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Amélie Oudéa-Castéra was recently designated as the French Minister of Education. She triggered a few controversies, the last one being that her son somehow bypassed the national system of selection for higher studies (called Parcoursup).

He was a high school student in Stanislas, an elite private school. In order to be selected to a higher education institution called classe préparatoire he needed to go through the national system Parcoursup.

Now the controversy (according to the news in France): instead of choosing several schools (with the hope of being accepted in one of them) he only chose Stanislas. He was allegedly told that making this single choice would "guarantee his admission".

This is the point I do not understand: he was a high schooler in Stanislas and wanted to continue in Stanislas. The Stanislas school chooses freely their students so why going through such a scheme? They could simply accept the file that has "Oudéa-Castéra" on the first page.

To clarify my question: how is choosing a single school a bypass or corruption?


* this is a very specific French institution where you spend two years to prepare for a national exam, after which you attend for three years in an actual university-like school (and end up with a master degree). This preparation course is (in the vast majority of cases) held in a high school.

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  • I added a corruption tag and removed a "sphere of influence" tag that applies to the sphere of influence of one country over places outside its boundaries in the same region.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 22 at 18:21
  • @wrod the question is not about the selective treatment - it is about the single choice as a way to bypass the system. I do not know how to make it more clear in my question :)
    – WoJ
    Commented Jan 23 at 7:47
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    @wrod I thought that a question about why a first-rank politician's son is accused of bypassing the national system by just choosing one school and not many would be on topic (at least in France it is hugely political). If not I can delete the question (or it could be flagged for being off-topic)
    – WoJ
    Commented Jan 23 at 9:52
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    @wrod the question is not "why/how was he accepted" but "why being accepted in this school constitutes a political problem". I think it's not an opinion question and seems, to me, on-topic in politics being about a politician's son being accused of something based on his affiliation with said political entity
    – John Doe
    Commented Jan 23 at 10:19

4 Answers 4

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How is the system supposed to work?

In their last year of high school, students are supposed to make a number of "wishes", wishes being for a particular course at a particular school. Based on their grades and other factors, schools select the students for their courses. Students then have to make a final choice of where to go based on which of their wishes were accepted.

Without getting into the finer detail of French higher education, the short of it is that the standard university courses are largely non-selective, and everything else is selective to very selective. One such type of selective courses is "preparatory classes", or prépas, courses that prepare entry into postgraduate schools. These prépas are offered by high schools, so it is possible to stay at your high school after high school. This is what the minister's son did: he entered a prépa at his high school, Stanislas.

Obviously, making a single wish for a selective course is extremely risky, because you might end up not being selected there, and therefore anywhere. But simply doing that is only a problem for yourself.

How is Stanislas breaking the system?

Stanislas is accused of offering a guarantee of admission to some students in exchange of them making a single wish. Students are guaranteed a school, and the school is guaranteed a (paying) student.

This first means the admissions are rigged. The number of spots actually opened to other applicants is less than the number of spots nominally offered, since the school is already filling those spots before the admissions process is even open. Equality of chances is supposed to be a founding principle of our school system, this scheme makes a mockery of that. Also, Stanislas received public funding, so they can't just flout the rules as they see fit.

This also means there is a significant opportunity for corruption. This scheme isn't offered to every student. It's an opaque scheme, offered to some students only, outside of the normal process. The value of this for a student/parent can be quite high, as a good prépa opens a lot of good doors. At the very least this creates a conflict of interest if one such student/parent was to have any sort of business with the school.

And it looks particularly bad for Stanislas because, from a total of 600,000 highschoolers, only 41 students in France made only one wish for a prépa at their current high school in 2023, and 38 of them were Stanislas students, including the minister's son (source Mediapart, can't find an accurate non-paywalled quote for it). It is an interesting statistical anomaly for sure.

So why is it bad?

Why is it a bypass? Because it just is. Schools aren't supposed to pick their students before the selection process even starts. It is bad because Stanislas receives public funding and that means they have to follow the rules.

Why is it corruption? Kinda depends for whom and what specific crime we're talking about.

Consider the facts:

  • Stanislas has been under investigation by the ministry of education (for accusations of institutionalised homophobia, disinformation on abortion, proselytism, moral or even sexual abuse, and other things). The investigation started in February 2023, the report was delivered to the ministry in the summer of 2023. No decision has been made yet.

  • Amélie Oudéa-Castéra became minister of education this January 2024. She was (and still is, don't ask) minister of sports since May 2022. She is the third minister of education since the summer of 2023.

  • Her son was admitted for a prépa at Stanislas last year, in spring of 2023. He made only one wish, and the minister has publicly recognised that the school offered her son a spot if he made just this one wish.

This means there is a conflict of interest. The minister has a personal stake with the school, with her son being admitted at the school. That the minister's son benefited from a less-than-legal scheme to ensure his admission further aggravates the conflict of interest.

