Primary school teachers in France protested on Thursday against changes to the weekly timetable that has seen the school week increase from four to four and a half days.
The education ministry said that 23 percent of teachers were on strike across the country including 41 percent in the Paris region. The day of action saw marches across the country from Marseille and Lyon to Bordeaux and the capital Paris. It comes after parents called for a boycott of schools on Wednesday and a strike by support staff on Tuesday.
Several unions had called the strike in a bid to try to convince Education Minister Vincent Peillon to scrap a law that came into force in September and extended the school timetable by half a day each week. Many regions opted to delay its implimentation until September 2014, however dozens of mayors now say they will refuse to introduce the divisive reform.
France’s primary schools now no longer close on Wednesdays with children attending classes for extra-curricular activities. In return the length of the full teaching day on Tuesday and Fridays was slightly shortened.
But teachers protesting at the Town Hall in Paris say the change has landed them with an even greater burden and left the pupils worn out.
“We can see that children are suffering from fatigue by the time it gets to Thursday, they cannot concentrate, they are shattered,” Antoine Dierstein a teacher in Paris told The Local on Thursday.
“They have shortened the school day on Tuesday and Friday but most of the children stay behind anyway so they are still in school,” he added. "We were not expecting this reform from a Socialist government. They introduced this change without talking to us."
After school activities in France are run by the local authorities, who have also employed staff to teach extra-curricular activities on Wednesdays.
But Dierstein who is a representative from the trade union CGT says the reform has created inequality in schools across the country.
“It’s fine in Paris, which is a rich area and can provide good activities for the children, but that’s not the case in all regions,” he said.
Dierstein also complained that the staff recruited by Town Halls to take charge of activities are poorly trained and lack the necessary qualifications.
Minister Peillon however has stuck to his guns and has argued the changes will benefit children’s education.
“We need to inform the French people that one week of 4.5 days is better for learning than 4 days of more than five hours of classes,” the education minister previously told Le Parisien. “It will allow children to undertake more sporting and cultural activities.
“We cannot continue to be the only country in the world where our students attend school only 144 days a year,” Peillon added.
But protesters on Thursday say the children are suffering rather than benefitting from the changes.
“They are cracking up under the stress,” Music teacher Vanessa Gruson told The Local. “They are becoming aggressive, some of them are at school for a total of 52 hours a week now.”
Protesters are demanding the reforms are scrapped and the government open talks with them over more appropriate changes to the timetable.
"It's never too late to do the right thing," Paris primary teacher Gali Harroch, told The Local.
And it appears they have the support of a majority of French people, with a poll published on Wednesday revealing that 54 percent of respondents agree that the reform should be ditched.
The protests are set to continue with a further rally planned for November 20th in front of the Ministry of Education.