EDUCATION minister Jack Lang has announced a raft of changes to teacher training designed to entice new recruits into the profession and raise standards.
France must find about 185,000 primary and secondary teachers within the next five years if it is to avoid an acute staffing shortage, Mr Lang has revealed.
"We must train a considerable number of young people to work in education - one teacher in two must be recruited within the next 10 years," he said.
"We must attract a great number of students to these professions, give them quality training and prepare them better to face the problems they will meet."
Teacher shortages are already being felt, especially in secondary schools and in scientific, technical and vocational subjects. Nearly half the present workforce of 650,000 is due to retire in the next decade and young people are increasingly reluctant to enter the profession.
As a first step, Mr Lang has increased the number of secondary posts to be filled from next September to 23,465, a rise of 10 per cent over last year.
Last week he announced a shake-up of training to address criticism that the present system, which was set up 10 years ago and turned teaching into an all-graduate profession, is too theoretical.
The changes affect primary trainees most, but touch all aspects of the 29 post-graduate colleges, instituts universitaires de formation des matres (IFUM), whih train all teachers from nursery school to lycee.
The emphasis will be on practicalities. Undergraduates hoping to become teachers will be able to take complementary courses which include classroom experience.
They will also study a second specialist subject to broaden their training. A primary trainee could, for example, study maths as a main subject, with history second. All will have to be able to teach a foreign language.
Qualifying exams for primary teachers will be standardised and administered nationally. They will be held five months earlier, halfway through the first of the two IUFM years, to give student teachers more time to learn practical teaching skills. Secondary trainees will study such problems as handling pupil violence.
An important innovation are in-service training courses for newly-qualified teachers during their first two years in the job; many have reported feeling isolated and unsure at the start of their careers.
Teacher-trainers will also need up-to-date classroom experience. Currently, nearly 40 per cent of them have not taught in school for years.
But numbers applying to teacher training have been falling since 1997, and it remains to be seen if recruitment campaigns can attract the huge numbers of young people needed. Rather than a fulfilling, respected profession in public service with life-long job security, graduates increasingly perceive a stressful, low-paid job that is hard to enter, with mounting pupil violence. Many prefer to seek employment elsewhere.