France ignores teachers to push through reforms

France's education minister on Wednesday published a controversial set of school reforms on the country's official statute books, sparking fury from unions and the opposition a day after a teachers' strike.

France ignores teachers to push through reforms
Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who has come under fire for her school reforms. Photo: AFP
Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, at 37 a rising star in French politics, denied there was any “hurry” to publish the official decree, stressing: “All the deadlines were as we had foreseen from the beginning.”
But the publication just hours after the minister had assured striking teachers that “I am listening to you”, prompted a furious response from unions. 
One union, the SNES, described it as a “provocation”. Another, the SNALC, said: “The minister left the 'door open' only to smash it closed in the face of high school teachers, in an astonishing refusal of social dialogue.”
The main parts of the reform that have proved controversial are giving more autonomy to schools and replacing Latin and Ancient Greek languages classes with more general lessons on ancient civilisation and culture.
Unions are also angry at plans to scrap the learning of a second modern language for gifted children (around 16 percent took these classes) at the age of 11, replacing it with a modern language for everyone at 12.
The right-wing opposition UMP was also up in arms, as it had called for a complete scrapping of the reforms, which will affect schools for children aged between 11 and 15.
Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a high profile UMP deputy, said: “On one hand Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said she is open to discussion, the next day she publishes (the reform) in the Official Journal.”
“For those that were still in doubt, (this shows) the government's word is worthless,” she added.
The French education system strives to ensure that all children at high-school level receive exactly the same education. 
Despite this attempt at egalitarianism, there are wide differences between schools in poorer areas and those in more prosperous parts of the country.
The high school drop-out rate among children of manual labourers is 32 percent whereas only five percent of children from white collar families drop out of school prematurely.
And the French education system has slipped down the rankings drawn up by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which says it is one of the least egalitarian in the world.
The reforms aim to even up this balance but critics say it will result in a race to the bottom.

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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.