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The European Baccalaureate (or EB) is an educational diploma awarded to students who pass the final year exam at a European School. The diploma is awarded for the successful achievement of coursework and concomitant examinations which require that students take a minimum of 10 courses as well as be fully proficient in two languages. Students may take up to 14 courses. There are currently 14 European Schools. These are mainly attended by students whose parents work for a European institution. (This diploma should not be confused with other types of educational qualifications which also bear the name Baccalaureate like the International Baccalaureate. In German, the European Baccalaureate is called the Europäisches Abitur, not to be confused with the German Abitur.)
The European Baccalaureate is a bilingual diploma taken at the end of the seventh year of secondary education. Students must study a minimum of ten subjects and are examined by means of written and oral examinations and by continuous assessment. The EB is awarded only by the fourteen European Schools. The EB should be distinguished from the International Baccalaureate (IB) and the baccalaureate of various national systems. Details of the examination are set out in the Annex of the Statute of the European School and in the Regulations for the EB, available from the schools.
The EB is administered and directly supervised by an external examining board appointed annually by the Board of Governors. The examining board consists of up to three representatives of each member state, who must satisfy the conditions governing the appointment of equivalent examining boards in their respective countries. It is presided over by a senior university educator appointed by each member state in turn, assisted by a member of the Board of Inspectors of the schools.
Article 5 (2) of the Statute provides that holders of the Baccalaureate shall:
- enjoy, in the member state of which they are nationals, all the benefits attaching to the possession of the diploma or certificate awarded at the end of secondary school education in that country; and
- be entitled to seek admission to any university in the territory of any member state on the same terms as nationals of that member state with equivalent qualifications
The EB is a two-year course and assesses the performance of students in the subjects taught in secondary years 6-7.
The first awards of the EB were made in 1959.
The EB is marked in percentages out of 100, and, in contrast to many national systems (e.g. British A-Levels), comprises a wide range of compulsory subjects and 3-5 elective subjects. Compulsory studies include mother tongue, 1st foreign language, mathematics (5hours/week or 3/hours a week course), philosophy, one science subject, history and geography (both taught in the 1st foreign language), and gym. These also depend on the orientation that the pupil has chosen at the end of year 5. The choice of elective subjects is large (see the list below), although the subject may not be available if the class size is too small.
|Course||periods per week||Notes|
|Column 1: Compulsory|
|Mathematics||3 or 5|
|Religion or Ethics|
|Column 2: Compulsory if not taken in Column 3|
|Biology||2||(if no other Science has been taken.)|
|Column 3: Optional|
|Language 4||4||only if studied in the 4th and 5th year|
|Latin||4||only if studied in the 4th and 5th year|
|Ancient Greek||4||only if studied in the 4th and 5th year|
|Economics||4||only if studied in the 4th and 5th year|
|Column 4: Further Optional|
|Advanced Language 1||3|
|Advanced Language 2||3|
|Advanced Mathematics||3||only with 5-period maths from Column 1|
|Column 5: Complementary|
|Elementary Economics||2||only if not taken in Column 3|
|Art||2||only if not taken in Column 3|
|Music||2||only if not taken in Column 3|
A minimum of 31 periods a week must be taken, with a maximum of 35 periods, although this is sometimes extended to 36 or even 37 periods. At least 2 Column 3 subjects must be chosen; a maximum of 4 can be taken. There is a core of compulsory subjects which include language 1 (mother tongue), language 2 (first foreign language), mathematics, history, geography, philosophy, religion/ethics and sport. In addition, if no science subject is taken as an elective subject, students must also take a course of two lessons per week in biology. Students must take a minimum of ten courses. They have the choice of two elective subjects of four lessons per week and may take as many as four additional subjects in addition to the ten compulsory subjects. These subjects may include each of the separate sciences, social sciences, Latin, art, music, philosophy and languages 3 and 4. Mathematics can be taken as a 3-lesson or 5-lesson per week course. Additional advanced courses of three lessons per week may be taken in mathematics, language 1 and language 2. Students may also choose complementary courses of two lessons per week such as practical science, introductory economics, art, music and theatre.
The total mark consists of:
- 20% coursework from 7th year
- 30% written exams in January
- 15% oral exams in June (where applicable)
- 35% written exams in June
Consequently, there is a heavy workload for the students; the system enforces not only a rounded knowledge of all subjects but also allows students to specialise in individual fields. Students are obliged to have a strong skills in one foreign language (in years 2-5 of secondary school a 2nd foreign language is also compulsory). The final pass-rate is very high (almost always over 98%), in part due to the practice of 'weeding out' candidates who are not academically strong enough to complete the Baccalaureate.
This process starts from an early age whereby many pupils either leave, are asked to leave or fall foul of the 'three strikes' rule (fail a year 3 times and the student will be asked to leave). Failing the same year twice also means leaving the school. Failing and repeating a year is a fairly common occurrence from age 10 upwards; roughly up to 5% of pupils will fail in each year. The 5th year is comparable to the German 'Mittlere Reife' or British GCSEs.
However, the pluridisciplinarity the EB offers is advantageous to students wishing to go on to university studies, in France and Germany especially. Most of the English section students and a significant minority of students from the other language sections apply to British universities. Recent experience (2011-2012 and beyond) has shown that students applying to British universities are encountering growing difficulties, sometimes serious, in having their Baccalaureate qualifications adequately recognised.
The average overall mark in the EB across the schools has risen only very slightly over time, and the average over the last ten years is very close to 76% with a modest increase in the percentage of students obtaining marks of 80%+. It is extremely difficult to score 90% or more. This reflects the demanding nature of the examination process and the fact that students need to perform very well across a very broad range of subjects and be fully bilingual in two languages. The bilingual demands of the course work and concomitant examinations entail that monolingual students cannot pass.
Compulsory Bilingual Education
The ten compulsory courses include a mother tongue and a second language. Students are also obliged to take a third language in years 1 to 5 upon entry into secondary level education. Students must be highly skilled in two languages. They must take literature classes in both their first language and their second. Although some obligatory classes such as philosophy, biology and mathematics are taught in the students' mother tongue, other compulsory courses such as history and geography are taught in the second language ensuring students are fully bilingual. This insistence on bilingual course work and examination makes it difficult for non-bilingual new entrants to succeed.
In a study based on a sample of over 500 former European School pupils, Kelly and Kelly compared the performances at British and Irish Universities of students who had taken the EB with the performances of students who had studied A-levels.
This showed that, in terms of the probability of getting a good degree, an EB score of:
- 80 or more is roughly equivalent to 380 UCAS points awarded for A-levels (3 A grades).
- 70 to 79 is equivalent to a UCAS score of 340-360 (ABB to AAB)
- 60 to 69 is equivalent to 300-320 UCAS points (BBC, BBB).
Even students with a bare pass at the EB (60-64) are more likely to get a good degree at university than students who achieved 280-300 UCAS points (BBC, BCC, CCC). The full study can be downloaded from here:
The passing mark is 60% of the total score; anything under that is a fail. Due to the difficult nature of the exams, students are seldom awarded more than 90%. Like their French and German national and regional counterparts, the European Schools have by and large successfully managed to counter the threat of steady grade inflation.
One major disadvantage of the EB is that there is no adequate provision for complaint in the event of an exam paper which is perceived to be flawed or unfair. No proper means of redress is available at present.