That the minister's son benefited from that scheme definitely implicates the school. This might be considered some kind of insider trading, or analoguous. It may not implicate the minister or her son, as she claims to "have followed the procedure given by Stanislas and every step of ParcoursSup", "like other families" (sources Mediapart, quoted here).

Regarding the conflict of interest, the minister already recused herself from dealing with the Stanislas report or exerting any influence on its resolution. I don't think anything can make it look less bad politically, but that much isn't a crime, nor is the simple existence of a conflict of interest.

For it to become a case of good old fashioned corruption, several things would have to be established. That the school intended to have the minister in their pocket, e.g. to have a minister of the government speak favorably on their behalf while under investigation by a government agency. And then for the minister to be implicated, she would have had to know and agree to such quid pro quo. So far, no element indicates any such thing happened.

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    This is a fantastic answer, thanks. Just one thing, when you say the standard university courses are non-selective it really depends on the university and the course. Some courses at the university are very selective. Otherwise, nice answer that exactly explains where the core of the issue is (and I finally got it, also thanks to @RogerV comments)
    – WoJ
    Commented Jan 23 at 14:56
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    @WoJ I wanted to keep it simple and have it true enough for the context to make sense. But it's true, there are always exceptions with us French. Commented Jan 23 at 15:10
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    @Hasse1987 Not when you get public funding. Stanislas is accused of making catechism classes and masses mandatory, which would be a breach of contract. The school obviously denies. Commented Jan 24 at 7:02
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    @Kaiido Why the school does that is a mystery ultimately. The school is likely capable of recognising its selected students without that. The only obvious "benefit" is that students are locked in and can't pick another school. I could speculate why that's important, but ultimately we just don't know. Commented Jan 25 at 8:30
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    @Kaiido It's less a threat and more a quid pro quo. They give you a spot, and you only pick them. Presumably, they're smart enough to target students motivated enough to follow through and not tattletale. Commented Jan 25 at 9:11
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There is an implication that the son's admission could have been due to the utilization of corrupt influence by the parent who has legal authority to some extent over the school, to get him favorable admission to a highly selective school.

But there are also innocent possible explanations. It wouldn't be terribly uncommon for the son of a national cabinet level public official to be very talented in his own right to the point where admission to a highly selective institution was pretty much a sure thing and didn't require multiple applications.

Also, while French sensibilities may be less flexible, in many countries, particularly at private schools, the life experiences that a child of a powerful politician brings to the student body (and the connections it is likely to afford to the institution in the future) is, in and of itself apart from other aspects of academic merit, considered to be a plus factor in admissions that enriches the experience of the student body as a whole and is substantively something that makes a student more desirable in the admissions process.

Ultimately, it is impossible to know what really happened and whether it was above board or was actually a minor exercise of political and nepotistic favoritism and corruption. The considerations are also probably too subtle to give rise to formal legal action of any kind, particularly when the publicly known facts don't necessarily prove that there was any misconduct.

From a larger French political context, the way this incident will be interpreted is likely to depend more upon the predispositions of the listeners than on the limited factual information available to the public. An appearance of corruption can damage a politician and their political party, especially if it strikes a cord with the general public, whether or not it actually involved corruption.

If political party leaders of the Minister's parties feel that this development is harmful to their party, they may put pressure on the Minister to intervene in her son's selection of a high school and may even pressure her to have him to transfer elsewhere. But that is probably unlikely to happen.

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    "he life experiences that a child of a powerful politician brings to the student body (and the connections it is likely to afford to the institution in the future) is, in and of itself apart from other aspects of academic merit, considered to be a plus factor" hahahahahahaha, that is a good one. Up there with "that wasn't a bribe, they just suddenly became my friend when they gained political power and I'm a generous rich person".
    – Yakk
    Commented Jan 23 at 20:23
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    @Yakk Every highly selective college and university in the United States explicitly endorses that reasoning.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 23 at 20:50
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    Given the information in AmiralPatete's answer, it's a mighty coincidence that 38 of 41 students who are good enough to get in exactly their university of choice all come from and went back to the same school, and just happen to have broken the rules for exactly the talented ones. This might be a great generic answer for other cultures, but it seems misleading at best for French education and in this case especially.
    – Nij
    Commented Jan 23 at 21:00
  • @Nij I don't disagree.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 23 at 21:01
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    I agree on " It wouldn't be terribly uncommon for the son of a national cabinet level public official to be very talented in his own right ". Besides, using the word "corruption" implicitely means money given to have a privilege which is almost surely not the case. Everybody who is honest will not find "corruption" in everyday's life in France, unlike what happens unfortunately in almost all states outside Europe, Northern America and some states like Japan. Commented Jan 24 at 0:50
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The precise explanation is that Stanislas had been encouraging their students to bypass the system for some time. This was against the rules of the ParcoursSup national system, in which students are supposed to submit several choices. Probably it was a way to bypass the system into automatically assigning the student to the school again, reducing the chances of other external candidates. The minister's son was not the only student who benefited from this, but it's worth noting that the practice is very rare, because only a few dozens students submit a single choice every year out of several hundred thousands.

