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Children political ‘hostages’ in row over French schools

AFP

France’s ruling Socialists have accused the conservative opposition of exploiting teething problems in the government’s education reforms, and of turning the country’s children into political “pawns” ahead of next year’s local elections.

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The French government has accused the conservative opposition of “taking the country’s children hostage” ahead of next year’s local elections, amid a growing row over primary school reforms intended take the strain off younger pupils who have some of the longest school days in the world.

French school-children traditionally attended school from 8.30am to 4.30pm four days a week, with Wednesdays off.

The opposition UMP has called on disgruntled local authorities to refuse to cooperate with the government’s plans to hold school on Wednesdays and shorten the amount of time children spend in class on other days.

On Tuesday, French President François Hollande held a cabinet meeting to review the first month of the new system, which was implemented at many schools, including all the primary schools in Paris, at the beginning of September.

After the meeting Education Minister Vincent Peillon insisted the government was unfazed by opposition interference and insisted that the reforms would go ahead.

“We are aware that certain people want to exploit them for political ends,” he added.
Government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem was more direct, accusing Jean-François Copé, leader of the opposition right-wing UMP party, of exploiting discontent over the reforms and “taking the country’s children hostage as pawns in their dark political battles”.

Opposition

The reforms are designed to shorten French pupils’ school days, which are among the most arduous in the world. The lost hours would be made up by pupils attending classes on Wednesday mornings, a day they have had off since reforms imposed by the opposition UMP party when it was in power in 2008.

There has been stiff opposition from many local authorities who must manage the changes, while some parents have complained that the lack of a mid-week break would leave their children exhausted.

And with local elections due in spring 2014, the UMP has focused on an issue that affects thousands of voting parents.

UMP leader Copé led the charge, saying the reforms were “badly planned and not properly funded”.

Even France’s notoriously left-wing teaching unions have complained of a lack of financing to train teachers and their assistants for the new regime.

The reforms are being implemented by schools and cities who have agreed to do so and will be compulsory for all French schools for the academic year due to start in September 2014.

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