ITALY. What to do with supernumerary teachers if they can't be sacked? After years spent redeploying them, the ministry has come up with a new idea reconversion.
The idea couldn't be simpler: take a teacher from a school where rolls are falling (that is, the scuola media, which covers the last three years of compulsory education to age 14) and train her to teach in a school which is still expanding (that is, the scuola superiore, or upper secondary). In a rigid system where no movement of teachers between different types of school was possible, this is a minor revolution.
It had to come, though. A steadily declining birthrate, coupled with massive teacher recruitment in the 1980s, had conspired by 1993 to bring the teacher:pupil ratio in the scuola media down to 8:1.
Three years ago, Italy discovered austerity and began to cut back on public expenditure - education minister Rosa Rosso Lervolino did her bit when she axed more than 20,000 classes, but she was unable to get rid of the teachers. As public servants, teachers have tenure, and cannot be made redundant if rolls fall. So lots of teachers found themselves without classes.
One of these was Monica Boscaro, a scuola media teacher of Italian near Venice. Tired of being moved around each year as a sort of roving supply teacher, Signora Boscaro was only too pleased when in October 1994 she read about a conversion course organised by the local authority.
She put her name down and waited. Eleven months later she was told by the head of the school she was working at that she had just one week to send in all her documents and enrol. Many other would-be converters failed to see the circular, and were too late.
The 80-hour course, which was meant to have been organised over a six-month period, was crammed into two months; and since there was no time off school for participants Monica, a mother of three, had her work cut out to keep up.
At the end of the course there was a written exam, followed by an oral. Signora Boscaro came out top of the class and went home for a well-earned Christmas break.
Then came the bad news. After Christmas she learned that the criteria by which "converters" would be taken on by scuole superiori were to be based on length of service. The end-of-course results would not count; and, at 35 the youngest on the course, Signora Boscaro was going to have far less chance of finding a permanent post than colleagues due for retirement in two years' time.
"What was the point of organising the course - and funding it - if at the end of it people were going to be offered posts only on the basis of length of service? If I'd known this I wouldn't have bothered to do the course," she reflects. "I've calmed down a bit now, but when I first found out I was furious".