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France: smiling faces in lifestyle snapshot

French teachers work fewer hours than they used to and have more purchasing power. When married couples are both teachers the men neglect their share of the housework, preferring to concentrate on their work.

These are findings from a report on teachers' working and home lives published recently as nearly 750,000 teachers were electing union representatives for the next three years.

"The report presents a snapshot of the profession at a time when the situation has been rapidly evolving," said Claude Thlot, director of the education ministry's directorate of evaluation and futurology which produced it.

Reforms over the past eight years and an explosion in lyce numbers mean that the teaching force and the rate of recruitment have risen.

Meanwhile reform of teacher training colleges has taken place and is showing its effects. While controversial in France it was met with "enthusiastic interest from abroad", says the report, which details the reform's teething problems and progress.

The profession is becoming increasingly feminised, although the proportions of women working in it diminish progressively as the educational levels get higher; over three-quarters of the workforce in primary school (90 per cent in the private sector) are women, but only 31 per cent in higher education.

Teachers' working hours are shrinking, the report shows. In 1988 the average working week comprised 40 hours 30 minutes while today, it is 38 hours 11 minutes. They also earn relatively more; prices have risen by 24 per cent since 1988, but the average salary has increased by 38 per cent, says the report.

Comparing teachers whose partners are in the profession with those who have married outside it, the report found it was advantageous for male teachers to marry a member of the profession. Over half of the men in the study had done so compared with only a third of women. But the report said that far from "professional closeness" inciting men to participate more in household chores, they are more likely to concentrate on their professional life.

Teachers showed divided opinions on standards and streaming, with a quarter - mostly the best qualified lyce teachers - strongly approving of selection, nearly a third totally opposing it, with 45 per cent described in the report as "benevolently neutral".

The poll was the second since the vast FEN (Fdration de l'Education Nationale) acrimoniously split in 1992, with a left-wing faction leaving to form the FSU (Fdration Syndicale Unitaire).

The FSU-affiliated SNES (Syndicat National des Enseignements de Second Degr) had already gained a majority among secondary teachers during the last elections in 1993; now, the more militant FSU has gained ground among primary teachers, 40 per cent of whom belong to its union SNUIPP (Syndicat national unitaire des instituteurs, professeurs des coles et PEGC).

Connaissance des enseignants, education et formations No 46, from Direction de l'Evaluation et de la Prospective (DEP), 58 Boulevard du Lyce,Vanves 92170, France. 70FF. (Summary of chapters given in English.)

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