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'New five-day week is vital for French pupils'

Joshua Melvin · 1 Sep 2014, 15:54

Published: 01 Sep 2014 15:54 GMT+02:00

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France’s age-old tradition of primary school pupils having Wednesdays off will finally come to an end this week throughout the country.

The reforms were initiated last year in many towns and cities but from this September the timetable reform will be mandatory across the whole of France, with a few exceptions.

The change will now mean a half-day of classes on Wednesday morning for all nursery and primary school kids who had been excused from these since as far back as 1882.

Classes on other days of the week will be shortened as a result, although many pupils will remain on school premises to do extra-curricular activities.

But the changes, introduced under former Education Minister Vincent Peillon, have drawn fierce opposition from teachers and unions. And there's a poll saying 60 percent of parents oppose the reform and as many as 20 mayors are reportedly threatening not to enforce it.

But France’s new education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said on Monday that every town, city and local authority across France has to comply with the reform, no matter what.

She told Le Monde: "If mayors do not make sure the law is respected then the prefects will do it for them. There will be no exceptions to children’s right to schooling in our republic.”

Critics have blasted the reform claiming the kids are now exhausted by Thursday and say the Town Hall would not be able to find quality staff to host the extra-curricular lessons, which won't be taken by teachers.

Paul Raoult, the president of a leading parents’ advocacy group, the Fédération des Conseils de Parents D’élève (FCPE), told The Local the reform was positive for French primary school pupils.

How are school schedules changing this year?

“There will not be less school, it’s just divided up differently. Before instruction time was divided over four days, the children did six hours per day of school. But now it will be divided over five days. It’s not more school, but better school.”  

Why are parents upset about the changes?

“The answer is in the question: change. Parents don’t like change. It scares people. And now we have school employees complaining about working on Wednesdays, when these same people complained, because it would cost them money, when France did away with Saturday classes.”

“To change is the problem. In a month or a month and a half, people will have completely forgotten about this.”

Why does your organization support the new schedule?

“It was child abuse. There were children who were suffering at school. It was not right to force these children to remain seated for six hours per day when all the experts and psychologists say that a child under the age of 10 cannot concentrate more than five hours per day.

“So what’s the purpose of a sixth hour? It’s not helping children, who need to move. It’s like this, a child is full of energy and wants to do all sorts of things, but in order to keep them calm we put them in a straight jacket.”

“We were restraining these children. We were preventing them from learning about themselves, we were preventing them from being themselves. And then down the road we’re shocked when the children think school is crap and have no faith in education.”

Who will benefit from the reform?

“It improves learning for all children and it’s easier for them to concentrate because the days are not as long. It will also allow all children to succeed, especially children with learning difficulties. Six hours of class for those who have troubles had the effect of piling up problems.”

Will all schools adopt the new schedule?

“This change comes from a request made by the FCPE in 2008. We are very pleased that a large part of our proposition was adopted by the government. That said there has been some backtracking, which is for us unacceptable. Chiefly there is the possibility for certain towns to resume six hours of class per day, certain days.”

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

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