‘New five-day week is vital for French pupils’

The head of a major parents' group in France tells The Local why the new five-day school week will bring French schools into the 21st century.

'New five-day week is vital for French pupils'
French primary school pupils will attend school five days a week from now on, despite opposition from parents. Photo: Shutterstock

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.”

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School closures rise in France as government relaxes rules for parents

The number of school and class closures in France has increased, the education minister reported on Wednesday, but the government has relaxed the rules for parents sending children back to class.

School closures rise in France as government relaxes rules for parents
Children over 11 in France have to wear masks during the school day. Photo: AFP

A total of 81 establishments and 2,100 individual classes have closed after discovering Covid-19 cases on their premises.

The number was a rise on the figures last week when 28 schools and 524 individual classes were closed.

“We have around 1,200 new Covid cases among pupils compared with last week,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told the LCI channel on Wednesday.

“We shut down a class as soon as there are three cases,” he said.

Blanquer noted that the closures represent just a small fraction of the 60,000 schools across France, calling the beginning of the new school year “the best possible given the health crisis.”


French officials have warned nonetheless that new restrictions might be required to stem a worrying increase in coronavirus cases since August.

IN NUMBERS: How fast are France's Covid-19 rates increasing?

No more official sick notes

Despite the surge in cases registered in schools, children with Covid-19 symptoms will no longer need to provide a doctor's sick note (une attestation) to return to class, Blanquer told BFMTV on Tuesday evening.

Instead, parents will need to fill in what in French is called an attestation sur l'honneur, a written document signed by the parent, stating either that the child tested negative for the virus, or a doctor has ruled out that the child has Covid-19.

READ ALSO: The vocabulary you need to fill in French forms (including the coronavirus 'attestation')

This followed a series of complaints from medical establishments across the country that they were overwhelmed with demands for sick notes and that parents were sending children with very light symptoms such as runny noses to get checked up.

According to the new rules, children who are identified as contact cases must get tested for the virus seven days after their last contact with the confirmed case. If the result comes back negative, the child can go back to class provided that a parent has provided a signed written attestation saying that the test came back negative. No proof for the test result will be required. 

A child with Covid-19 symptoms can also return to class if this attestation indicates that a doctor has ruled out the virus as cause for the symptoms, without providing any proof for the medical appointment.

The new health protocol will be updated and published on the education ministry's website shortly.

READ ALSO: The French school vocab parents need

'Chomage partiel'

Parents affected by the school closures can access to the partial unemployment scheme bolstered by the government at the beginning of the lockdown in March to help businesses foot their employees' salaries to prevent mass layoffs.

Those concerned will “benefit from income reimbursement from the first day of their stoppage of work, and at the latest until the end of the period of isolation,” the health ministry said in a statement.

Only one parent per household will be eligible for the help scheme, and only if they can document that their child's school or nursery closed down due to Covid-19, or that their child has been identified as a contact-case.

Higher education 

Late Tuesday, the University of Montpellier in southern France said it had suspended classes at its medical school after some 60 students tested positive after a party.

The University of Rennes in western France also suspended classes for second- and third-year medical students this week after 83 tested positive.

The government has placed 82 of the country's 101 departments on red alert, and officials in Bordeaux and Marseille this week tightened restrictions on public gatherings and retirement home visits after seeing a surge in new Covid-19 cases. 

READ ALSO: Why are Bordeaux and Marseille facing tougher Covid-19 restrictions but not Paris