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More English, no more Saturdays in French schools

Latest update : 2008-09-03

Nearly 12 million students returned to their classrooms across France on Tuesday, but teacher's unions are already organizing a day of protests on September 11 against new school reforms that include thousands of job cuts.


Summer vacations have come to an end for twelve million schoolchildren and 870,000 educators in France.  This year the rentrée, the official start of the French academic calendar, is charged with a bundle of political reforms affecting the first years of schooling in particular.

For primary school children, the traditional half-day of school on Saturdays has been cut. The school week will therefore lose two hours of class time; hours that will be devoted to giving additional help to under-performing students.


The entrée ushers in a new academic curriculum. During the 2008-2009 school year there will be added emphasis on French and Mathematics as academic subjects, in an effort to counter what Education Minister Xavier Darcos has called “the continued degradation of the performance levels in our education system.”  The minister makes reference to “national and international studies” exposing “serious gaps in reading, writing and arithmetic” in up to twenty percent of primary school children in France.


Older students will also experience changes to their previous programmes. To shorten the infamous foreign-language gap, a “handicap” among the French says Xavier Darcos, the minister has announced “intensive, week-long workshops in spoken English” and additional emphasis in English as a foreign language as an extra-curricular activity. These initiatives, which will be offered freely after normal school hours, will be implemented in all secondary schools, 4000 primary schools, and 200 ‘at-risk’ colleges.


Also, when a teacher or substitute teacher is absent, or if a teacher goes on strike, Xavier Darcos said that it would be “the state’s responsibility to organize and finance a centre to receive schoolchildren in every town,” at least at the primary school level.


A one-time 1500 euro bonus for first-time teachers has done little to calm the general resentment among educators. To implement the government’s new programme, academic centres across the country will have to make do with 11,200 less posts as compared to last year. The education minister has also announced that an additional 13,500 retiring educators will not be replaced in the following academic calendar.


School teachers have already announced a day of mobilization and protests on September 11, but did not go as far as calling for national strike. According to Patrick Gonthier, Secretary-general of “Unsa-Education”, an umbrella group that comprises twenty-three teacher’s unions, representing 100,000 workers, the educator’s aim will be to “denounce the consequences of slashing 11,200 posts from the 2008 budget and the proposed 13,500 cuts for 2009.” In response, Xavier Darcos said “the harsh economic context is the proof of the necessity of this decision.” “As a result of a demographic shift, we will have fewer students at the secondary school level,” he added.

Date created : 2008-09-02