Schools reopen amid strike threats over teacher job cuts
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The prospect of teacher job cuts has overshadowed the return to school in France this week. Unions say that government ministers are diverting public focus from the issue with H1N1 virus concerns, and are threatening a strike.
Teachers and students return to schools across France this week amidst complaints from teacher’s unions about job cuts. Some 13,500 positions may be eliminated from the 850,000 countrywide.
Teacher's union leader Gérard Aschieri claims that there are now fewer teachers per pupil. “The school population is increasing,” he said, pointing out that because of France’s increasing birth rate, some 14,000 extra students would be added this year to the 6.6 million nationally. The national education ministry, however, disputes this analysis. Its new head, Luc Chatel, said that despite the cuts, the number of staff per pupil is staying the same this year.
The ministry’s main message to parents this year has not been about these cuts, but rather the influenza A (H1N1) virus. Twelve-million families will receive a brochure instructing children to wash their hands frequently and use disposable handkerchiefs when they are coughing and sneezing. Aschieri responded by publicly asking Chatel not to use H1N1 as a “smoke screen”, covering the issue of teacher job cuts.
According to union figures, there are indications that these job cuts worry the French public. The union of primary school teachers commissioned the survey organisation CSA to poll opinions about the effect of the lost positions on elementary schools. 79% said that it would be “mostly negative”, and 14% that there would be “no effect”.
The secondary school union, meanwhile, says it wants action – and not just because of the cuts, but also due to changes to the curriculum. Union leaders are threatening a strike before the autumn holidays, in order to protest what it calls the “progressive suffocation” of public services in France.