Stanislas had already been given a warning by the Ministry for this unethical practice.

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    Wait, the French government gets to tell a private school how to run admissions? Commented Jan 22 at 23:17
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    @JonathanReez It is worth recalling that the premier universities in France, unlike the UK or the U.S. or Germany, are public ones. So, their place of Stanislas in the overall K-college education system is beholden to the French government at both ends. If this private HS didn't play ball, the French government could simply deny admission to its students to public universities if it really wanted to make a point.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 23 at 2:08
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    @JonathanReez 75% of private schools fundings in France comes from the government. This comes in exchange of respecting a contract about admission policies (for exemple, not being single gender) or teachings (giving students an option to opt out of religion teaching, following the national curriculum, etc). Stanislas is actually under inspection for not respecting its own contract regarding mandatory religious teachings.
    – armand
    Commented Jan 23 at 4:14
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    I removed the rather harshly phrased criticism of the values taught at this school, because it's 1. subjective and 2. irrelevant for the question at hand.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 23 at 13:06
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    @Philipp fyi it was not a subjective judgement, since the French Minister of Education gave a warning for exactly this reason: the school encourages homophobia and censors teachings they don't endorse. It's relevant to understand the context: the ParcoursSup accusation comes amid multiple offenses evidenced in Stanislas. But for all I care you can remove my answer, I was just giving the real reason based on how French media report, it's not even my interpretation. To be honest it would need a lot more explanation about the context of public vs private education in France too.
    – Erwan
    Commented Jan 23 at 14:53
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It seems to be not so much a case of corruption, but of collusion between the school and the students:

Collusion is a deceitful agreement or secret cooperation between two or more parties to limit open competition by deceiving, misleading or defrauding others of their legal right.

Parcoursup is a nation-wide system, intended to assure that all the students have equal access to the higher education: that is a University or Class préparatoire - the latter is a pre-condition for entering a Grande école, the French equivalent of the Ivy League school, and the program is roughly that of the first two-three years of a university.

Students are allowed to choose up to 10 different schools: if they do not qualify to the top school in their list, they may still qualify for their second or third choice, and so on. On the other hand, the schools are interested in recruiting the best students, and perhaps also those whose families have high connections that can benefit the school.

Prior to the yearly nationwide exams (Baccalauréat) neither the students nor the school are aware of which of them will be in a more advantageous position (i.e., whether the student will be able to choose between best schools, or whether the school will have good selection of top students.) The purported deal at Stanislas seemed to provide guarantees of admission to students in exchange for their pledge to go to the specific school.

Statistically it is highly probable that some kind of such a deal took place:

Une méthode qui semble fonctionner puisqu’en 2023, en France, selon un rapport de l’IGÉSR (inspection générale de l'éducation, du sport et de la recherche), seuls 41 lycéens (sur environ 600.000) n’ont formulé qu’un seul vœu sur la plateforme postbac pour la prépa de leur lycée. Et, parmi eux, 38 étaient déjà lycéens à Stanislas, donc le fils aîné de la ministre, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra.

A method which seems to work since in 2023, in France, according to a report from the IGÉSR (general inspection of education, sport and research), only 41 high school students (out of approximately 600,000) have formulated only just one wish on the post-baccalaureate platform for their high school prep. And, among them, 38 were already high school students at Stanislas, including the eldest son of the minister, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra.

Although the selection system at Parcoursup is technically blind, the school can rather easily identify its students by their records.

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  • The purported deal at Stanislas seemed to provide guarantees of admission to students in exchange for their pledge to go to the specific school. How selecting Stanislas and some other schools would disadvantage Stanislas?
    – WoJ
    Commented Jan 23 at 12:37
  • Although the selection system at Parcoursup is technically blind, the school can rather easily identify its students by their records. The schools do have the name of the school the candidate is from. This was quite a discussion a few years ago when the high school was also supposed to get anonimized.
    – WoJ
    Commented Jan 23 at 12:39
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    @WoJ suppose a student has indicated several schools, and obtained very good marks in the exams. They may decide to go to a school other than Stanislas. If Stanislas students are indeed the best of the best, the risk is high that they many of them leave. By limiting them to one choice, Stanislas would guarantee that they stay.
    – Morisco
    Commented Jan 23 at 12:53
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    Ahhhhhh... now I get it (took some time :)). They make a win-win deal: the student goes to a top school and the top school ensures that their best students go back to them. Tanks a lot!
    – WoJ
    Commented Jan 23 at 12:57
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    I am still not sure whether I fully grasped it. So the students apply for the prépa before their bac or at least before having the results. At that moment, they have a certain risk to have only mediocre results and thus not being accepted at their top choices, which makes the deal attractive for them. And the school already knows how good they are (in general), so it offers the deal only to very good students who would be likely to really have a choice and go somewhere else. Is that it? (Actually, the school abuses the students' fear in some way.) Commented Jan 23 at 19:52

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