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What is France's new education law and why is it so controversial?

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What is France's new education law and why is it so controversial?
Protests against the proposed education reforms. Photo: AFP
09:21 CEST+02:00
French lawmakers have been debating plans for a far-reaching change to the country's education system - but what do the planned reforms mean and why are both parents and teachers riled up about them?

The Loi Blanquer (named after the Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer) has now reached the French Senate after being approved by the National Assembly, but it has been far from smooth sailing and has sparked anger from parents and strikes by teachers.

So what is the law and why is it so controversial?

The new measures will affect pupils from écoles maternelles (nursery schools) all the way through to écoles primaires (primary schools) and collèges (middle schools) (for pupils aged 10-11 to 14-15).

The main point of the changes - and the one that has really riled parents - is the plan to unite elementary, primary and middle schools under one administrative entity.

Schools from nursery (ages three to six) all the way up to collège will become one single administrative entity, under the authority of the collège whose director will be responsible for all three establishments.
 
Unions and parents believe that by getting rid of nursery and primary school heads and bring the schools under the control of the college will ruin the close relationship parents had with the heads of primary schools.
 
Parents also fear this will simply lead to certain nursery and primary schools closing altogether, especially in rural areas, meaning children will no longer go to their local school. This will give parents transport headaches.
 
Another key element of the reform is that nursery school will become obligatory for all children from age three.
 
Currently in France, children don't have to go school until age 6 although 98 percent of pupils start age 3, so the reform won't change a great deal.
 
Other changes will see students training to become teachers allowed to teach in schools several hours a week, and the French flag displayed in all classrooms.
 
Teaching unions also say that there has been a lack of consultation about the changes and the way they will affect jobs.
 
The bill was passed the National Assembly (France's lower chamber of parliament) in February and arrived before the Senate on Tuesday, with discussions scheduled to last for three days.
 
It is not expected to have a smooth ride through the chamber, with law-makers flagging up several potential points of conflict.
 
But unions are unlikely to be reconciled to the plan unless it changes very substantially as it passes through the two houses of parliament.
 
And that means more strikes are likely. In previous one-day walkouts around 15 percent of primary school teachers across France have taken part, and many schools have either closed altogether or only been able to offer childcare facilities with no teaching.
 
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