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EDUCATION

UPDATE: How France’s plan to reopen schools has changed

The French Prime Minister and Education Minister have released more details about how they plan to reopen the country's schools after May 11th. Here's the latest plan from the French government.

UPDATE: How France's plan to reopen schools has changed
French schools have been closed since mid March in a bid to fight the spread of the coronavirus in the country. Photo: AFP

The French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and France’s Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer have added more details to the government's plan to reopen education establishments around the country. Indeed some aspects of the initial plan have changed.

“School life will be organised around compliance with strict hygiene measures and the distribution of hydroalcoholic gels”, said PM Philippe.

The national plan was presented to parliament but local officials have the power to make adaptations as local circumstances dictate and some measures will apply only to départements where the is a low number of coronavirus cases. We will likely know more abut where schools will reopen in the coming days.

Here is a look at what the government has in mind for the return to school post May 11th when the lockdown imposed to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic will begin to be eased.

Key dates

May 11th

This is the date when pre-school (maternelles) and primary schools (élémentaire, primaire) will reopen, although the first day will be just for the return of teachers.

Pupils won't return until May 12th.

Classes will be limited to groups of 15 and the reopening will be based on a “voluntary” system.

In other words parents won't be forced to put their kids back in schools, but they will have to ensure they can follow teaching from home.

If classes are oversubscribed the children of keyworkers, vulnerable children or children who are not able to home-school will get priority.

Initially the government's plan was to allow only certain classes to return to pre-school and primary schools on May 11th with the rest to return on May 25th.

But this split has been scrapped in favour of bringing all year groups in the schools back at once.

It's worth adding however that many mayors have already objected to primary schools reopening on May 11th and have threatened to keep them closed.

Teaching unions too have expressed opposition especially in areas hard-hit by the virus such as Paris.

“We are asking for details on the health protocol,” said Francette Popineau from the SNUipp-FSU union.

“We also need to be very clear, if a school cannot meet all the sanitary requirement, it must not reopen,” she added.

Local authorities have the final say, so it might be the case that come May 11th not all primary and pre-schools in all parts of the country actually reopen.

Nurseries

Creches will also be able to reopen on May 11th, but children will only be allowed in groups of 10 maximum.

May 18th.

From May 18th secondary schools (colleges) will be able to reopen in France. But unlike the reopening of primary schools, this will be based on the government's new “weather map” system for each département.

Départements will be coloured red if the virus is still prevalent in the area and hospitals are still under pressure and they will be coloured green if the area is largely free of the virus.

READ ALSO The 'weather map' that shows how each area of France can lift its restrictions

Only secondary schools in the départements coloured green will be allowed to reopen and it won't be all classes. Only years 5 and 6 will return on May 18th. A decision will be taken at the end of May for years 4 and 3.

Class sizes will also be limited to 15 pupils.

'By the end of May'

Initially the government aimed for high-schools (lycées) and technical colleges (lycée professionels) to reopen on May 25th but the government has now changed tack.

French PM Philippe said a decision will be taken by the end of May as to when lycées will reopen again. If the government gives the green light then these establishments could reopen in June starting with the technical colleges.

Classes will also be limited to 15 so many pupils may have to continue distance learning.

“I want to leave the maximum amount flexibility to school directors, parents of pupils and local communities to work together pragmatically to find the best solutions”, said PM Philippe.

READ ALSO: The essential language you need to understand the French school system

Summer holidays

After much speculation that France's sacrosanct summer holidays (grandes vacances) could be delayed until later in the summer, France's education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said on Wednesday that they won't be altered.

So schools will break up for the summer on Saturday, July 4th.

Support will be put in place over the summer for pupils who have fallen behind, the education minister has said.

Normally town halls put in place extra-curricular school clubs for primary school children throughout the summer, but how and if this will be organised has not been decided.

Masks

Education Minister Blanquer has made it clear that all staff working in schools and nurseries will be required to wear masks.

However only pupils in secondary schools (colleges) will be forced to wear them. Masks will be made available in schools if pupils don't bring their own.

The government has decided that it would be counter-productive to force primary and pre-school pupils to wear masks.

Teachers

Teachers with “health vulnerabilities” would be able to remain on télétravail (working from home).

 
 

 

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MONEY

Revealed: What will you receive from France’s €65bn cost-of-living aid package?

The French parliament has finally passed a massive €65 billion package of measures aimed at helping French residents with the spiralling cost of living. Here's a rundown of the help on offer, who it's available to and when it comes into effect.

Revealed: What will you receive from France's €65bn cost-of-living aid package?

After three weeks of sometimes heated debate, France’s parliament has adopted its multi-part purchasing power package to help mitigate rising cost of living and inflation.

In total, parliament approved a budget of nearly €65 billion for the whole package. 

It includes a raft of measures including price shields, tax rebates and grants. Here’s what is included and who will benefit.

Electricity and gas The government has voted to extend the tariff shield on gas and electricity prices until the end of the year: this means that gas prices will continue to remain frozen and that price hikes for electricity prices will be capped at four percent. 

For who: This applies to everyone who has a gas or electricity account in France.

When: The price freeze is already in effect and will continue until at least December 31st.

Fuel subsidy – The government’s fuel rebate (on petrol/gasoline and diesel) will be increased from €0.18 per litre to €0.30 in September and October, and then in November and December it will fall to €0.10. 

For who: All drivers (including tourists) – this is applied automatically at all fuel stations in France

When: The €0.18 per litre rebate is already in place and remains until August 31st, and rises to €0.30 on September 1st.

Pensions – The index point for pensions will be raised by four percent.

