French teachers win fight over back-to-school date

After being blasted by teachers outraged over coming back to work during the sacred holiday-reserved month of August, national education authorities backed down on Friday, therefore avoiding a planned strike.

French teachers win fight over back-to-school date
French teachers won't be back at work in August afterall. Photo: Pascal Pavani/AFP

It was only 24 hours, but for French teachers who say they have been driven to the edge by cuts and government demands, it was the final straw.

In the face of a least one threatened strike from a teachers’ union, France’s national education authority has now set the first day of classes for September 2nd. Teachers were initially due to return on August 29 for meetings, with students due back on September 1st.

Making no mention of the controversy, Minister of Education Benoit Hamon pinned the U-turn on the challenges of getting all 40,000 teachers and aides back to work on time in August.

"To keep the calendar as it was, was technically impossible,” Hamon said, according to French daily Le Monde. “

Teachers were outraged in January when the government unveiled the coming school year's calendar, which had them back on the job August 29th. The somewhat sacrosanct principle of August being the month of holidays in France meant the early return was simply too much for teachers to bear.

The members of the national union of secondary and high school teachers (Sydicat National des Lycées et Collèges) had called a strike for the end of August.

“In vulgar worlds you could say they are sick and tired of it. Teachers are always asked to do more,” the union's vice president Albert-Jean Mougin told The Local previously. “There has been this constant nibbling at all the “benefits” of this career. It’s a symbolic line.”

According to the union the demands on teachers have only grown in recent years. It was once enough to teach, but now they having to be social workers, career counsellors and foster parents.  

“Seriously speaking, while the teachers in France are firstly asked to transmit knowledge, they are increasingly asked to do things outside this domain,” Mougin said. “We have a profession that is worn out and that is in position that is materially worse and worse.”

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