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

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.

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

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.


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.



For members


France’s best villages: 14 hidden gems that the French love

Fourteen villages are battling for the title of France’s ‘favourite village’ in 2020. Here's a look at each of them and why they are worth planning a visit to.

France's best villages: 14 hidden gems that the French love
Le Village Préféré des Français is a great occasion to discover some of France's hidden treasures. All photos: AFP

Every year, France chooses it's favourite village through a popular TV show called Le Village Préféré des Français (France’s favourite village), which airs on France 3.

Since it aired in 2012, the show has turned into a beloved annual event. Although it boasts a smaller audience than its peak year 2013 (5.5 million viewers), the show is still watched by about 2.5 million every year.

It's a big deal, especially for the villages eager to claim the title. The finalists get rare media attention and an opportunity to show the rest of the country what they have to offer.

For viewers, it's a way to discover some of France's hidden treasures. The list of contenders has been carefully selected and must tick the boxes of several criteria, like having rich cultural traditions, particular nature or culinary specialties.

With the shortlist of 14 finalists now released, we have a look at some of France's hidden gems.



1. Pont-Aven


Known as “the village of artists,” Pont-Aven in Brittany is perhaps best-known for having been the home of Paul Gaugin, the French impressionist artist.

Gaugin spent long periods there painting the village in the late 1800s. And who can blame him? Pont-Aven, a village with less than 3,000 inhabitants, is a real gem with cute little brick houses scraping the edge of the water (see more pictures on their tourist website). You can stroll down along the river while taking in the sights, chomping on their special breton Traou Mad biscuits, invented in 1920.

Not to miss: The Fête des Fleurs d’Ajoncs (gorse flower festival) on August 1st. Experience Breton music and dancing, regional food specialities and locals clad  in traditional costumes.

2. Chablis 


If Chablis didn't already have you at its name (it's a wine), there are lots of other reason to visit the village. With green fields and vineyards it looks like a haven to take a break, reload on sun and good food and generous portions of delicious local wine. Every summer the village hosts a festival,  Festival du Chablisien, to merge music, gastronomy and wine.

Not to miss: Did we mention the wine? The Chablis white wine is made with the Chardonnay grape, which grows especially well in the region. It's less sweet than Chardonnay and goes well with all kinds of shellfish (especially oysters).

3. Montpeyroux


Also in the middle of France, south of Chablis, is tiny Montpeyroux, a village just short of 250 inhabitants. It's a charming little village with sandy brown brick houses and terracotta-coloured roofs. It's also a place to enjoy traditional French food and wine, both in generous portions.

Not to miss: The 30m tall tower in the old city centre, which was constructed in the 13th century and gives a panoramic view over the village.

4. Trôo


Trôo is another tiny village with around 300 inhabitants, situated in the northwest of Montpeyroux and west of Chablis in the Loir-et-Cher département.

If the name gives you the chuckles, you are forgiven – Trôo actually does means trou (a 'hole') in referral to the village's famous underground network of caves and galleries, filled with with Romanesque wall-paintings.

Trôo is a village without streets, without a centre, but with lots of elevated terrasses to relax on.

Not to miss: Explore the caves and trails (on foot).


5. Cargèse

Seated 100m above sea level on the west side of Corsica, Cargèse has splendid views over the island's beautiful beaches.

It's a village housing slightly more than 1,000 inhabitants, peppered with history and culture.

As for the beaches, there are plenty to choose from, some just off the village and others within walking or driving distance depending on how sporty you are. 

Not to miss: The two 19th-century churches that face one another overlooking the harbour.

6. Hunspach


At first glance, Hunspach in the Bas-Rhin département, northeast France, stands out because of its picturesque, traditional architecture. The striking white houses with black paint, decorated with pots and pots filled with geraniums, are typical of the Alsace region. 

Visitors of the village praised the inhabitants' friendliness and the Alsacian spirit, it's apparently a lovely place to be a tourist.


Not to miss: The houses. Just walk through the village and enjoy the sights.

7. Pierrefonds

Pierrefonds is a village in the Oise département (Hauts-de-France), northern France, which counts about 1,800 inhabitants. It's best known for its incredible château, which was constructed in the 14th century, ruined and then reconstructed as a replica of itself in the 19th century.

Not to miss: The castle, obviously, but the village also has a passion for motorcycles. The area's nature and roads make it a particularly pleasant place to go for a ride.

8. Montfort l'Amaury

Montfort l'Amaury lies in the northern centre of France, in the Yvelines département. It's just short of 3,000 inhabitants, best known for its local church, graveyard and a tower from the 12th century called La tour d'Anne-de-Bretagne.

Not do miss: Visit the village's graveyard, where the famous French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour lies buried.

9. Giverny

Giverny is another painter's favourite village (if you look at the photo you can probably guess which one).

The village, 80 km northwest of Paris in Normandy, is known for housing French painter Claude Monet, but has been home to many other impressionist painters too. Again, who can blame them – Giverny looks practically bewitching with its green-speckled blue ponds.

Not to miss: Monet's property has been turned into a museum and is a popular tourist attraction today.

10. Aubeterre sur Dronne


Much further south and slightly west, in the Charente département, Aubeterre sur Dronne describes itself as a village of ” exceptional cultural heritage,” “beautiful natural surroundings and the famous French art de vivre” (art of living).

The village is made up of narrow streets and small shops, and a little square where you can seek refuge from the heat beneath the old lime trees.

Not to miss: Have a swim under the meadows in the river Dronne, just at the foot of the village.

11. Saint-Bertrand de Comminges



All the way down on the southwestern coast of the Occitanie region lies tiny, medieval Saint-Bertrand de Comminges,

It's a peaceful little village with about 250 inhabitants, situated on a hilltop that gives you a great view over the landscape.

Not to miss: The beautiful cathedrals and the Roman ruins.

12. Ménerbes


Also southern part of the country, on the west coast in the Provence region, lies Ménerbes, a village where a major battle between the Huguenots and Catholics played out in the 1570s.

With a population of a little less than 1000 people, Ménerbes became known to the anglophone world through British author Peter Mayle who wrote A Good Year, a book turned film that stars Russell Crowe.

Although the movie was shot in the neighbouring town, Bonnieux, Ménerbe offers a similar tranquil calm. It's a place for good wine, warm temperatures and old men playing pétanque.

Not to miss: The 'black diamond', also known as truffle. The village is famous for it.

13. Batz-sur-Mer

Moving up north again, to the west coast of Loire Atlantique, you have Batz-sur-Mer.

With its whitewashed granite houses and salty beaches, the village certainly inhabits the traits of a classic breton style town. Visitors will be able to devour delicacies from the sea and of course also the Breton specialty, galettes (savoury pancakes).

Not to miss: the Musée des marais salants (salt ponds museum). Now one of the oldest traditional museums in France, it was established by a local nun in the late 1880s who had concluded that tourism would change local in the village. 

15. Les Anses d'Arlet


It's a bit too far for a weekend roadtrip, but Les Anses d'Arlet – seated in the overseas département of Martinique – looks worth a visit. It's a small fisherman's village with a Caribbean, stress-free spirit. Explore the island's natural habitat, go for a boat ride to experience the rich wildlife or soak up the sun on the village's splendid beaches.

Not to miss: The church Saint-Henri des Anses-d'Arlet, which lies on the beach and is known as the most beautiful church on the island.