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France: Minister to act on vow to cut top-heavy bureaucracy

The education ministry faces its most drastic reorganisation for a decade as minister Claude Allgre prepares to cut bureaucracy.

The planned changes include reducing the number of departments at the national ministry and replacing most of their directors.

M Allegre announced his intention of "cutting the fat from the mammoth" soon after he became minister in the summer. He says the shake-up will lead to "greater efficiency" in a top-heavy organisation which, critics claim, has replaced Russia's Red Army as the world's biggest employer.

The present 16 departments will be cut down to 11. Only three of the former department heads remain and the reshuffle has enabled the minister to increase the number of women in charge from one to five.

One controversial change is the takeover of the Direction de l'evaluation et de la prospective (DEP), the research and statistical department which inquires into every facet of education, including physical education in primary school, profiles of new teachers and foreign language teaching in higher education. The DEP is to be subsumed within scheduling and development. The changes are expected to ensure headteachers are given greater powers.

Meanwhile, M Allegre is under pressure from teaching unions to speed up the integration of 200,000 instituteurs - primary school teachers who went to the old teacher training colleges - into the body of more highly-qualified professeurs des coles. Some 60,000 of the professeurs have graduated from the Instituts universitaires de formation des matres, university-level training institutes, since reform of the system in 1991.

Unions are backing the instituteurs who, although their qualifications are lower, are older and more experienced. The primary teachers' union plans a day's strike. Its members oppose the principle of promotion "on merit"; but M Allegre has said it is necessary to "recognise the quality, devotion, imagination and difficulty of the job".

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