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EDUCATION

These are the new reforms set for French schools

The French government is hoping to push through another round of education reforms in schools. This is what you need to know.

These are the new reforms set for French schools
Photo: AFP
France's much-debated new education reform bill was presented to parliament this week.
 
Dubbed the law for bringing 'trust back into schools' (in French l'école de confiance'), the bill was presented by France's education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer in the hope it will lead to greater social justice and improve the overall academic level of students.
 
The proposed reforms are part of a much wider set of changes to the French education driven by Emmanuel Macron who made improving education one of his top campaign promises.  
 
Some measures have already been been rolled out including smaller classroom sizes in the first year of primary school, a shake-up in university admissions and a ban of mobile phones in most classes.
 
What changes about schools in France from this September
 
Here are the key elements of the new education reforms being debated this week.
 
Compulsory school from age 3
 
The government wants to make school obligatory for all children from the age of three. Currently in France, children only have to attend school from the age of six, when primary school (École élémentaire) begins. In reality most children however (98.9 percent) also attend nursery (maternelle) for three years beforehand, leading critics to say this reform is merely a symbolic one.
 
Teachers to have a duty to be 'exemplary'
 
The bill wants to enshrine the notion that teachers have a duty to be exemplary models for their pupils.
 
Critics fear this could curtail freedom of expression however the government responded to this critique by adding that this duty would apply in the context of a current law that guarantees civil servants freedom of opinion.
 
A new body to rate the school system
 
The government wants to create a new body to rate the French education system.
 
The new 'Conseil d'évaluation de l'école' would take over some of the tasks currently undertaken by an independent council called Cnesco, which was set up by Macron's predecessor, Francois Hollande. 
 
The new body would be made up of 14 members mostly appointed by the government. Unions and others have voiced worries that this means the council won't be independent.
 
More room for experimenting
 
The French school system is sometimes criticised for being rigid and centralised. The government wants to give more independence to schools by allowing individual establishments to decide on certain aspects of education, such as school hours.
 
Extra training for teaching staff
 
The government wants to boost training for teachers and intends to create a new institute to do this. To bridge current regional disparities in the quality of teacher training, the heads of these establishments would be appointed by the government and not locally.
 
The bill also aims to increase the number of international state schools and allowing assistants who are training to be teachers to teach some classes. 

EDUCATION

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.

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