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School special: Top priorities

Extra teaching posts - support and security staff are among the changes the government plans for the rentrée 2012-13

THE PRIMARY sector is the biggest focus for the government as the new school year gets under way. Education Minister Vincent Peillon, in a letter to staff, said: “Primary school is our priority. Difficulties must be flagged up from the earliest years.”

This includes giving “particular importance” to the way children younger than three (where they are in education) are schooled, he said.

In particular, the government says it is aiming to stem the trend of teacher cuts put in place by the last government. “We must make sure there are more teachers than classes,” said Mr Peillon on RTL radio.

The comments came as he also launched consultations towards what he calls a “radical reform” of schooling to come, again with the main focus on primary and including plans to return to the five-day primary week from the rentrée (return to school after the summer) of 2013.

Working groups are holding meetings and debates are being organised with partners such as local authorities, universities, parents’ federations and teachers’ and students’ unions, with a view to making a report next month, to feed into a new law before the end of the year.

On a website for the reform, Mr Peillon states that it is aimed at facing up to difficulties in schools: “French pupils’ results are getting weaker and divides are widening. School no longer manages to stem the social and geographical inequalities that close in our youth and block their horizons,” he said. He told RTL that 40% of children had difficulties in French and maths on entering secondary school.

The recent Corrective Finance Law states that almost €90million was to be set aside to fund staff recruitment for this rentrée. Mr Peillon has announced 1,000 extra primary teaching posts plus 280 in the secondary sector for English (70 teachers), French (60), maths (90) and 60 in EPS (education physique et sportive). These will be accompanied by extra posts in various support functions:

* Another 75 conseillers principaux d'éducation (who deal with practical matters relating to the smooth-running of school life).

* 500 posts for staff charged with prevention of violence and with security - a new school post. Education Ministry sources told Le Monde: “This first contingent will be trained and start in schools with the worst violence problems before December.”

* Some 2,000 extra classroom assistants (assistants d'éducation) to supervise and help pupils in difficulty (typically these are short-term workers, often recruited for a year); plus an extra 1,500 auxiliaires de vie scolaire (AVS), who help disabled children.

Trainee teachers (doing one-year posts required before they are fully-qualified) will have a three-hour reduction in their teaching load so as to free them up for an extra training day once a week. This will also result in more recruitment so as to provide teaching in the lost hours, Mr Peillon said.

The Unsa teaching union, which had feared the secondary sector would have been forgotten this rentrée called the plans “pretty satisfactory” and a “first gesture towards helping the collège sector [first years of secondary], a schooling stage that has been under pressure for years and which needs intensive care.”

However, referring to François Hollande’s schools recruitment promises for his five-year term, another large union, Snes, said more needed to be done immediately to increase the number of students going into teaching, with new financial aids for those taking teacher training. “Otherwise we might as well forget about the 60,000 posts,” said one of its leaders, Daniel Robin. The measures are an attempt to stem 14,000 school staff cuts put in place by the last government for this rentrée.

From this year the Toussaint (All Saints’) holidays will be lengthened to two full weeks. In all three of the school zones the holidays will start on Saturday, October 27, and pupils will go back on Monday, November 12, as opposed to Thursday, November 8.

The rentrée has been maintained as Tuesday September 4, as opposed to being brought forward to the Monday, as had been proposed.

The longer holidays will allow for “a real rest during the first term, whose length is harmful to pupils’ attentiveness,” Mr Peillon said.

On the topic of timetabling, he has also stated that primary schools should be sure to offer at least a 90-minute lunch break this year.

Union reactions were mixed, with SE Unsa stating that the changes show the government’s willingness to tackle the important question of holidays and timetabling. Force Ouvrière said that it opposed change by “little bits” at a time.

To compensate, it is planned that next year’s summer holidays will start a day later: Saturday July 6, 2013 instead of Friday July 5.

Pupils will also work an extra day on either Wednesday April 3 or Wednesday May 22 (or, where pupils already work half a day on Wednesdays, they should do full days on the two days instead).

Allocation de rentrée scolaire This benefit to help parents prepare children to go back to school has been put up by 25%. It is paid per child for families with at least one child in schooling, aged six to 18, bearing in mind income ceilings (€23,200 for families with one child in school, €28,554 for two or €33,908 for three). The amounts this year are €356.20 for a child aged six to 10, €375.85 for 11-14 or €388.87 for 15-18. It is paid by the caisse des allocations familiales or the MSA for farming families - make enquiries to yours if you have never benefited. Families who usually claim it have no special formalities to complete while the child is aged six to 16 but for older children you must send in a justificatif de scolarité or d'apprentissage for the new school year.

Brevet des collèges This exam marking the end of obligatory schooling is being reformed for the June 2013 session, taking into account changes in secondary syllabuses. In French, pupils will have a choice between an “imaginative” topic or a “reflective” one instead of a single imposed subject. The dictation text will be lengthened but instead of answering set questions on it pupils will be invited to give their personal reactions.

In maths there will be more questions and they will all be independent - there will be no need to answer one part successfully so as to answer another part. Pupils will also have to answer questions on all three subjects of history, geography and civic education, as opposed to a choice between history and geography ones.

Students studying for the scientific strand of the Baccalauréat must be offered the option of doing history/geography classes this year.

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