Education International
Education International

France: unions evaluate government’s reform plans

published 26 October 2012 updated 5 November 2012

France’s education unions have given a mixed response to President François Hollande’s priorities for education and his “road map” for National Education Minister Vincent Peillon.

On 9 October, Hollande presented his timetable for a “five-year plan for Education” to 600 education representatives, who had spent the summer examining the main reforms promised during the presidential campaign.

President: ‘Schools must change’

The start of the 2013 school year will see a return to four-and-a-half days of classes in primary school, the introduction of new teacher training, the launch of e-Education, and the creation of a “legitimate body” to write the curricula. Other announcements included: more teachers than classes, the return of schooling for the under-threes, and a reduction in the number of children having to repeat the school year.

“School must change,” stated Hollande. That will take “time and resources” and the national education budget will be “ringfenced”.  He restated his commitment to create 60,000 teaching posts during his presidential term.  After the creation of the 10,000 posts announced for the beginning of the school year, the same number will be created every year for the next five years.

Prioritise primary education

The key to all this, in the French President’s view, is giving priority to primary education from the start of the school year. The “more teachers than classes” policy will be accompanied by new teaching methods to “prevent children falling behind at the beginning of their school career”. Every year, 15-20 per cent of children go to college without having mastered reading and mathematics well enough to benefit from subsequent lessons.

He also believes that the number of children having to repeat the school year must be kept to a minimum, which will mean taking a different approach to learning difficulties. Grades should “indicate a level rather than punish” and homework “should be done in the school establishment rather than at home so that children can be supported and come back up to an equal level”.

Teacher training is also back on the agenda. “Teacher training colleges will be opened at the start of the school year in 2013,” said Hollande, adding that they will address the “professionalisation of both content and method”.

UNSA-Education: Welcomes the number of proposals adopted

UNSA-Education has welcomed the fact that the President of the Republic has taken on board many of the proposals contained in the report written after a national consultation on education. The announcements for the start of the 2013 school year concerning the reiteration of budget commitments, above all for primary schooling and teacher training colleges, and a return to 4.5 days in school, were expected. These are corrective measures, says the union.

UNSA-Education also notes the goal of ensuring that all children succeed and are able to follow their chosen path, the keys to real reform. A common core of knowledge, a new approach to evaluation, territorial education projects, and e-Education, notably for initial and further training, are important and welcome commitments.

The Education Minister now has the task of filling in the detail and setting out the timetable for creating the framework and planning law. This timetable must allow for dealing rapidly with the urgent needs to be met by the beginning of the 2013 school year. It must also ensure the discussion over the five-year period of the issues that will make it possible to effectively implement the law, as well as those to which little or no attention is currently being paid, notably secondary schools.

“School reform will succeed if this dialogue with staff is constructive and if the goal of success for all does not remain a mere slogan,” says UNSA-Education.

SNES-FSU and SNEP-FSU: mixed reaction

The Syndicat national des enseignements de second degré(SNES-FSU) feels that, as far as secondary education is concerned, the recommendations are not in line with the views of the staff concerned.

“The proposals concerning the future of secondary education and its staff are problematic, all the more so because there was no agreement on them in the debates and in particular with the most representative teachers’ organisations,” said the SNES-FSU. Equally, “nothing is said about the deterioration of working conditions, the great trade-off in the schools triggered by general and technological reforms, and the rejection, widely expressed among teaching staff, of the common knowledge base and its handbook”.

‘Core knowledge’ concerns

The  SNES-FSU and the Syndicat national de l’éducation physique de l’enseignement public(SNEP-FSU) believe that the notion of a “core knowledge base”, whilst not being conceived as “minimum knowledge”,  raises fears of a return to the problems already criticised in a previous law on education.

On the future of secondary schools, they regret that the statement that “the majority of participants in the consultation did not wish to call into question the reforms currently underway in general and technological education” ignores the opinion of the large majority of teaching staff suffering from the painful and destabilising effects of this reform process.  These reforms are, notably, a short-term death sentence for the teaching of industrial technologies, the literary baccalaureate and artistic education.

Teacher training

On the question of teacher training, SNES-FSU and SNEP-FSU welcome the fact that the report has adopted several of their proposals: pre-recruitment at degree level, teacher training college as a component part of university,  the need for national guidelines,  a balance between academic and pedagogical training, progressive entry into the profession, and the need for further training.

SNES-FSU and SNEP-FSU hope that the negotiating stage due to begin after the first assessment by the National Education Minister will ensure there are no partisan decisions against the interests of secondary school teachers and the very foundation of their professionalism and commitment to public service and national education.

SNUipp: Good guidelines for prioritising primary education and more teachers than classes

The Syndicat national unitaire des instituteurs, professeurs des écoles et PEGC(SNUipp-FSU) explained that, in restating that his priority was primary education “where the solid foundations that will determine their future path are laid”, the President had underlined the importance and specific role of nursery school for the education of the under-threes, particularly “in the territories in difficulty”.

With regard to elementary education, Hollande believes that “new teaching methods” are required, which in line with the SNUipp’s proposal for “more teachers than classes”. This way of working would “facilitate the development of joint work, introduce new methods of supporting pupils, and prevent pupils falling behind at the early stages”.

Time for negotiation

“While the President of the Republic has set out the direction to be followed, it is now that the decisive negotiating phase will begin,” stressed SNUipp. “In fact, whole swathes of this reform have yet to be defined. Nothing has been said about RASED (Network of specialised help for children in difficulty) and school psychologists, for example. This oversight must be corrected. They must have their full part to play in the reform.”

SNUipp-FSU insists that the guidelines set out must be turned into practical measures that will transform daily reality in schools.  After the talking is over, it is important bring about real change, to give teachers the power to take action in their classrooms to reduce the failure rate in school, by improving their working and living conditions. Nothing sustainable can be achieved without them.

EI: Teacher input vital

“EI welcomes the discussions on the future development of the education system and the status of teachers in France,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “It is essential that teachers continue to be consulted over the practical application of the measures that have been announced.  We also encourage the competent national authorities to continue their financial investment in quality public education for all.”