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French schools close as teachers stage walkout

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French schools close as teachers stage walkout
Teachers protest in Paris earlier this year against reforms to the primary school time table. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP
09:56 CET+01:00
Almost half of France's primary teachers were on strike on Thursday, union leaders said, leading to the closure of schools across the country. The industrial action is the latest protest against divisive school reforms.

French school teachers staged their latest walk-out on Thursday as they continue their battle to force the government to withdraw a recent reform of the primary school time table.

The leading teachers union SNUipp-FSU estimated that four out of ten primary teachers were taking part in the industrial action, which has led to most schools being either closed or having to operate with a skeleton staff.

In Paris the union claims around 30 percent of teachers are on strike, leading to the closure of at least 40 schools in the capital. The under-fire Minister of Education Vincent Peillon claimed however that only 20 percent of teachers are taking part in the walk-out.

“It is not right to criticise the changes we are making in schools,” said a Peillon, who appears to be becoming frustrated with the ongoing opposition to his reforms.

The controversial change came into force in September and extended the school timetable by half a day each week. Many regions opted to delay its implementation until September 2014, and dozens of mayors have since said they will refuse to introduce the changes.

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. 

“We cannot continue to be the only country in the world where our students attend school only 144 days a year,” Peillon said, defending the reform, earlier this year.

But teachers protesting at the Town Hall in Paris last month 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.

“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."

Teachers also say the staff employed by the Town Hall to teach the extra-curricular activities are under-qualified and some local authorities lack the resources to make the activities worth-while.

Sebastian Sihr, the secretary general of SNUipp-FSU said the strikes and protests were about more than just a timetable reform that has been “badly thought out”.

Sihr is demanding reduced class sizes, bigger budgets and more training for teachers in order to bring about a real “transformation of schools”.

Teacher protests have been backed by various parents groups but another teachers union UNSA is supporting the move to a four a half day week and applauds the government’s efforts to create 60,000 new teaching jobs and introduce new training for teachers.

A poll published on Wednesday revealing that 54 percent of respondents agree that the reform should be ditched.

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