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EDUCATION

Schools in France defy Wednesday opening

Numerous schools around France were kept closed on Wednesday as local mayors defied a government reform to extend the primary school timetable to a five-day week. The education minister said the mayors' action was "unacceptable".

Schools in France defy Wednesday opening
Pupils' parents, opposed to the government's reform of school timetable protest in the south of France. Photo: Boris Horvat/AFP

In the end the rebellion was not quite as widespread as the government had at first feared; nevertheless around 15 communes around the country refused to open their schools on Wednesday, as mayors defied the government.

Most French primary schools across the country opened their doors for Wednesday classes for the first time in decades after a reform came into force that extended the school week to five days.

The reform, which sees pupils go in class on Wednesday mornings and reduces hours on other days, has been met fierce opposition since was implemented for a test run in several towns and cities last September.

But on Wednesday only around 15 communes, out of 24,000, refused to open their schools, as local mayors defied the changes. The government had feared it would be as many as 30 communes.

Le Parisien reported five schools were closed in the Loire department, and in the Val-de-Marne padlocks had been placed around the school gates at Limeil-Brévannes.

There was also a protest planned for Evry where French PM Manuel Valls is the mayor.

Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said the stance of the "recalcitrant" mayors was "unacceptable" and "anti-Republican".

"There's no exception to compulsory education. Can anyone imagine for a moment that it is in the best interests of the child to miss his first hours of learning and reading," the minister said.

(This tweet from  France Bleu Nord shows padlocked gates at Trith Saint Leger)

“We are going to refer them to the administration tribunal, who will take an injunction out against the mayors. If not then the prefects can take their place,” said Vallaud-Belkacem.

Primary school kids used to attend school on a fifth morning – usually Saturdays – until it was scrapped by the government of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008.

The current Socialist government brought it back as it wanted to spread out the 24 hours of teaching time throughout the full week.

Supporters of the reform said the previous long days left the kids exhausted and unable to concentrate, while now critics claim kids are worn out by Thursday.

Whatever the belief the government is adamant the timetable reform will be fully implemented.

SEE ALSO: Why the five-day week is vital for French pupils

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EDUCATION

Schools to close as French teachers strike over Covid rules

Around three-quarters of French teachers plan to go on strike onThursday to protest the government's shifting rules on Covid testing for students, forcing the closure of half the country's primary schools, a union said Tuesday.

Schools to close as French teachers strike over Covid rules
Photo: Fred Tanneau/AFP

The strike led by the Snuipp-FSU union, the largest among primary school teachers, comes after the latest of several changes on testing and isolation requirements for potential Covid cases announced by Prime Minister Jean Castex late Monday.

After seeing long lines of parents outside pharmacies and labs in recent days to test children in classes where a case was detected, Castex said home tests could now be used to determine if a student could return to school.

But teachers say class disruptions have become unmanageable with the spread of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.

“Students cannot learn properly because attendance varies wildly, and a hybrid of in-house and distance learning is impossible to put in place,” the Snuipp-FSU said, adding that absent teachers are not being replaced.

It is also demanding the government provide facemasks for staff, including the more protective FFP2 masks, and CO2 monitors to check if classrooms are sufficiently ventilated.

“Not only does the current protocol not protect students, staff or their families, it has completely disorganised schools,” the union said, claiming that classes have effectively been turned into “daycare centres.”

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has said the government is doing everything possible to avoid outright school closures that could cause havoc for parents and jeopardise learning for thousands, especially those in low-income families.

“I know there is a lot of fatigue, of anxiety… but you don’t go on strike against a virus,” Blanquer told BFM television on Tuesday.

As of Monday some 10,000 classes had been shut nationwide because of Covid cases, representing around two percent of all primary school classes, Blanquer said.

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