France: sustained union action against the collapse of public education

published 6 February 2024 updated 8 February 2024

Deep-rooted anger and a firm commitment to public education: this is what French teachers are demonstrating through their week of action and the launch of a joint union petition calling for the ‘knowledge shock’ measures - a series of government measures that are supposed to raise the level of students and establish authority in schools - to be dropped.

A strong start to the week of action

Forty per cent of teachers joined the strike on 6 February, according to national secondary education union SNES-FSU. “Five days after a successful one-day strike, this is proof of the deep-seated anger among our colleagues. It is our pride and our mission to welcome all pupils everywhere, without distinction of any kind; to be ambitious for each and every one of them, to respect and take part in genuine freedom of conscience, not least by fostering critical thinking based on scientifically validated knowledge and know-how.”

Sustained action

While recognising the success of their call for a one-day strike on 1 February, a broad inter-union coalition – FSU, SUD Éducation, UNSA-Éducation, SGEN CFDT, CGT Éduc’Action – denounced, on 4 February, “the contempt shown by the Education Minister and, above all, the direction of the policy being pursued by the executive: no pay rise and a knowledge shock that represents a backward-looking, conservative school model that runs counter to the interests of both pupils and staff.”

For the unions, “this package of measures is a serious challenge to teachers’ professional freedom and will lay the foundations for socially selective schooling, like the ‘level groups’ that will not only contribute to assigning pupils to their social and educational positions but also to excluding from classes pupils with disabilities and those whose first language is not French. As for the vocational route, we are asking the Ministry of Education to reconsider the reform, particularly with regard to the final year, to ensure the development of ambitious learning programmes for students. We have reached a tipping point for public education, and this calls for a strong response in the form of sustained action. A one-day strike is not going to be enough to succeed.”

The inter-union coalition has therefore decided to pursue sustained action:

  • Week of action from 5 to 9 February (rallies at departmental and academic meetings), with, for example, a highpoint on Tuesday 6 February, depending on the context;
  • Launch of an joint union petition calling for the withdrawal of the knowledge shock measures.

No to the knowledge shock

To mobilise against the knowledge shock and “this backward-looking and conservative school project”, the unions have launched a joint petition: “To defend public education, access to a shared culture for all pupils, pedagogical freedom and working conditions, we call on you to abandon this reform programme and invest massively in public education and the success of all pupils.”

A strong and sustained return to action for the public education service and its staff is already planned for March if public authorities do not take the measures required and expected.

“Public education is on the brink of collapse. The anger among staff is immense. If the Prime Minister fails to grasp the seriousness of the situation and respond immediately, he will bear a huge share of the responsibility for exacerbating the crisis facing public schools and their staff.”