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Fears in rural France over plans to close hundreds of school classes

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Fears in rural France over plans to close hundreds of school classes
Photos: AFP
13:45 CET+01:00
Parents, teaching unions and mayors in rural France are up in arms over an announcement by the government that 200 to 300 classes in schools throughout the country will be closed at the end of the school year. They blame the president.

Anger in the French countryside has been increasing for weeks over the threat to close hundreds of classes and worried parents, teachers and local authorities will not have been pacified by the words of the education minister this week.

Jean-Michel Blanquer admitted that between 200 and 300 classes will close in rural areas at the end of this school year.

Blanquer however tried his best to ease worries by insisting that the government would be "opening more classes than they are closing".

"We only talk about those which are closing but could easily talk about the classes that are opening," he said.

"We must differentiate between closing classes and closing whole schools," said Blanquer. "Class closures are normal. They have always happened and always will."

The minister also tried to reassure those in rural areas that he was the "biggest supporter of schools in the countryside" and that "he was working to preserve classes" in these areas.

And the closures aren't all the government's fault.

(AFP)

Statistics show that among elementary schools (écoles maternelles) the number of pupils will be 30,000 less in September 2018 than the previous year, for a total of around 6.76 million throughout the country.

As the minister points out: "There are population movements. There is nothing wrong with what is happening today."

Blanquer say that despite the drop in pupil numbers some 3,800 extra teaching posts will be created in primary schools next September.

But teaching unions are unlikely to be satisfied by his words, because they don't believe these posts will be created in rural areas.

They blame the closures of classes in countryside schools on President Emmanuel Macron's flagship election promise to cut class sizes in primary schools located in deprived neighbourhoods which are mainly in urban areas.

Macron's reform, which will be rolled out over the coming years and will see class sizes reduced to 12 pupils in underprivileged urban neighbourhoods, will require thousands of new teachers.

But unions representing schools in rural France say the reform, which they support, comes at the expense of teaching jobs in the countryside.

"It's like stripping Peter to dress Paul," as one union pointed out.

They claim that even the 3,800 new posts won't cover the vacancies created by Macron's plan to cut class sizes let alone fill the vacancies in rural schools.

Local education authorities "will have no choice but to close a lot of classes, particularly in rural elementary schools."

Unions give the example of the Somme department, in rural northern France. The department will have 800 fewer school pupils in September and there are currently 45 planned class closures.

On the other hand there are 47 planned class openings in the department but all but two of those are in Macron's "priority zones" which will benefit from his promise to cut class sizes.

Julien Cristofoli from France's main teaching union SNUipp said those living in rural areas "feel abandoned".

Senators representing rural departments had strong words for the minister.

"We are in a period where 75 percent of our territory is being abandoned by the state. The closures of schools are the last straw that breaks the camel's back," said the senator for Indre-et-Loire Pierre Louault.

Anne Chain-Larche, the senator for Seine-et-Marne added: "The rural territories are tired of being robbed in favor of your public policies. Do the small schoolchildren of the fields not have the same rights to those of the cities?"

The anger of elected officials in rural areas is even greater given Macron promised in July 2017 that "there will be no closing of classes in primary schools" in rural areas.

What is likely to happen over the coming weeks and months is that parents and local mayors will up their campaigns to save classes. In the past parents at schools in rural France have not been afraid to "occupy" their kids' schools in protest.

There are already several "Nuits des Ecoles" planned in certain areas in which parents will spend the night in schools in a bid to raise the alarm.

"We are and will be very attentive and responsive. We will not let rural schools be stripped," said a recent statement from the Associaton of France's Rural Mayors.

 

 

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