France: education is no longer a priority for the government

published 18 September 2018 updated 2 October 2018

The French education unions have criticised the announcement made by Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer regarding a cut of 1,800 teaching positions in secondary education in the 2019 budget, despite larger numbers of students being accepted.

SNES-FSU: 32,000 more students, 1,800 fewer teaching positions

In his announcement of 16 September, shortly after the start of the 2018 school year, the Minister stated that the staff reductions would affect mainly secondary education and administrative departments and would be compensated through the possibility of imposing an additional second period on teachers.

“The Minister plans to further increase the deterioration of study conditions for middle and high school students”, and “the families and students are being lied to”, said the General Secretary and spokesperson for the Syndicat national des enseignements de second degré-Fédération syndicale unitaire (SNES-FSU) Frédérique Rolet in a scathing statement.

Deploring the fact that “national education should have remained a priority, but it is clear that that is no longer the case”, she recalled that middle schools will be accepting 32,000 additional students at the start of the 2019 school year, the numerous generation of 2007, and that classes in the first year of high school already have 35 or more students.

Explaining that as a palliative to the lack of positions, the Minister plans to change teachers’ status in order to force them to work two additional periods instead of one, she emphasized that, in addition to increasing their workload, current teaching conditions have already led a majority of teachers to work overtime.

This news has triggered “a lot of anger” and, according to Ms. Rolet, this decision will result in even more overcrowded classes: “It should be noted that high schools are experiencing demographic growth, so simply put, there will be fewer teachers and more students. The idea of imposing a second additional period will not provide much by way of additional resources, since the lack of positions has already led to most teachers having to work an average of two additional periods.”

She said that the Minister is counting on the reforms to allow these cuts in resources, by merging schools, by the reform of high school that will increase the number of students per class due to the common core and deprive certain high schools from programmes currently offered.

UNSA-Education: National education is no longer a priority!

For his part, General Secretary of the Union nationale des syndicats autonomes-Education (UNSA-Education) Frédéric Marchand took note of the fact that “this announcement symbolises the government’s policy: National education is no longer a priority”. He also deplored the fact that “the accounting figures got the last word”, he continued noting that National education will account for one third of the cuts to civil servant positions.

He also emphasized the Minister’s desire to implement many changes in high schools, and the fact that, at the time at which the territorial reorganisation was launched, such announcement can only confirm that economies of scale are the guiding principle behind ministerial decisions. According to Mr. Marchand, it is impossible to dissociate the human resources from the public service rendered by National Education. “What will be the consequence for the number of students per class, the diversity of the educational offer, work overloads in departments?”, he asked.

He also denounced the fact that the Ministry is once again using “the old recipe of additional periods” and intends to amend the statutory obligations of teachers to achieve this, “an expedient that will not actually improve our education system given that large numbers of teachers are already giving those two additional periods.”

At the time of the Poverty Plan desired by President of the Republic Mr. Emmanuel Macron, these cuts appear strongly contradictory, deplored Mr. Marchand. The desire to enable the children of disadvantaged families to successfully complete their schooling is met with a reduction of the number of teachers and administrative positions, as well as engineers, technical staff, research staff and training staff. This begs the question “What about the positions of physicians, social services employees and nurses?”

According to the press release issued by the Syndicat des enseignants (SE-UNSA), a member organisation of the UNSA-Education, the 2019 budget for National Education will entail “plentiful cuts”. Despite “the Minister’s explanations aimed at transforming the cuts into good news”, with the announcement of a priority for primary school and an effort to maintain teaching rates in secondary school through an increase in overtime without social security contributions, according to the SE-UNSA, the budgetary decision will further compromise teaching staff’s and the population’s trust in the executive’s decisions.

These budget cuts are “bad signs”, he said, while major works are ongoing, such as the reform of the general and technical baccalaureate, and the transformation of vocational education. “Although everyone has understood that the executive intends to stay the course, it is time for it to say where it is going”, said the trade union.

FERC-CGT: austerity first!

For the Fédération CGT de l’Education, de la Recherche et de la Culture (FERC-CGT), “A cut of 1,800 positions amounts to 40% of the cuts announced by the government: austerity has clearly taken precedence over education in terms of priority.”

The Federation also deeply deplored that staff and their elected representatives were “once again informed by the press of a measure that will strongly impact their working conditions”.

The trade union expects administrative staff’s workload to increase. As for the addition of an imposed additional hour for high school teachers, “the pretext being invoked is that teachers often accept to work extra hours”, the trade union noted that “this is forgetting that teaching staff’s purchasing power has dropped by 14% since 2000”. It is therefore categorically opposed to this measure as it increases teachers’ working time, adversely affects their professional and private lives, and is a discriminating measure since compensation through premiums and overtime further deepens the already existing wage gap between men and women.