France’s schools start new year with 4,000 unfilled teacher posts

It's just over a week until pupils and teachers return to school at the start of September - and nearly 4,000 teaching positions remain unfilled, despite recruitment drives.

France's schools start new year with 4,000 unfilled teacher posts
(Photo by Fred Tanneau / AFP)

Less than two months after he had publicly promised there would be “a teacher in front of each class in all schools in France”, Minister of Education Pap Ndiaye was to visit a dedicated recruitment office in Créteil, greater Paris, on Tuesday, to see how education officials are working to ease the acute teacher shortage. 

The office was set up by the Créteil academic rectorate to respond quickly to requests from schools to allow the best conditions for students on their return.

Créteil’s move is being repeated across the country, and is being scrutinised by unions and education professionals, amid a potentially serious teaching crisis heading into the new school year.

“The start of the new school year is taking place in a particular context of teacher recruitment,” the Ministry of Education has conceded. 

According to the Ministry’s figures, 4,000 teaching positions in primary and secondary education were not filled this year despite various recruitment drives. The number of primary school teaching posts filled at the start of the school year was 83.1 percent, according to official figures, compared to 94.7 percent last year.

At collège and lycée level, a total 83.4 percent of teaching posts are filled, compared to 94.1 percent the previous year. But the shortfall is not uniform across teaching disciplines. Only 55 percent of German language teaching posts are filled, along with 66.7 percent of physics and chemistry posts, and 68.5 percent of maths teacher jobs.

“It is a catastrophic year for recruitment,” the president of the national union of high schools and colleges told franceinfo, while the general secretary of the Snes-FSU estimated on France Inter that the country was “close to a state of emergency in national education”.

Low morale and low salaries in the teaching profession are in part to blame for the exodus of talent, but stricter rules, which came into force this year, on who can take teaching exams are also limiting the number of new recruits, experts have said.

Gabriel Attal, Minister Delegate in charge of Public Accounts, confirmed this summer that national education will benefit from a €3.6 billion increase in funding to plug the gap.

“We have the ambition to rethink the teaching profession in a broad way. This cannot be done in the space of a summer,” Ndiaye told MPs in early August.

But that does not solve the acute situation heading into the new school year. 

In Créteil and Versailles, where the teaching crisis is particularly severe, substitute teachers are being brought in on short-term contracts. In Versailles, 400 contractual staff have been renewed and 600 new contractual teachers were to be recruited for the new school year.

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French launches €14m ‘only yes means yes’ campaign on sexual consent

France's higher education ministry has launched a €14 million campaign around sexual consent, teaching students to seek explicit consent for any sexual encounter under the slogan 'sans oui, c'est interdit' (without a yes, it's forbidden).

French launches €14m 'only yes means yes' campaign on sexual consent

The campaign is hoping to teach students to: “Ask explicitly and look for an enthusiastic yes; Get into the habit of posing simple questions like ‘Do you want to?’ ‘Can I?’ ‘What do you like?’ and ‘What do you want us to experience together?’; Listen to the other person; Respect his or her desires and own limits; and finally, Accept No.”

Other prevention actions for the 2022 school year will include training sessions for dedicated anti-assault units in most of France’s universities. So far, over 900 teachers, students, and staff across the country have been trained. 

Ahead of week-ends d’intégration – or welcome weekends at the start of the school year, which are known for festivities and higher consumption of alcohol amongst the student body – posters with the new slogan “Without a ‘yes,’ it’s off limits” (Sans oui, c’est interdit) appeared across campuses in France to help educate students about consent.

Sylvie Retailleau, the Minister for Higher Education, stressed the importance of such actions in an interview with daily Le Parisien.

The minister explained that about “149,000 students in France are affected by sexual assault or attempted assault” each year. 

According to Retailleau, that number represents approximately four percent of the total student body (for higher education) in France.

With the annual budget doubling from €1.7 to €3.5 million per year, Retailleau intends for associations, such as the “National Association for Student Athletics” (Anestaps) to receive more grant money to help sexual assault prevention.

The consent awareness campaign will also partner with websites like Konbini to reach students online. Informative videos with advice and testimonies from students, as well as a consent quiz (consentest) will be posted across social media to help educate young people across the country.

Additionally, Anestaps will set up “safe spaces” during onboarding festivities and welcome weekends, to ensure that students who have been harassed or feel unsafe have a place to go to and a secure person to speak with.

The organisation will also use the ‘angel shots’ system during school events. Students who feel unsafe can order a fake drink at the bar and trust that the person behind the counter will understand it as code for needing help.

Schools will also set up investigation units, which will be free, confidential, and available to victims. The goal will be to encourage victims to file complaints, as well as to collect testimonies and reports. The units will offer students with legal, medical and psychological assistance.

Despite previous actions by the State to combat sexual assault in France’s universities, the problem has persisted. As a result, in 2021, the Ministry of Higher Education launched the multi-year plan (running until 2025).

The program was given a total budget of €7 million, which has now been doubled to €14 million.

The plan includes 21 measures, several of which were already taken up this past year. The steps are structured around four primary areas: widespread training of staff and students to respond to sexual assault, the reinforcement of reporting mechanisms, communication campaigns to spread awareness about consent and reporting mechanisms, and finally the promotion of student and staff commitment to combat sexual assault and gender-based violence on campuses.

In June, the public prosecutor’s office for Evry (Essonne) told AFP that it had opened several investigations for rape in the four major French universities of the area, including the renowned establishments of Polytechnique and Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), after receiving “several complaints” of sexual assault.

Sexual assault in France is defined as “any forced sexual contact” and it is punishable by 5 years of imprisonment and a €75,000 fine (Article 222-27 of the Penal Code)”

Neighbouring Spain has recently passed a ground-breaking ‘only yes means yes’ law on sexual consent, meaning that consent must be affirmative and cannot be assumed to have been given by default, or by silence.