association was recently reiterated at the meeting between the DRIC and Cambridge in Sèvres: in the short term, the plan is to establish the existing national OIB structures on a firmer legal footing, while in the mid-term the examination will change. The mid term seems to mean after the examination in 2003. This may be close enough to actually be called “short term” and makes ASIBA’s mission of finding out where thinking is tending very important. The DRIC have stressed that consultation will take place when reform comes. Past experience leads us to suppose that such consultation could be patchy, and will need to be pressed for by ASIBA and, if possible, by a well organised grouping of educational partners of diverse nationalities.

The importance of the OIB for the French

Discussions with M. Links last summer led us to suppose that the OIB was to become something of a “model” in a new vision of language teaching in France. He referred to a speech on the subject by the former minister, Jack Lang, published in March 2001. The fruits of the promotion of the OIB to this status have still to be made clear, and the political climate will affect this in ways that are difficult to foresee.

The Association must, we feel, go on underlining the fact that the success of OIB needs to be thoroughly analysed by the French authorities so as to allow a firm theoretical foundation for using the OIB as a model for other teaching and examining enterprises.

Despite the first recent signs of seeing the OIB as central rather than marginal to policy on the “international dimension” in French education, it remains clear that there is opposition to the OIB within the Ministry. The latter is as a whole, of course, necessarily devoted to the French language as the tool of integration, and to the improvement of foreign language teaching for as wide a range of the population as possible. Where there is interest in the examination within the Ministry, a certain awkwardness about making this interest explicit and public is still felt. If opposition to the examination within the Ministry may not be explicit, neither is support. Because of this, M. Lang’s declarations of last year have not moved the OIB into the spotlight.

Communicating the achievement of the OIB

The Association has been active in trying to promote analysis of the success of the OIB. Information on the OIB as a success in bi-national educational cooperation and in academic bilingualism has been sent to range of British university schools and institutes of education, since broader recognition of the exam seems likely to take place in England first.

The document which was sent can be seen on the Association’s website. It is a first attempt at describing the OIB from the outside and will no doubt be improved upon in future.

The Association has put forward to the DRIC the idea of celebrating 20 years of the existence of the international sections, and the anniversary of the 1981 texts that founded them. This gave rise to a very positive response on the part of M. Links, and time was spent within the DRIC, we believe, on the elaboration of a project for such a celebration. The project may have gone as far as the Minister’s cabinet and a request for his presence may have been involved.

But it would seem that the plan did not receive the support of higher echelons within the Ministry. ASIBA took the view that a celebration organised among and by the British sections would not be appropriate, the achievement of the OIB being linked to its multiple links with foreign partners.

The failure of this project may be linked with the fact that it could have been seen as clashing with a similar anniversary for the European Sections. It seems to us that the Association must continue to push on this front, however, since public acknowledgement by the Ministry itself of the length of existence and of the achievement of the OIB is crucial. Other anniversaries are coming up, and the lesson of this missed opportunity is perhaps that the ground must be prepared well in advance, and not during the anniversary year in question.

Meanwhile, the fact that statistics on the examination are more widely available, notably via the CIEP website, makes somewhat easier the task of combating the idea that the OIB is insignificant because too small.

This CIEP site, admirably maintained by Mme Kimmel, underlines one regrettable fact, however. The OIB outside France is run not by the DRIC but by the DESCO. There are no statistics from the DESCO included on the CIEP site. Therefore the total number of candidates indicated is the total number in France rather than in the world. This seems particularly ironic for an “international” option, and, of course, helps to comfort the views of those who claim that the OIB remains too confidential or elitist, arguing from the total number sitting it each year. Mme Kimmel assures us that she is trying to rectify this problem.

Unlike the DRIC, the DESCO seems something of an unknown entity to the British OIB community, something which ASIBA must work to rectify, since the latter is playing a bigger role in thinking about the future of the OIB.

The British version of the OIB and fund raising: the problems

Since the withdrawal of annual investment by Cambridge, the question of who will pay has haunted the OIB. First thinking in many quarters led to the idea of private sponsorship to be gained from firms having Anglo-French interests or images.

