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Call for strike as ministers cut back spending

Teachers' unions have called a one-day strike in protest against budget cuts, reductions in the number of teaching posts and the consequent axing of some subjects.

The cuts are due to education ministry efforts to reduce its budget deficit and the numbers of posts made available for newly qualified teachers.

The government maintained that the education system had been overspending for some years, and the finance ministry ordered the education ministry to implement a plan to rebalance the books over three years.

As a result, the secondary sector, where pupil numbers are falling, is being hit hard by budget cuts which, according to the majority secondary teachers' union SNES, are equivalent to the loss of 6,500 full-time jobs.

In a separate move, the education ministry has slashed by 30 per cent the number of posts open to newly-qualified secondary teachers for the school year starting in September.

Primary schools have been spared, with the number of posts for new teachers increasing by nearly 15 per cent thanks to a rising birthrate.

But unions point out that the allocations of posts in both sectors are too low when compared with the findings of an audit carried out by the ministry in December 2002.

In Paris, 200 secondary posts will be cut from September, leading to the loss of more than 4,000 teaching hours from school timetables.

Bordeaux will lose 185 posts. There, and in other areas, including Nancy-Metz, Toulouse, Lille and Rennes, education authorities are trying to find ways to reduce the curriculum further.

Vocational and technical education is likely to be worst affected, hitting pupils from modest backgrounds most, according to Denis Paget of SNES.

Options such as extra languages, dance, music, art history and multi-disciplinary projects will be axed, and classes merged and enlarged.

Schools in the north, an area which is losing pupils, are being further penalised as posts are reallocated to the south, which is gaining them.

Angry teachers have already demonstrated in Paris, and the four main union federations have jointly called on their members to strike on March 12.

But union leaders know that many battle-weary teachers who took prolonged strike action last year will be reluctant to become embroiled in another industrial dispute so soon.

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