The education inspector, a key partner in local educational communities

29 May 2019

Eric Javoy is the deputy Academy inspector - a senior manager role within the Ministry of Education - in the French department of Yonne. As an inspector, Javoy coordinates and implements the Academy's educational strategy in primary schools, taking into account the specificities of the local territory. Javoy is particularly interested in issues related to teacher training and support, as well as the governance of “learning territories” (territoires apprenants). 

As part of IIEP’s two-week course, Organization and management of the education sector: systems and institutions, in April 2018, Javoy shared the following insights on the changing role of inspectors. 

IIEP: Has the role of the French Education Inspection been modified by the successive waves of decentralization?

Eric Javoy: Decentralization in France is a real but sometimes misleading phenomenon. Initially, highly centralized, the Ministry of Education has transferred more power to regions and academies across the country. However, within these academies, there is sometimes an inverse phenomenon of re-centralization, with the reproduction of the national scheme at the regional level. The State remains very important in the territories and the Minister, in charge of pedagogical matters, retains a direct role towards teachers. 

The inspector's job has indeed evolved with decentralization, gradually moving from an injunctive, directive dynamic to a role of supporting teaching staff and sharing experience.  Today the question is “how” teachers do their job, compared to ten years ago, when the inspector engaged in dialogue focused more on the “why.” 

IIEP: What is your relationship with the school principals you supervise? 

Eric Javoy: The modalities of collaboration between the inspection and the school principal are specific to each level of education. In primary education, for which we have a very large number of school principals, the challenge of our collaboration is to maintain a strong connection with the territories. With a ratio of one inspector to 70 directors spread over a dispersed territory, the task is complex. The difficulty in secondary education lies more in the link between the environment of the lower secondary school (collège) and that of the high school (lycée). The challenge of our management is to bring these two environments, with very different cultures closer together, thanks, for example, to the school-college board, which makes it possible to articulate the continuity of learning and schooling. I would say that our collaboration with school principals is focusing on more pedagogical areas at the primary level, and at the secondary level, on more didactic and disciplinary issues. In any case, our mission is indeed that of collaborative work, and not purely evaluation as the title of inspector suggests. 

IIEP: How is the inspection system changing to better serve the teachers?

Eric Javoy: Within the inspection system, we can work to better take into account the experience of teachers. Since 2017, the current French education system has required career appointments to be held every six years. During these interviews, the inspector invites the teacher to reflect on his or her career development and the training he or she would like to take. However, no document keeps track of this information beyond the appointment reports. This is why I am now working to develop a tool to keep within the department the feedback and aspirations of teachers, which can feed into the training plan. In general, inspection reports are often not used or misused, and I am not sure that they have any real added value for the teacher. However, the challenge of an inspection is precisely to benefit the teacher. 

On this point, we can learn from the Finnish system: it is by promoting self-evaluation rather than evaluation that we can succeed in enriching teachers' practices. In Finland, self-evaluation is a mechanism that allows the pedagogical team to be more autonomous in the implementation of the pedagogical project: external evaluation is then rare and occasional. In France, there is still a great reluctance towards self-assessment, and the authority figure of inspection persists. On the other hand, teachers are not always ready to move from an injunctive to a collaborative relationship where the inspection delegates more responsibilities to them, beyond their pedagogical responsibility for the implementation of national programmes.

IIEP: Is the inspection in contact with parents?

Eric Javoy: Parents are the ones who are the most forgotten when it comes to inspection. Unfortunately, we have little contact with parents, apart from conflict resolution situations. The parent-teacher relationship is complex; clumsiness sometimes leads to frustration for parents who do not feel listened to. However, no one knows the student better than the parent. The inspector's position and their work with families therefore consists of providing information to school principals and parents' representatives in order to facilitate their relationship, bearing in mind that the diversity of parents is not always well represented.

IIEP: How can the status and legitimacy of the teacher, increasingly challenged by families, be enhanced? 

Eric Javoy: There is indeed a growing questioning of teachers' voices by families. Teaching is a relational profession: peer relationships, relationships with educational partners, relationships with families. In France we talk about co-education, but I prefer to talk about educational coherence: education is based on values shared with parents.  However, the relational pillar is too absent from teacher training. In Canada, 60% of initial teacher training is on relationships, while in France it is more like 10%. Not training teachers in interpersonal skills, empathy and sharing means keeping them in a confrontational position. Work must be done to improve the initial training of teachers, in order to train them in communication techniques. 

IIEP: How would you describe your relationship with the local elected officials of the municipality?

Eric Javoy: I would say that it is a real collaboration, but sometimes also an arm wrestling match. In France, the school is called municipal, i.e. the mayors must provide the school with the means to operate, which generates large disparities between the communes. On sensitive issues, such as the closure of a class by the inspection, the decision is painful for a mayor. The inspection works for the restructuring of the territory, and the decision to close a class or school is taken in order to enhance the organization of the territory for the benefit of the child. Micro-schools are not in the favour of the student; it does not promote learning, the child's social development or the teacher's creativity. We then enter into agreements with the mayors to plan the creation of inter-municipal schools. It is a delicate subject: for some mayors, the quality of their municipality's public service is measured by the proximity of their school, and the closure of a school is still often associated with the death of a village. 

At the level of the inspection, there is a real willingness to work with the municipalities and representatives on the territory. To do this, everyone must know their partner's skills, and the system must be more porous. The compartmentalization of fields often prevents the sharing of information, particularly in the peri-educational field, whereas it would be necessary to work on the student's academic path in a collegial way. I think, for example, that we should encourage training for teachers in their locality, so that they become familiar with local educational services, and conversely invite these educational services into the school. 

IIEP: What are the challenges of collaboration between educational actors? What role can inspection play in facilitating it?

Eric Javoy: It is like asking ourselves this fundamental question: how far can we go in decentralization? How far can we create learning territories? I think the challenge is to design educational territories that are smaller, where the role of each actor (the school principal, the inspector, the parent) is more clearly identified, and that offer collaborative work fora.

A learning territory is a territory that allows the institution to develop innovative projects, and that encourages sharing and spin-offs between institutions in the same territory. It is a territory marked by a horizontal dynamic of sharing projects and transferring skills. Developing learning territories requires intensifying exchanges between educational actors, bringing more horizontality and porosity, to promote the development of the student. The challenge of our management is to make the actors work together inside and outside the school, to face problems such as in priority education areas, which the school alone cannot solve. 

Regarding priority education areas, collaboration between institutions and municipalities is really essential. For the time being, priority education projects are initiated within schools, as part of educational projects, and elected officials are subsequently involved for their financial support.  We would like, for some sectors, that pedagogy be shared, but the culture of our system is difficult to change, and the idea persists among teachers that the municipality has only a financial responsibility in educational projects.