Such thinking was predicated on running a version of the examination which would cost as much as the old version. It was also based on the idea of Cambridge not changing its involvement except insofar as it might accept funding from elsewhere.

Since then, the schools’ solution to this problem has been based on the very welcome decision on the part of Cambridge to retain an active role in the examination, to transfer running of it to within the EFL Division and to accept plans (elaborated by the schools) to reduce the central administrative load, and to finance their involvement entirely on funding coming from the annual subsidy given by the French Ministry of Education.

Where does this leave the question of finances? There are still unanswered questions in three areas.

First, although the French authorities have recently agreed verbally to significantly raise the annual subsidy -as well as undertaking to review this annually in the light of inflation and of candidate numbers- the Association and the schools know that this may not finance all of the costs incurred by Cambridge.

Secondly, a linked question: there have always been aspects of the running of the oral examination that have been financed in inconsistent ways. The oral examinations operate on a large geographical scale, and despite modern technology, physical presence remains a vital factor in examining and quality control. This means that oral examiners and moderators have to travel and their expenses must be paid for.

It is true to say that neither the original French conception of the exam nor the formerly large investment by Cambridge solved the problems of financing these needs completely. Finding monies to pay for the travel and accommodation of moderators, teacher examiners and teacher examiners for “ratrappage” is still problematic. It is clear that examination centres visited by inspectors may well be asked to settle certain costs, in particular accommodation costs.

Thirdly, there remains the question of the financial involvement of teacher examiners, who in some cases receive only belatedly reimbursement for expenses incurred in examining (and who must therefore subsidize their own examining in the first instance), and who so far have been paid nothing for marking written scripts. Linked to this is the problem of accommodation and subsistence costs for oral examiners who must sometimes spend several days at a distant centre in order to examine.

Fund raising: ASIBA’s current view

ASIBA has posed these questions of finance directly to the DRIC and the CIEP, which is subcontracted to run the OIB within France by the DRIC, and who thus manage an OIB budget.

Both bodies expressed their opposition to the idea of ASIBA’s engaging in fund raising and injecting donated money into the running of the examination. The main argument in unsurprising, and may been seen as political to some. The OIB is part of the French baccalauréat, and the baccalauréat is a public, national institution: the status and objectivity of the institution is called into question if any part of it is financed by private money, particularly if that money is channelled by an Association which in part represents the interests of parents and teachers of current candidates of the examination. A similar argument of the primacy of national legal control has been applied in ruling out the application of funding from the EU. Yet despite declarations of principle, ASIBA came close last year, after consultation with the DRIC and the CIEP, to settling the accommodation and subsistence bill for one leg of a moderator’s tour. This would not, of course, have been settled by monies from fund raising, but from Association membership fees. The vigorous efforts of a local teacher avoided this, and the local “rectorat” paid.

From this incident two possible future principles seem to devolve: these take us on to possible solutions to the second problem stated above.

The first principle, which was originally adumbrated by the DRIC, is that since local “rectorats” have been financing moderators’ and examiners’ expenses in examining centres which are entirely “éducation national” (that is, where teachers within international sections are paid directly by the French state and not by private parents’ associations), this principle should be applied at all centres. If this were the case, then all “rectorats” would be asked to accept the same type (but not, of course, the same level) of financial responsibility, and the parents’ associations which finance the private sections which are also examination centres would cease to have to subsidize the running of the examination with parents’ money. Both the CIEP and the DRIC state that they are unable to force rectorats to provide such funding. But if all rectorats agreed to do what some have been doing for years, this would have the advantage of keeping the financing of the examination both public and French. It would, however, leave heads of examining centres with the practical difficulties of actually obtaining funding from local educational authorities.

