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Minister throws money and staff at the riot-hit suburbs

FRANCE

Schools in France's riot-hit suburbs will get funding to specialise and to recruit extra staff. Their best students will also be allowed to attend lycees - upper secondary schools - outside their local area in an attempt to increase social mobility.

Under the reforms announced by education minister Gilles de Robien, France's challenging schools will be rebranded as ambition reussite ("ambition success") schools. The 249 lower secondaries and their 1,600 attached primary and nursery schools will be eligible for help under a programme announced in response to the December riots.

Mr Robien said that the programme will provide 1,000 peripatetic teachers to support ambition reussite schools, 3,000 extra classroom assistants to give more individual attention and remedial help to pupils, and improved facilities for teaching disruptive pupils.

The schools - including 16 lower secondaries in Seine-Saint-Denis, the district north of Paris where the riots started - were targeted under criteria such as pupils' social background, the proportion of new arrivals who had already repeated two or more years, and numbers of pupils with parents who were single or unemployed, or did not speak French.

Mr de Robien said he would encourage teachers to try out new methods, which would be regularly assessed. The targeted schools will set out goals in four or five-year contracts with the ministry's local authorities. Each will have "a high quality speciality - cultural, scientific, linguistic, sporting or environmental".

Pupils who do well in their leaving exams will be able to choose their lycee, rather than going to their local lycee - a move the minister hopes will "restart social mobility".

The new system, which starts in September, replaces education priority zones (ZEP), introduced in 1981 and modelled on Britain's educational priority areas. Mr de Robien said in future individual schools, rather than zones, would be targeted for special help.

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