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SCHOOLS

French school timetable reform is ‘harming pupils’

Thousands of French teachers walked out of primary schools across the country on Thursday in protest over recent changes to the timetable, which they say has left children, parents and staff unable to cope.

French school timetable reform is 'harming pupils'
Striking teachers protest outside the Town Hall in Paris. Photo: The Local

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.

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SCHOOLS

Fears in rural France over plans to close hundreds of school classes

Parents, teaching unions and mayors in rural France are up in arms over an announcement by the government that 200 to 300 classes in schools throughout the country will be closed at the end of the school year. They blame the president.

Fears in rural France over plans to close hundreds of school classes
Photos: AFP

Anger in the French countryside has been increasing for weeks over the threat to close hundreds of classes and worried parents, teachers and local authorities will not have been pacified by the words of the education minister this week.

Jean-Michel Blanquer admitted that between 200 and 300 classes will close in rural areas at the end of this school year.

Blanquer however tried his best to ease worries by insisting that the government would be “opening more classes than they are closing”.

“We only talk about those which are closing but could easily talk about the classes that are opening,” he said.

“We must differentiate between closing classes and closing whole schools,” said Blanquer. “Class closures are normal. They have always happened and always will.”

The minister also tried to reassure those in rural areas that he was the “biggest supporter of schools in the countryside” and that “he was working to preserve classes” in these areas.

And the closures aren't all the government's fault.

(AFP)

Statistics show that among elementary schools (écoles maternelles) the number of pupils will be 30,000 less in September 2018 than the previous year, for a total of around 6.76 million throughout the country.

As the minister points out: “There are population movements. There is nothing wrong with what is happening today.”

Blanquer say that despite the drop in pupil numbers some 3,800 extra teaching posts will be created in primary schools next September.

But teaching unions are unlikely to be satisfied by his words, because they don't believe these posts will be created in rural areas.

They blame the closures of classes in countryside schools on President Emmanuel Macron's flagship election promise to cut class sizes in primary schools located in deprived neighbourhoods which are mainly in urban areas.

Macron's reform, which will be rolled out over the coming years and will see class sizes reduced to 12 pupils in underprivileged urban neighbourhoods, will require thousands of new teachers.

But unions representing schools in rural France say the reform, which they support, comes at the expense of teaching jobs in the countryside.

“It's like stripping Peter to dress Paul,” as one union pointed out.

They claim that even the 3,800 new posts won't cover the vacancies created by Macron's plan to cut class sizes let alone fill the vacancies in rural schools.

Local education authorities “will have no choice but to close a lot of classes, particularly in rural elementary schools.”

Unions give the example of the Somme department, in rural northern France. The department will have 800 fewer school pupils in September and there are currently 45 planned class closures.

On the other hand there are 47 planned class openings in the department but all but two of those are in Macron's “priority zones” which will benefit from his promise to cut class sizes.

Julien Cristofoli from France's main teaching union SNUipp said those living in rural areas “feel abandoned”.

Senators representing rural departments had strong words for the minister.

“We are in a period where 75 percent of our territory is being abandoned by the state. The closures of schools are the last straw that breaks the camel's back,” said the senator for Indre-et-Loire Pierre Louault.

Anne Chain-Larche, the senator for Seine-et-Marne added: “The rural territories are tired of being robbed in favor of your public policies. Do the small schoolchildren of the fields not have the same rights to those of the cities?”

The anger of elected officials in rural areas is even greater given Macron promised in July 2017 that “there will be no closing of classes in primary schools” in rural areas.

What is likely to happen over the coming weeks and months is that parents and local mayors will up their campaigns to save classes. In the past parents at schools in rural France have not been afraid to “occupy” their kids' schools in protest.

There are already several “Nuits des Ecoles” planned in certain areas in which parents will spend the night in schools in a bid to raise the alarm.

“We are and will be very attentive and responsive. We will not let rural schools be stripped,” said a recent statement from the Associaton of France's Rural Mayors.