All you need to know about changes in French schools

The new school year in France begins on Thursday and promises a host of changes to the system for students and teachers, including the much anticipated and controversial middle school reforms (réformes des collèges). Here are some of the biggest changes.

All you need to know about changes in French schools
All photos: AFP
Reforms to middle-school (collèges)
The most talked-about and controversial of the changes to schools are the middle-school reforms (réformes des collèges), which were provoked strikes and protests when they were announced last year.
The most significant changes include more autonomy for teachers to decide individually how to divide up students' learning time, new ‘interdisciplinary’ lessons that will combine a number of subjects into one lesson, and one-on-one assistance schemes for students throughout middle school.
Language learning will also change with the middle school reforms, with students learning their second modern language a year earlier in the cinquième (aged 11-12, equivalent of Year 8 in UK).
Changes to the Brevet exam
The Brevet exam, taken by French students aged 14-15 at the end of middle school, will also be undergoing some changes: in 2017 the Brevet will be examined differently, with two written tests: the first combining French, History/Geography, and citizenship, and the second combining maths, physics, technology and SVT (human sciences).
But it's not only middle school students who will be seeing changes to their curriculum, the ministry of education has also made modifications to the school system that will affect all students aged six to 16.
Assessments will now take place every three years, giving students more time to catch up if they are behind, without having to necessarily repeat a year.
According to the education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem the changes to the programme intend to prioritize “a knowledge of the fundamental disciplines”, with a particular emphasis on maths, reading and writing.

School security a top priority
Heightened security measures are to be put in place in all schools in a bid to protect them from any potential terror threats. Increased surveillance and heightened security at the entrance of school buildings are just some of the measures being put in place, as well as the simulation of ‘mock’ terror attacks, intended to train students and staff on how to react in such situations.   
Primary school improvements
Primary school children will begin learning their second language in CP, at ages 6-7, (equivalent of Year 2 in UK).
They will also have to do French and Maths tests in CE2 (ages 8-9, equivalent of year 4 in UK), to evaluate their progress.
A new app for parents
The Ministry of Education has also created a new mobile application, eParents, where parents will be able to receive school news and updates, read up on any important school-related information, as well as consult school calendar.
Secularism and citizenship
French school children, from primary throughout secondary school, will all participate in more citizenship lessons, with a view to developing their moral and civil judgment, critical thinking and social engagement. Lessons with specialised guest teachers will also be organised on learning more about the values of the Republic.   
More teachers with better salaries
The government had pledged to create 54,000 new teaching posts in state schools by 2017, with 11,000 new positions being created to mark the start of this academic year alone. This comes after private schools have seen an increase of 3,753 new teaching posts since 2012.
Teachers will also be better paid as of September 1st, with the annual indemnification for supervising and accompanying schoolchildren going up from €400 to €1,200 for all school teachers.
Bigger emphasis on IT
Computer studies will be taught from the 5eme (ages 11-12, equivalent of year 8 in UK). Students of the 5eme in over 20 percent of France’s middle schools will also have access to a tablet or laptop of their own this year, with a view to getting all students equipped in the next three years. 
However, this falls short of what the education minister had envisaged for schools back in 2015, when she promised that up to 40 percent of middle schools would be equipped with new computers by 2016. 
By Fatima Al-Kassab

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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.