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Ministers target mounting violence

FRANCE. Tough penalties for offenders, security outside school gates and extra help in class were some of the measures unveiled by ministers last week in a programme to tackle school violence.

M All gre, education minister, said that school violence was rising. In an inquiry in secondary schools between last December and March more than a third of lycees and half of coll ges (lower secondaries) and vocational lycees reported cases of violence.

In the coll ges more than 66,000 incidents were recorded, of which 47 per cent were verbal and 20 per cent physical, while 11 per cent were thefts. Two-thirds of victims were other pupils, and 17 per cent were teachers or other staff.

Ministers decided to restrict the measures to nine experimental zones in six education authorities. Nearly half of the 412 schools affected are situated in the single authority of Creteil, outside Paris, which contains trouble-spots considered by M All gre to "present a problem on a national scale".

The others are mostly in deprived suburbs of Paris, Lyons, Marseilles and Lille. About 10 are in Beauvais which the minister described as "representative of the contagion of violence in medium-sized provincial towns".

The experiment starts this month with the recruitment under the government's youth employment scheme of thousands of classroom assistants who will play a vital supervisory role. In January, 250 posts will be created for school nurses and social workers, and 100 extra chief educational counsellors will be appointed from next September.

The hard edge of the law will be brought into play with reinforcement of the partnership between education, justice and the police set up in 1992 by prime minister Lionel Jospin when he was education minister.

"Every act of violence must be punished," said M All gre. To prevent fights and racketeering outside their gates, schools will be able to have security contracts with the police who are recruiting and training young "security assistants" for the extra work.

For the hardest cases, the plan foresees dropping the current practice of exclusion from school which has been found not to work, and expanding alternative schooling now being piloted by the justice ministry. Special boarding schools could provide a solution in future.

The largest secondary teachers' union, SNES, criticised the paucity of proposals to reduce violence caused by school failure, and said the basic solution lay with reducing class size and increasing teacher numbers. The rival Syndicat des Enseignants welcomed the essential points, particularly the intention to treat offenders firmly and the extra protection for teachers and pupils.

The left-leaning parents' federation Federation des conseils de parents d'el ves welcomed the plan but the more right-wing Federation des parents d'el ves de l'enseignement public called it "yet another plan with some resources and few new ideas".

Jane Marshall

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