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Spending bonanza fails to make an impact

FRANCE

Increased spending and smaller classes have failed to improve standards in the past three years, a new report suggests.

A national audit report shows spending on French schools rose by 23 per cent in the decade after 1990, while pupil numbers fell by 4.5 per cent. By 2001 there were 15m pupils and 1.3m staff, including 990,000 teachers.

Schools now cost e98billion (pound;67bn) a year, nearly a quarter of state spending .

Parents and teachers were pleased at classes being cut - primary classes are down from 24.1 in 1990 to 23 now, lower secondary from 24.3 to 24, vocational lycee from 23.1 to 19.8 and general lycee 31 to 28.5. But the smaller classes had "no significant effects" and often meant useful measures were scrapped.

The report criticised ministers for "stacking up" too many ambitious reforms. It said attempts to bring in technology had been hampered by poor staff training and poor equipment. There was no record of resources allocated by the ministry for technology, nor of any benefits obtained, said the report.

The report singled out rigid, complex and outdated rules for teacher employment for particular criticism. In France secondary teachers are strictly allowed to teach only one subject. Strict observance of hierarchy and seniority scales also obstruct schools from deploying staff in the most effective way.

Education minister Luc Ferry said he shared the auditor's concerns. The government's key reform of decentralising powers to the regions would lead to greater efficiency, he said.

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