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'Mammoth' rounds on minister

France. Teachers are upset by suggestions that they train in their holidays, reports Jane Marshall

Claude Allegre, France's outspoken education minister, has angered teachers yet again. After criticising what he said was an unacceptably high rate of absenteeism in the profession, he last week provoked more fury by questioning their in-service training. .

Talking to socialist MPs in Montpellier, M. Allegre declared himself astonished as to why "teachers, who have four months' holiday, should be attending training sessions, leaving the children alone, only a week after the start of school". He has emphasised that pupils should be at the centre of educational policy.

Teaching unions again united against M. Allegre's "ignoble attacks against the teaching body". The usually isolated right-wing SNALC (Syndicat Nationale des Lycees et Colleges) protested, saying it was prepared to take action with the other unions.

Herve Baro, of the Syndicat des Enseignants, said: "Any threat to in-service training during work-time would be a declaration of war."

Monique Vuaillat of SNES, the biggest secondary teachers' union, said that M. Allegre was "throwing discredit on a profession concerned about keeping its knowledge up to date".

M. Allegre, who upset teachers when he took up his post in the summer by saying he intended to "cut the fat from the mammoth" of national education, has invited the unions to talks.

* The education ministry is to introduce sanctions against bizutage - the often violent and humiliating initiation rites which newcomers to university or to the elite grandes ecoles often endure. Schools minister Segolne Royal promised that the ministry would issue "firm and precise" instructions against those involved.

The rites include covering students with mustard and eggs and making them eat tadpoles, and have sometimes led to sexual assaults.

A Bill is to go before parliament next month on prevention of sexual offences, which will include a clause on bizutage.

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