“The education public service deserves an ambitious policy. Unfortunately, the service is coming under pressure today due to job cuts.”
This worrying observation by Patrick Gonthier, EI Vice-President for Europe and General Secretary of the trade union federation UNSA Education, can be seen at all levels in French education. About 6,000 teaching jobs cut this year and over 10,000 more will be lost next school year. One public servant in two who retires will not be replaced. Contractualisation of relations between the individual teacher and the school. Widening of the competences of school principals, particularly as regards teacher recruitment and assessment. Service rules seen more as a yoke than a collective guarantee. Greater autonomy for universities. Eight months after it came to power, these are the major reforms initiated by the government of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. “In 2008 the policy of civilisation will find expression in schools” and “in the radical modernisation of our universities,” he reaffirmed at a press conference on 8 January.. “The school must once again become everyone’s business, not only that of specialists”. Everyone’s business, certainly, but “everyone’s success and the global raising of the level of education are no longer in perspective,” according to Michel Fouquet, National Secretary of SNEP-FSU, the national physical education trade union. The union regrets the construction of a “two-speed school.” On the contrary, Fouquet proposes “an ambitious and demanding school for everyone, one which fights against social determinisms.” For Gilles Moindrot, General Secretary of SNUipp-FSU, the leading union of primary school teachers, “it is the new reorganisation of school time that is most talked about in the schoolyard.” The Ministry of Education has just decided that next school year Saturday morning classes will be discontinued. In nursery and elementary schools this will lead to more overloaded classes. Even more seriously, major difficulties will probably be encountered when it comes to introducing new forms of organisation of work, developing team work and the vocational training of teachers. For its part, UNSA Education denounces a provocative attack on the right to strike of primary school teachers: the government plans to use funds saved by not paying striking teachers to keep childcare centres open during strikes. “Teaching jobs are seen as being less and less attractive,” according to Odile Cordelier of SNES, the main secondary education union. Cordelier says SNES members are concerned about developments relating to the assignments and service conditions of teaching staff, and massive increases in overtime. On the actual structure of the educational system, SNES notes that the Minister of Education, Xavier Darcos, is making more and more announcements without any consultation whatsoever with teachers’ trade unions. As for universities, UNSA Education observes that the “reform of governance” of universities could call into question the principle of the management of universities by the academic community, without giving them the resources that they need. Faced with the absence of genuine negotiations on salaries and the organised dismantling of the public service through the mass elimination of jobs in their sector, the education federations (FAEN, FERC-CGT, FSU, SGEN-CFDT, UNSA Education and Sud Education) have joined up with the civil servants’ federations. They succeeded in strongly mobilising teachers, from nursery school to university level, in the nation-wide strike on 24 January. By Claude Carroué
This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 25, February/March 2008.