'Contracts for control'

FRANCE

Parents who fail to ensure their children perform and behave satisfactorily at school could lose their child benefits, under proposals announced by prime minister Dominique de Villepin.

Responding last week to the recent explosions of violence in deprived suburban housing estates throughout France, Mr de Villepin put forward measures which he claimed were intended to equalise opportunities for all.

He proposed a "contract of responsibility" for parents whose children disrupted school life, truanted or had dropped out of education before age 16. The contract would be established with the school under guidance from a social worker, and fix objectives on school attendance and results. It would also help parents with language courses or finding work.

But if parents turned down the contract, or failed to fulfil their obligations, they could be fined or their family benefits suspended.

SNUIPP, the biggest union representing primary school teachers, said trying to make parents feel guilty was scapegoating. Secondary-school union SNES said the government was off-target.

Parents' association FCPE denounced the "repeated stigmatisation of the immigrant population" to whom Mr de Villepin was clearly referring through his offer of French lessons.

Other measures proposed by the prime minister included extra support for pupils aged from five or six years who failed a new national literacy assessment; abandoning the "global" (whole word recognition) method of teaching reading; vocational training opportunities for pupils aged 14 (TES, November 18); and creation of a careers guidance service, available on the internet, to advise secondary pupils.

He also confirmed support for the system of educational priority zones, which gives extra resources to schools in deprived areas.

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