Teachers' unions recently held a one-day strike over the prospect of budget cuts, which they fear will lead to job losses. They are now preparing further action over the allocation of posts.
An audit ordered by Mr Ferry found that 280,000 teachers will retire between 2003 and 2010 - 35 per cent of the workforce. This compares with earlier predictions that 40 per cent would retire between 1998 and 2008. Unions are worried that the revised estimate will give Mr Ferry an excuse to cut the number of new teaching posts.
Primary retirements will peak at 16,204 in 2003-4, and secondary in 2008 when 21,306 will leave the profession. An extra problem in secondaries is shortages in subjects such as maths and sciences in which fewer are taking degrees, reducing the pool of potential teachers.
Fewer graduates are entering the profession anyway, often deterred because new teachers are sent to the toughest schools and areas. Even worse, this decrease coincides with a rising birthrate: 35,000 extra children will start school next year.
Under the French system, teachers do not apply for posts but are assigned by the ministry. Redistribution of posts around the country to reflect pupil numbers, threatens to bring further conlict between Mr Ferry and the unions, as he tries to shift posts from the "in surplus" north and east to the "deficient" south, west and Ile-de-France region around Paris. Better-staffed areas will lose posts , leading to closures of classes, and even schools.
Unions predict bigger class sizes and deterioration in education for infants starting nursery school.
The recruitment issue is already sensitive after the government's announcement of cuts in the number of support staff ("Strikes as classroom assistants posts cut", TES, October 25).