French schools are back today: what changes for the year ahead?

Pupils return in the context of teacher shortages and President Macron urges all who are victims of bullying to speak out

French school pupils are returning to the classroom today
Published Last updated

Some 12 million school pupils in France return to the classroom today (September 1) in the midst of a teacher recruitment crisis.

Read more: Christmas, Easter: See the dates for France’s school holidays 2022-23

While last year, la rentrée (return to school after the summer) was characterised by strict Covid protocols, this year, it is one of staff shortages with authorities struggling to fill 27,300 vacancies of a total teacher base of 850,000.

At the beginning of the summer, there were 4,000 posts that were completely empty.

Education Minister Pap Ndiaye has said that although the situation “is not optimal”, this rentrée will still come “with a teacher in front of each class”.

He added that 3,000 fixed-term contract teachers – 1% of the workforce – have been recruited and trained in recent weeks to respond to the staff shortages. “More than 80% of the contract teachers have already taught before,” he said.

To attract prospective teachers to the profession, the education ministry has announced a series of pay incentives. President Emmanuel Macron stated last week that all new teachers would earn at least €2,000 net per month and that all teachers will receive a 10% salary increase.

Read more: ‘Job-dating’ to fix school shortage angers teachers in France

Parent and teacher union concerns

French parent and teacher unions have expressed concerns over a “makeshift” recruitment process over the summer. Sophie Vénétitay of the Snes-FSU said: “The promise of a teacher in front of each class seems to be closer to a political slogan than a reality.”

The secondary school union has launched the hashtag #NotreVraieRentrée (Our real rentrée) to collect testimonies from teachers around the country.

Primary union Snuipp-FSU has said that: “We will have adults in front of classes, not teachers.”

The 12 million pupils returning to school today – or tomorrow for those in Corsica – are split into 6.5 million primary school children, 3.5 million collégiens (middle-schoolers) and 2.2 million lycéens (secondary school pupils).

30 minutes of sport at primary schools

Former Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer had developed a policy pushing for primary school children to do at least 30 minutes of sport each day, and trialled the scheme in 7,000 schools last year.

This will now be rolled out to all primary schools this year, but many educational settings have said that they have not received any instructions from the government on the subject.

Maths makes its return to lycées

Since 2019, maths has not featured within the obligatory Première and Terminale (for 16 to 18-year-olds) curricula, and has only been taught as an optional specialism subject.

However, this year, Première pupils will be able to take maths as an optional extra even if they are not following a specialism which includes the subject.

If they choose this option, they will have 90 minutes of maths classes each week and in Terminale they will be able to continue with the additional lessons.

Mr Ndiaye has acknowledged that not many pupils decided to take these classes this year, saying: “It has not been an exceptional success, mostly because [the change] was made at a late stage.”

Read more: French schools: mandatory sport at primary and more maths until 18

Lowest level of Covid protocols

Unlike the last two years, this rentrée school Covid protocols will be set at ‘socle’ (baseline) level, which means that neither pupils nor teachers will have to wear a mask, all pupils will be able to attend in person and there will be no limits placed on sports activities or inter-class mixing.

If Covid case numbers begin to rise at a worrying rate, the alert level may be changed in schools and masks may return, for example.

You can find out more about the government’s Covid protocols here (in French).

Read more: Eighth Covid wave in France this autumn expected to be less severe

Macron tells bullied pupils ‘you are not alone’

President Macron has published a video on TikTok today addressing pupils in France who are targeted by bullies.

“I don’t want to accept, any more than you do, that this rentrée is a synonym of calvary,” he said, calling for victims to tell their teachers and talk to the people around them about what they are going through.

There are estimated to be between 800,000 to a million pupils who suffer some form of bullying in France.

“Too many of you have already heard insults, threats and slights at school, and suffer it on a daily basis. And when it is finished at school, it starts again on social media.

“Do not accept any of this; the problem is with those who insult you,” he said, adding: “They are in the wrong and you are within your rights [to do something]. It is you whom we must help.

“You are not alone.”

He also reminded pupils that they can call the number 3018 anonymously and for free between 09:00 and 20:00 from Monday to Saturday. It is also a telephone application. Find out more about the service here.

Related articles

Inflation, climate, pensions: a tough ‘rentrée’ for French government

9 changes for residents and second-home owners in France in September

French school pupils’ obsession with Bic pens is disrupting classes