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French teachers back on strike after talks fail

A striking French teacher carries a placard which reads in Latin, "And you... Najat Vallaud-Belkacem", in reference to the French Education Ministers, as they attend a nation-wide protest against new measures aimed at revamping the country's school system
A striking French teacher carries a placard which reads in Latin, "And you... Najat Vallaud-Belkacem", in reference to the French Education Ministers, as they attend a nation-wide protest against new measures aimed at revamping the country's school system REUTERS/Robert Pratta

A last ditch attempt by France's Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem to appease the wrath of teachers over a controversial school reform has fallen on deaf ears, as teaching staff went on strike on Thursday. It's the second time in less than a month.

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Application versus opposition. These were essentially the contradicting objectives of France's Education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and four of the top teaching unions, who sat down for talks on Wednesday.

Belkacem intended on pushing through her education reform after weeks of controversy, whereas the unions were bent on flagging up the outstanding issues they feel have not been resolved.

  • Weakening of foreign languages
  • Iincreased inter-disciplinary learning
  • 20% of extra time for transversal subjects

All measures, which according to teachers will increase inequalities between pupils and promote unhealthy competition between schools, going against the government's very aim of improving the creacking education system.

Under the terms of the reform, teaching of foreign languages like Greek and Latin would e reduced by 108 hours, and the new interdisciplinary system would also get rid of subject matters in which students were not performing well. 

It's widely recognized that France's education system is struggling:  OECD studies have shown that 15-year-old pupils' level in maths dropped between 2003 and 2012, for example.

However, three out of four teachers feel the reform will harm students' performance rather than improve it. Four of the top unions thus went back on the streets on Thursday to make their voices heard. The only exception was the most right-wing union, the Snalc, which has called for its own strike end of June during students' end of year exams.

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