Education International
Education International

Enhancing Teachers’ Status in France

published 9 November 2012 updated 26 August 2013

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.”

To learn more about the situation of education and teachers in France, please read the four articles by EI French affiliates:

Teachers – the embodiment of a public education service

The Syndicat national de l'enseignement supérieur-Fédération syndicale unitaire(SNESUP-FSU) explained that the national education provision in France is tripartite: the public service, which educates 84 per cent of pupils/students; private provision under contract with the State; and the private sector not under contract. Formal schooling, developed from the late 19th century, was secular in inspiration. The early educators embodied the vision of public service. It was an image that conferred high social status on teachers. The situation today is more mixed.

Each paradigm of the State correlates to a blueprint of education and society whose teacher-training provision reflects the choices made of educational model. These State paradigms converge with bureaucratic or post-bureaucratic regulation regimes.

The much-needed re-launch of secondary education

The purpose of the National Secondary Education Convention launched in September by the SNES along with two other unions, the SNEP (physical education and sports teachers) and the SNUEP (teachers in vocational schools) is to initiate this process. The campaign consists of giving education staff their say so that they can draw up lists of demands for school establishments. In the first half of October, departmental and regional syntheses will be drawn up and delegates will be appointed to participate in the national synthesis day which will take place in Paris on 25th October. This day will bring to a close the National Secondary Education Convention and, at the beginning of November, an account of the national convention will be published for widespread distribution and media publicity.

The Syndicat national unitaire des instituteurs professeurs des écoles et Pegc(SNUipp-FSU/France) stressed that, this year, the primary school system is faced with 4,600 job cuts, including 1,407 classes closed, 1,949 fewer specialised teachers, with 864 replacement positions, 100 training instructors, 103 educational consultants and 460 priority education support positions done away with.

According to the OECD, France is at the bottom of the league of member countries, when it comes to the ratio of staff to students (five to 100), far behind Portugal, Greece and Spain, but also Sweden, Belgium and Austria, countries where the rate fluctuates between six and 10. In 2011, the OECD also indicated that the country invested 14 per cent less than the average in OECD member countries, and that the statutory salary of primary and secondary school teachers with at least 15 years of experience declined in France between 1995 and 2009.

Reforms are needed to get the education system to move forward. More positions must be created, but more direct measures concerning the improvement of instructional practices are needed. For the SNUipp-FSU, the main primary school trade union, training, team work, and “more teachers than classes” are three major requirements to have the schools progress. Training is vital, because teachers need to be equipped professionally so that they can teach better.

From 2007 to 2012, some 80,000 teaching posts were eliminated in France while, at the same time, the number of pupils remained virtually stable. Education was seen only in its financial dimension, and, therefore, potentially as a way of saving costs to the national budget, and not considered as a universal right.

This led to deterioration in working conditions for teachers, reduction in the quality of initial training, undermining of the status of the teaching profession in society, and low pay, which has resulted in a lack of interest in the teaching profession among today’s students.

Preparation of a new framework law and school programme

Not only did working conditions deteriorate badly, but there was also an absence of respect and consideration for teachers in the speeches of the political majority. Their professionalism was denied and teachers were viewed not as education specialists but merely as the implementers of an education policy that was, at best, questionable. For the SE-UNSA, the union of primary and secondary school teachers, this period was one of a succession of multiple trade union battles to try to curb a policy that went against the interests of both pupils and teachers.

On 9 October, French President Francois 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.

There will be two stages to Hollande’s reforms: changes from the start of the 2013 school year, followed by continuing development work through to 2017. The aim is a root-and-branch transformation of the French education system that will contribute to the country’s “economic recovery”.

Added to the professional malaise among teaching staff was a justified sense of a loss of social status. Contrary to announcements made during the 2007 presidential campaign, the reduction in the number of jobs did not lead to higher pay for teachers. On the contrary, their purchasing power fell and the anticipated pay rise did not happen, even though the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recognised that French teachers’ salaries were among the lowest of its member countries.

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 programmes, 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 “ring-fenced”.  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, at present, 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”.

Equal opportunity is one of the key goals of the reform – the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranks French education as one of the most in-egalitarian in the world–.

This will require, Hollande believes, a return to schooling for the under threes in disadvantaged areas, from the start of the school year in 2013.

Teacher training

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”.

The Union nationale des syndicats autonomes-Education(UNSA-Education) reacted by acknowledging that a new political majority has just come to power in France with a radically different education policy. The respect due to teachers has already been expressed to a large extent. This is important, but it is not enough. The question of the adequacy of salaries remains. Finally, the involvement of teaching staff in the different reforms that have been announced is essential. In France, as elsewhere, teachers cannot be considered as the mere implementers of education policies. They are the designers, the teaching specialists, and the people who are unstinting in their devotion of time and energy for the benefit of their pupils. A society that respects its teachers and its schools is a society that prepares well for its future.

The Syndicat national des enseignements de second degré-Fédération syndicale unitaire(SNES-FSU) reflected on the fact that thirty five thousand posts were lost in secondary schools during President Sarkozy’s five years in power, under a policy of non-replacement of one civil servant in two. These massive job cuts have left colleges and secondary schools severely stretched, affecting pupils, teaching staff and non-teaching staff alike. The combination of pupil numbers and job cuts (-6,550) has left its mark. Class sizes have risen in many cases from 28 or 30 pupils in colleges and 35 or more in secondary schools.

This policy has led to a severe recruitment crisis, hence the need to make jobs in education attractive once more. The urgent measures initiated since July – including job creation - taken by the new government, are a step in the right direction, albeit with limited scope. The choices to be made in the autumn of 2012 in terms of education policy and the budget will be decisive.

This future framework law must meet one primary objective: to give the education system a future again. Secondary school staff must seize this opportunity to bring their views, demands and hopes to bear on this forthcoming framework law. The SNES has shouldered its responsibility as the majority trade union in the sector and has decided to give shape and form to this process.