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French teachers strike over 'unfair' classroom groups, lack of resources

By RFI
France AFP - NICOLAS TUCAT
APR 2, 2024 LISTEN
AFP - NICOLAS TUCAT

Several unions representing middle and high schools in France are calling for another round of strikes and demonstrations on Tuesday to demand the abandonment of a scheme separating students into levels, as well as a salary hike and more resources for public schools.

Launched by the Snes-FSU union, the strike will mostly affect middle schools. They want the removal of the controversial scheme of dividing classes up based on "good" and "bad" results and they are demanding a salary increases and better resources for public schools.

Rallies are expected to take place in many cities in France on Tuesday.

In Paris, the demonstration will start near the Luxembourg Gardens around 2 p.m.

Already on strike several times since the beginning of the year, French teachers are angry about a set of reforms launched by former Education Minister Gabriel Attal called "Shock of Knowledge" (Choc des savoirs) to boost basic reading and arthmetic, considered below par.

The measure involving sorting students into smaller groups according to their levels in mathematics and French, is desinged support of students in difficulty.

'Irresponsible'

The decree, published on 17 March, does not use the terms of "level groups", but refers to groups "according to the needs of the students" according to new Education Minister Nicole Belloubet.

Unions said in a statement that the government had not consulted properly with the teaching profession, judging this publication "unacceptable and irresponsible".

The "level" groups are to come into effect from the start of the 2024 school year for the first two grades of middle schools and from the start of the 2025 school year for the next two grades.

Teachers say it's already difficult enough for teachers to handle overcrowded classes with not enough staff, let alone organise different groups within the same class.

They're also concerned the scheme will create unnecessary stimatisation for struggling students.

The recommended objective is to limit groups to "around fifteen students" the ministry note reads.

The groups can focus on different aspects of the curriculum and include "transversal skills" such as improving concentration, memorisation and being better organised, the note reads.

Legal action

On Tuesday, the mayors of 12 towns in Seine-Saint-Denis, the working-class department north of Paris, jointly filed a legal complaint against the government over the lack of teaching staff and support which they say has been dragging on far too long.

Students lose 15 percent of their lesson hours – the equivalent of a year of their education – due to a lack of teachers, according to unions.

The state may be forced to pay a financial penalty which can go up to €500 per day.

"For the moment in Seine-Saint-Denis, there is a breakdown in equality. Massive efforts are needed and obviously the ministry does not have the means," says far-left MP from the France Unbowed party (LFI) party Clémentine Autain.

Fellow LFI MP Eric Coquerel said that after the April holidays, "if there is no response from the government, it is very possible that the strike movement will continue".

The department's unions want the creation of 5,000 teaching positions and some 3,000 school assistant jobs to meet "emergency" needs.

They also want repairs made to the buildings which have become rundown. 

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