Demonstrations and industrial action continue in education sector

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Over early 1998, the French Minister of Education, Claude Allègre, has been faced with protests from teachers who are opposed to his proposed reforms. The teachers' many demands indicate a deep underlying problem, and negotiations have been limited or even deadlocked.

Since the beginning of 1998, French teachers have been protesting against reforms of the national education system proposed by Claude Allègre, the Minister of Education, and two separate one-day strikes have been called. On 1 February, 10,000-20,000 primary school teachers (instituteurs) staged a rally in Paris demanding the status of professeurs des écoles. This status is now given to newly qualified primary school teachers but has been denied to existing teachers on the basis that they have fewer years of training.

The second day of action, on 3 February, included teachers from both primary and secondary (or middle and upper schools - collègesand lycées) and education and non-teaching staff from both schools within the national education system and vocational colleges managed by the Ministry of Agriculture. This joint industrial action was organised in opposition to the lack of new teaching positions and administrative staff. The trade unions are also opposed to any changes in the current centralised teacher-transfer system (FR9711178N). They are demanding that status and qualifications remain centralised at national level. According to the Minister of Education, more than a third of all secondary teachers took part in the strike. The National Union of Teachers - Second Grade (Syndicat national des enseignants du second degré, SNES) put this figure at 60%.

Claude Allègre has, for his part, reiterated his wish to decentralise the national education system and condemned what he sees as the "corporatism" and opposition to change that exist in secondary education. In a series of press interviews in early February, Mr Allègre defended the "spirit of enterprise in schools" and considered the strike action by secondary teachers who are opposed to his policies as "unjustified". Relations between the Minister of Education and most unions remain tense, and the former created a further bone of contention by condemning excessive "absenteeism" among teachers. However, Mr Allègre has since admitted that absenteeism in education is very low when compared to other sectors.

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