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QUESTION: Is it time France cut the huge number of school holidays?

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QUESTION: Is it time France cut the huge number of school holidays?
Photo: AFP
12:17 CEST+02:00
Pupils in France, who break up for two weeks vacation on Friday, have more days off than any other developed country in the world, and France's education minister suggests its time to cut the number of holidays. He might have a point.

French pupils returned to school at the start of last month (September) after a two month summer break but on Friday they will break-up for two more weeks of vacation.

Then again at Christmas when they will be off school for two more weeks. Then they will have two more weeks off in February, then two more in April and then of course two months in July.

Is it too much?

That appears to be the view of France’s new education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer who has announced his intention to launch a lengthy consultation with a view to cutting France’s school holidays.

Blanquer himself believes holidays in France are “too long” and could be a contributing factor to France’s high dropout rate among pupils.

To put it into context, French pupils attend school for 162 days a year, less than any other OECD country and 20 days below the OECD average.

For example in Sweden pupils are in the classroom for 178 days each year. 

But that doesn’t mean pupils in France have it easy.

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Do pupils in France suffer from too many holidays?

Pupils in France spend 864 hours in the classroom each year, that’s 60 more than the OECD average of 804. So while pupils in France get more time off to go the beach the days they are in school are much longer than in most countries in Europe.

Most primary school children will start at 8.30 am and finish at 3pm two days a week but 4.30pm on two other days. On Wednesdays schools are either closed or open for half a day.

The country's own ministry of education spells out the problem on its website.

“French school children suffer longer and more loaded days than most other students in the world. This extreme concentration of teaching time that is unique in France is inappropriate and detrimental to learning. It causes fatigue and difficulties,” the ministry states.

If France does cut the number of holidays it appears the Vacances de la Toussaint (All Saints holiday or Autumn half term) will be the first to go.

Pupils currently have two weeks off for Toussaints, far more than they did in 1965 when the holiday was just three days.

But teaching unions, who will probably resist any cut to their members' holidays stress the need for a two week break in Autumn.

“It’s a change of season, it’s cold, the days are getting shorter and also the first term is very long and we ask a lot of the pupils during this period,” Stephane Crochet, secretary general of the SE-Unsa union told Le Parisien newspaper.

Francette Popineau, secretary general of the SNUIPP Fsu union told The Local teachers are ready to discuss reforming the school calendar but will resist any change being forced upon them from the government.

“Firstly there is no scientific study that suggests the Autumn holidays are too long are contribute to the school drop-out rate,” she said.

“There must be a good reason to change the timetable but if it’s just to cut a week’s holiday for the sake of it then there will be opposition. We must look at the whole timetable.

“Too often in France governments have imposed reform from the top down. It doesn’t work,” said Popineau who accepts that the French paradox of having the least number of school days but some of the longest hours, suggests there is a problem that needs resolving."

Parents too have long complained about the amount of holidays in France.

Next week many will take time off or call in the grandparents for help.

Each Town Hall does however provide a service through its “centre de loisirs” which sees their own employees drafted in to take over activities for pupils – most of the time in the actual school. 

However the problem there is that the pupils end up following pretty much the same timetable, which is why many parents prefer to take time off.

There is one other factor at play that can’t be underestimated: the tourism industry.

Any attempt to cut the number of holidays in summer or even in February, when many families head to the slopes, will be opposed by those representing the tourist industry.

Which is why it appears the Autumn holiday is under threat as it is not a time of year when the French tend to go away ( only 16 percent).

So this could be the last two week Autumn break in France.

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