France to launch free school breakfasts in fight against poverty

The French government is set to introduce free school breakfasts for 100,000 children in disadvantaged areas across France, with an investment of six million euros.

France to launch free school breakfasts in fight against poverty
File photo: AFP
The move, which is part of President Emmanuel Macron's flagship poverty plan, was announced on Tuesday morning by the country's Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer and junior minister for health Christelle Dubos.
The measure is set to be introduced from September when French children go back to school after the long summer holiday. 
The idea is to make sure children are not starting the school day hungry, “enabling them to stay focused on their work throughout the morning, giving them the best chance of learning”, the ministers explained. 
“This measure contributes to minimising inequalities from an early age,” they said. 
The initiative has already been introduced in schools in Amiens and Lille in the north of France, the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion, Montpellier and Toulouse in the south, Nantes in the west, Reims in the north east, and Versailles in the greater Paris region of Ile-de-France. 
The two ministers announced that it will be “applied to the whole of the French territory in September” and in the long term, “100,000 children in priority areas” will benefit.
To benefit from the scheme, schools belonging to a priority education network known as an REP must volunteer to take part, and schools located in priority areas of major cities or certain rural areas where “a social need has been identified” can also apply. 
From 2020, the budget will rise to 12 million euros to cover the measure for the year. 
The ministers said the breakfasts should be “balanced and good quality”. 
Macron's €8.5 billion poverty plan also includes creating more creches and subsidised school lunches priced at one euro. 
There is an urgent need to tackle poverty in France, which spends more on social benefits than any other country in Europe and yet nine million people live below the poverty line, surviving on around €1,000 ($1,160) a month.
For more on what else the president's poverty plan includes, read our summary here
French words to know
priority area – un territoire prioritaire
an empty stomach – un ventre vide
inequalities – des inégalités
a social need – un besoin sociale

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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.