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Strike action starts with primary staff

FRANCE. Primary schoolteachers are due to take to the streets on Sunday as a series of strikes against the socialist-led government escalates.

The national demonstration follows a strike by the biggest primary teachers' union, the first in education since the Government came to power last June.

School nurses have joined the demonstrations and on Tuesday secondary teachers are expected to march.

Primary teachers are angry about the slow pace of integrating instituteurs - those who graduated before 1991 from the old training colleges, the ecoles normales - with the more highly qualified professeurs des ecoles, products of the reformed university-level teacher-training institutes.

The disparity in pay and status between the older, more experienced teachers and their younger but better qualified colleagues is causing resentment and tension in schools.

It is official policy to equalise the two grades, but at the planned rate this will not be achieved until 2014 unless extra government funds are forthcoming, which is unlikely.

Between a third and nearly a half of primary teachers, all of them members of the biggest primary teachers' union, SNUIPP, obeyed instructions to join the first strike. There were strong regional differences in participation, with high rates in Marseilles, Corsica and Nice and low ones in Strasbourg and Amiens.

Education minister Claude Allegre expressed understanding and sympathy for the teachers, but said the union had weakened its case by taking strike action.

School nurses from many parts of France joined demonstrations in Paris against low pay, lack of posts and excessive working hours. A crowd of banner-carrying women, some wearing their white nurses' overalls, marched to the ministry of education.

Their union said that despite ministerial promises to appoint more healthcare staff, there was still only one school nurse for every 2,500 pupils and one doctor for 8,000 pupils.

Members of three secondary teachers' unions are striking over plans to decentralise the administration of teacher transfers. M All gre last week denied that his proposals to cut ministerial bureaucracy would impede teacher movements, saying that each authority would set up a department to deal with individual cases. He also condemned and rebutted "ridiculous rumours and disinformation" which he said the unions had spread by claiming his reforms would dispense with the baccalaureat and the elite grandes ecoles.

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