The second principle is that, where the principle of such funding goes wrong, ASIBA should be ready to advance funds to cover unpaid bills. It seems that if these funds come from membership fees they present fewer difficulties than would monies coming from fund raising. The Association must now decide if this distinction is valid, and if it agrees to the idea of membership fees, which have so far mainly been collected from private sections, being redistributed in this way, and thus forming a sort of contingency fund. Mme Kimmel has made it very clear that no public money can be found this year to cover moderators’ expenses from the budget allocated by the DRIC to the CIEP for administering the exam.

Connected to this is another question: should ASIBA step in to cover the costs of travel, transport and subsistence of visiting oral examiners when, in an emergency, these cannot be covered by other means?

This leads us to a final question, that of payment of examiners. Mme Kimmel at the CIEP has talked to the Association of an initiative which may be put in place this year to pay written examiners for their work on marking of scripts. Her off-the-record view was that this might be a token amount only, but that it would be a first step in the direction of putting payment of examiners and of their expenses on a better footing.

The question of membership of ASIBA

The membership of the Association is still a central question, and one that is clearly linked to the financial questions set out above. Rheims and Balzac are represented within the Association by their parents’ associations only. The other schools with public, non fee-paying international English sections are not yet members. Contact with the lycée in Luynes (Aix-en -Provence) has been positive, but has not yet led to membership. The international lycée in Grenoble has put the question of the legality of the existence of ASIBA both to the legal services of the rectorat in Grenoble, and to the DRIC. So far no response has been received. No progress has yet been made with the international lycée in Strasbourg.

It was clear from the meetings at which the Association was founded that the membership of such public sections was going to be problematic. When asked for his opinion on this matter, M. Links stated that the reluctance of proviseurs of schools with state international sections to see their teachers directly involved in such an association was understandable. He suggested that the projected profound reform of the examination might look again at the role of 1901 associations and the part they play in the OIB structure.

Because of the question of full representation of all schools and parents’ associations and the weight this would carry with French authorities, and because of the question of Association monies being used as a contingency fund to cover local crises covering costs incurred in oral examining, the goal of convincing the schools who are not yet members of ASIBA to join is still a vitally important one.

Other points

One principle has been enunciated which seems important: ASIBA may be involved in covering costs incurred but should never in any direct way be seen to pay for the examination itself. The AGA will need to look at this principle and attempt to draw a fine line for such questions as helping to finance the training of teacher examiners. If funding provided by the Association remains within the limits of what is raised from membership fees, priorities will, in any case, need to be set and adhered to.

It should be added that the Association established contact with the British Council, which was instrumental in introducing the Association to the Ministry of Education. We also briefed the British Council to intervene in the case of any difficulties in confirming the meeting between the DRIC and Cambridge. We received a very cooperative response, but fortunately this intervention proved not to be necessary.

An Association website has been created and tested. Some work on this is still needed before we make the address public. The Association published a newsletter last year. Questions of format and content need to be answered if this is to find the readership it needs. Meanwhile we have commissioned a series of articles on the examination by people with long-standing involvement. We intend to put these together and to publish them in the near future, and hopefully in time to mark Dena Cowdy’s retirement from her role of OIB coordinator in Cambridge.

This is an important event in its own right, and the last Association committee meeting agreed unanimously to donate a sum to help finance her visit to the Paris examination centre this summer.

We must thank all the committee members who have been active on behalf of the Association, including Glenys Kennedy for her work as Secretary, and David Gage for his invaluable legal advice, as well as all the time he put into setting up the texts which regulate the Association. We must extend our thanks, as well, to the sections in St Germain-en-Laye, Lyon and Fontainebleau for hosting meetings, and to the EAB for hosting the forthcoming AGA.

We would like, finally, to appeal to all members to attend the forthcoming AGA. Attendance at recent board meetings could have been fuller. We hope that this report, in conjunction with the enclosed agenda, has made it clear that there is still much for ASIBA to do and many questions to answer about the future of the OIB.

Peter Woodburn,
Head of English National Programme,
Lycée d’Etat International, Ferney-Voltaire

Magdalena Martin,
Vice President and treasurer,
Parents’ Association,
British Section, Lycée International, St Germain en Laye

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