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Tensions rise over violence

Tensions between President Jacques Chirac and his education minister, Francois Bayrou, have emerged with the president's intervention in the debate on preventing violence in schools.

M Chirac told ministers that "we must not adapt to violence, but must fight it". He rejected "an umpteenth plan with no results" - an apparent reference to M Bayrou's earlier measures - and said he intended to attend personally to the problem.

Last week M Bayrou presented his latest plan to counter violence. His 19 measures include allocating extra staff to difficult schools, familiarising secondary pupils with school rules and transferring problem children to special classes outside school.

The level of violence has dropped since its peak in February when several secondary schools were temporarily closed after rioting and vandalism (TES, February 16). But overall in recent years fighting, racketeering and intimidation of teachers and pupils have been on the increase, and are a major worry for teachers.

Under M Bayrou's plan schools in sensitive areas will benefit from the employment of 150 new supervisors, 50 principal educational counsellors, 10 counsellors specialising in psychology, 20 social workers and 20 school nurses. Also, from September 2,200 national service conscripts will join the 2, 500 already working in schools as supervisors and auxiliaries.

Teacher training will now include modules about working in difficult schools, and pupils in a "situation of school rejection" will be withdrawn from mainstream education.

The first day of the academic year will be set aside to drill secondary pupils in their rights and responsibilities at school. Parents of children starting college (lower secondary) will be encouraged to get to know the teachers, and efforts will be made to cater for foreign families with interpreters and other mediators.

Timetables in troubled schools are being rearranged to make room for sports and leisure activities in the afternoons - included largely because it is a reform favoured by President Chirac.

Unauthorised entry into school premises is to become a punishable offence and greater cooperation is to be encouraged between the education, police and legal authorities.

Teachers' unions gave the measures a qualified welcome, but emphasised that they still did not go far enough. FEN, the teachers' federation, found them "interesting ideas," especially those that were strictly educational, but questioned whether they would be enough to produce results, stressing that the number of new staff was too low.

The FSU, a rival union grouping, criticised the government's response as "partial, limited and not sufficient to push back the rise of violence, " and said it was calling on its members to take action "to obtain the improvements still necessary".

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