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Four-day school week at risk

FRANCE: THE PUBLIC has been invited to contribute to a debate on reorganising the school timetable.

With nearly three-quarters of primary pupils going to school on Saturday mornings, and one-quarter attending only four days a week, schools minister Segolene Royal believes reform is overdue.

Ms Royal supports inspectors'recommendations to transfer Saturday's lessons to Wednesday, currently a day off, but only about 5 per cent of schools have done so. She said she hoped Saturday would become a family day.

Presenting the inspectors' report last week, she said that schools, parents' associations and local authorities should "open the debate on reorganisation of the day and of the week, and on harmonising school time, extra-curricular activities and family time".

The traditional midweek break dates back to the introduction of state schooling in the 1880s, when founding minister Jules Ferry ordered that education must be secular as well as being compulsory and free. The day off - originally Thursday - was a concession to the Catholic Church so children could study the catechism.

The timetable confuion has been tackled many times. During the 1990s, experiments were carried out across the country that resulted in the present patchwork of arrangements.

About 25 per cent of schools run a four-day week with pupils having both Wednesday and Saturday free. They are supposed to compensate for time lost with shorter holidays.

But inspectors found that some parents did not send their children back to school on the earlier date, especially if they also had secondary-age children with different school holidays.

Ms Royal was also concerned that cancelling the half-day was resulting in neglect of art and sport. She did recognise, however, that the four-day system could benefit rural communities, for example, where pupils had to travel long distances to school. She said she would not impose one system on all schools.

As well as reorganising their week, the minister wants schools to adjust daily timetables to take greatest advantage of various grouping patterns - individual, small groups or whole class - and to teach difficult subjects at the times of day when pupils' concentration is greatest.

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