School year begins in France with string of reforms


Some 12 million pupils headed back to school Tuesday under the new government's educational reforms, which created thousands of new positions for teachers, a focus on primary schools and a new "secular code of conduct".


Education in France has always been a key political issue. It played a major role during the country’s 2012 presidential debates, with President François Hollande vowing to make young people, and in particular schools, a focal point of his mandate.

'Rebuilding' the education system

As some 12 million children prepared to head back to school this week, Education Minister Vincent Peillon said on Monday that the upcoming year would be one for “rebuilding” after what he called “years of cruel attacks against the education system” by the previous right-wing government.

During his time in office, former president Nicolas Sarkozy slashed some 80,000 teaching jobs in an effort to reduce spending. In contrast, Hollande has vowed to create 60,000 jobs in education over the next five years.

In a first step toward making good on this promise, nearly 8,200 teaching positions were opened up in both public and partially state-funded schools for the 2013-2014 academic year. A huge emphasis has also been placed on pre-primary and primary education, which has grown by a total of 3,350 teachers.

New schedule

Another change to come this year is a return to France’s traditional 4.5-day school week in primary institutions.

Under Sarkozy, the school week was reduced to only four days, which meant longer hours in class for primary students. Peillon plans to revert to the old system, arguing that by reducing the length of school-days, children will be able to pursue extra-curricular activities during the week.

While schools in the capital already have the new schedule in place, the government has given the rest of the country until September 2014 to introduce it. Some schools, however, are more reluctant than others, with critics complaining that the longer school week is expensive and complicated to organise.

A 'secular code of conduct'

A “secular code of conduct” will also be posted in all public schools before the end of September, reminding students of the “principles” that form the foundation of a secular educational system.

“It will state that everyone has freedom of opinion, but that nobody can use personal beliefs to oppose a class or miss a lesson,” Peillon explained.

The charter is a prelude to a new class on “secular morality”, which Peillon wants to introduce later in the year.


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