Who: This covers anyone who receives a French pension – roughly 14 million people – it does not affect anyone who gets a pension from another country.

When: From September 9th. 

Abolishing the TV licence fee – The annual TV licence raised €3.7 billion a year for public broadcasting, with the majority having gone toward France Télévisions, but has now been scrapped. It was €138 per household. 

For who: Any household with a television. This equates to about 23 million households in France who will no longer have to pay this yearly tax.

When: The was due to be levied on November 15th, but this year no bills will be sent out.

Tripling the Macron bonus – The maximum annual bonus – which is exempt from income and social security taxes – will be tripled.

It is a one time, tax-free payout that can be given to workers by their employers – if they chose to. Companies will now be able to pay up to €3,000 to their employees (and up to €6,000 for those with a profit-sharing scheme).

Who: This pertains to salariés (employees) whose businesses choose to offer this bonus.

When: The bonus can be paid between August 1st and December 31st.

Rent cap – Rent increases will be limited to 3.5 percent per year for existing tenants. Some cities already have in place their own rent control schemes, but the 3.5 percent cap is nationwide.

Who – This affects anyone who already has a tenancy agreement for a property in France (and also affects all landlords who are banned from making big rent hikes).

When – The 3.5 percent cap concerns annual rent increases that fall between July 2022 and June 2023.

Housing allowance – Those who benefit from personalised assistance for housing (APL) will see that increased by 3.5 percent.

Who: This pertains to those who qualify for governmental financial assistance with rent. Typically, this means low-income households. If you are already on APL – around 3.5 million people – the increase will be automatic, if you think you might qualify, apply through your local CAF.

When: The increase comes in your next payment, with the increased rate backdated to July 1st 2022.

Social benefits – The RSA top-up benefit will be increased by four percent (local authorities, who deal with RSA, will receive €600 million to help them finance and allocate this increase). Additionally, those who benefit from the ‘prime d’activité‘ (activity bonus) will see that value raised by four percent as well.

Who: Unemployed people below the age of 25 can qualify for RSA – this pertains to about 1.9 million people in France. The activity bonus is available to low-income workers – about 4.3 million people.

When: Catch-up payments will be in place from August 18th to September 5th. On September 5th, the updated payment will begin to be paid out.

Student grants – An increase of 4 percent for student grants (bourses) for higher education

Who: Students under the age of 28 who qualify for financial assistance in the form of grants. These students must qualify as ‘financially precarious’ for the school year of 2022-2023.

When: September 2022

Back-to-school grants – Families who meet certain income requirements are eligible for an allowance to help cover back-to-school costs – that grant will increase by four percent this year. There will also be an extra €100 subsidy for eligible families (with an additional €50 per child) paid “to those who need it most” according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in an interview with RTL. 

Who: Low-income families with children. You can test your family’s eligibility on the website www.service-public.fr. This aid will impact 10.8 million households.

When: The one time payment will be paid at the start of the school-year in September.

The option to convert overtime days into extra cash – This is encompassed in two measures: increasing the ceiling of tax exempt overtime hours to €7,500 and opening the possibility for companies to buy back RTT days from their employees.

Eligible employees covered by the 35-hour week agreement accrue time in lieu if they work overtime, known as RTT days. Currently this time is taken as extra vacation days, but now employees will have the option to forgo the time off and instead be paid extra.

Who: For the buying back of RTT days, this applies to employees (salariés) who have an RTT agreement with their company.

For the increased cap on non-taxed overtime work, this applies to a range of employees, such as those who have 35-hour per week contracts and have their employer request that they work overtime or those who work beyond their part-time contract amount. You can learn more about whether you have the ability to declare overtime hours HERE

When: The RTT days buyout will run from between January 1st, 2022 to December 31st, 2025. For employees eligible for tax-free overtime compensation, the ceiling of €7,500 will only be in place for the year 2022.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why is France’s 35-hour week such a sacred cow?

Pay rise for public sector workers – public sector pay will get a four percent rise in the index.

Who: Anyone employed in France as a fonctionnaire (eg civil servants, teachers, librarians).

When: This will be retroactive to July 1st

Assistance for some self-employed workers – A reduction in health and maternity insurance contributions will be introduced for low-earning self-employed workers. “Microentrepreneurs” will also benefit from a reduction in their flat-rate contributions.

Who: Self-employed workers whose monthly income does not exceed 1.6 times the minimum wage and who are registered as ‘microentrepeneurs’

When: TBC

The biometric carte vitale –  The Senate introduced this into the purchasing power package, but it is not a benefit. It will involve the implementation of a biometric carte vitale health card to “fight against social fraud” by adding an electronic chip with biometric data on it to health insurance cards. You can read more HERE.

Who: Everyone who is registered in the French health system and has a carte vitale (about 60 million people)

When: Lawmakers will begin plans to implement the plans in Autumn 2022, but it’s not clearly exactly what form the rollout will take.

How much will these measures impact inflation?

Some measures will likely be more effective than others. For instance, the extension of the tariff shield and increase of the fuel rebate in the early fall is largely to thank for France’s inflation level being two points lower than the European average, according to INSEE.

On the other hand, the tripling of the ceiling for the (optional) Macron bonus will likely not make a large difference. This is because it will likely not be widely taken advantage of, as last year only 4 million French people received the optional bonus, with the approximate average of the bonus having been only €500.

The pension changes will impact about 14.8 million people in France. However, according to economist Christopher Dembik, the revalorsation values are based on actual inflation and not on inflation expectations. “These revaluation measures will be too weak by the time they will be implemented,” Dembik said to French daily Le Parisien.

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