Strikes in France: Why teachers are protesting May 14 

Unions claim a rising number of parents also oppose plans to group pupils by ability for some subjects

Classrooms may be empty today as teachers walk out of schools. Teaching unions say more and more parents approve of action
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Teachers and other educational staff across France are on strike today (May 14) over working conditions and proposed changes to the school curriculum including the introduction of ability rankings for some subjects.

In particular, a reform that would see pupils ‘grouped’ by their skill level in subjects such as mathematics and placed in classes with others of a similar level, is being targeted by unions.

The strike was organised by an inter-union group, including the education wings of the CGT, FO, and SUD, with staff walking out from collèges and lycées establishments, as well as maternelles and primaires for younger children. 

For parents of the children in the latter two establishments, they must be warned in advance if there will be school closures, with staff having to give advance notice of their intention to strike.

However collèges and lycées schools are under no obligation to list which staff are striking in advance, meaning the impact of the strikes is not yet known.

“Our organisations… are calling on staff to refuse to implement the sorting of pupils into groups and to block [education reforms],” the unions said in a press release. 

“For this reason, they support all strikes, including those that are renewable, and other forms of mobilisation (demonstrations, rallies, etc.), both current and future, decided by the staff or proposed by the local union groups,” the press release adds.

It follows major walkouts earlier this year in February, March, and April by teaching staff. 

A national demonstration is also scheduled for Saturday May 25, with teachers and parents joining marches and protests – hundreds of which are already planned – against what they see as a reduction in quality of education in France.

Unions claim that an increasing number of parents are siding with teachers, and realise the changes may harm the education system and in turn their children.

Read more: Strikes in France: latest dates in May 2024 and how you could be impacted

Changes will be ‘harmful’ to pupils

Changes proposed to the curriculum include new teaching plans for younger pupils, as well as a reworking of how older students at lycées and collèges are ‘grouped’ into cohorts. 

Under the reforms, maths and certain other subjects will see pupils split into classes based on skill level as opposed to remaining in the same groups for all classes, regardless of their aptitude in the subject.

These will begin to come into force for children in the 6ème (age 12-13) and 5èmè (13-14) classes in 2024, and 4ème (14-15) and 3ème (15-16) in 2025. 

Unions call the changes "a white elephant [that will be] harmful to pupils, particularly the most vulnerable” and that will “degrade” the quality of teaching and negatively impact teachers.

They fear that long-term effects would include a reduction in teaching time for students ranked at the lowest level, snowballing into poorer grades and ultimately a reduction in job or further education prospects.

Previous walkouts this year led the government to make a u-turn over proposed changes to how overtime is paid for teachers. 

However, the changes set to implement these ranked levels in certain subjects have already been published in the Journal Officiel in March.

Teachers also protested over the controversial appointment of Amélie Oudéa-Castéra as Education Minister after Minister Gabirel Attal left the post to assume the role of Prime Minister.

Ms Oudéa-Castéra was embroiled in a scandal involving the teaching of her own children at a private school, and her disparaging remarks about teachers at public schools. 

Read more: French education minister did not lie - ‘reality proved her wrong’

She resigned less than a month after taking the role.