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CHRIS woodhead for Education Secretary! How bad could it be? As terrifying, perhaps, as the situation for thousands of teachers in France who are coping with the promotion of a former schools inspector to the influential post of education minister.

Xavier Darcos (right), previously a classics teacher and noted biographer, was appointed to the post by newly elected president Nicolas Sarkozy, whose plans for education include bringing back national service, although in a civic, not military capacity.

Mr Darcos, who will be 60 in July, has flaunted his educational pedigree - he was once a literature professor at the Sorbonne - as well as indulging in the rather less austere hobby of blogging.

His site (http:xavierdarcos. has supplied French politicos with some grade-A back-biting in addition to his thoughts on education and other contemporary issues.

The new Government's plans for education include maximum class sizes of 15 in poorer areas and training for unskilled youth.

At present, schools are heavily centralised, with any hint of local independence resisted as divisive. Teachers are hired and fired by the state, often with little idea where they will start the new term.

Rote-learning is popular, and every pupil receives the same textbooks.

President De Gaulle once remarked he just had to look at the clock to know what French pupils were studying across the country.

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