Minister calls for police in violent schools

6th January 2006 at 00:00
FRANCE

Two months after riots devastated deprived suburban housing estates across France, attention remains focused on youth violence and educational inequality.

Education minister Gilles de Robien said he would establish a permanent police presence in violent schools following the stabbing of a secondary teacher by one of her pupils. The minister has also announced a relaunch of priority education in disadvantaged areas.

The teacher was stabbed in class at a vocational lycee (upper secondary) in Etampes by an 18-year-old who was taking revenge after the teacher told his mother about his disruptive behaviour.

After the stabbing, Mr de Robien said it was "time to stop beating about the bush" and introduce a permanent police presence in problem schools so that teachers could alert officers to difficulties before tragedies occurred.

In the past, he said, there have been too many protests against proposals to admit police into schools to combat racketeering and drug-trafficking.

It is "very important for police and law authorities to be aware of any threats", he said.

The education ministry says such instances of armed violence occur four times a day in secondary schools. In 2004-5, 80,000 violent acts were reported, a rise of 1 per cent on the previous year.

Fights without weapons were the most common, accounting for nearly a third of all incidents. This was followed by insulting behaviour, then theft.

Half the incidents took place in 10 per cent of schools, most commonly in vocational lycees in "sensitive" areas.

But teachers' unions oppose a permanent police presence in schools. The federation FSU said Mr de Robien's plan was "in the wrong direction", presented in "the heat of the moment" and "lacked reflection".

The federation said schools needed more supervisory staff and social workers, not police.

The police representative body UNSA-Police also said the plan was unacceptable. "We can't open a police station in every secondary school,"

said a spokesman.

The assault took place three days after Mr de Robien had announced a 33-point plan to relaunch priority education, which prime minister Dominique de Villepin had promised in November after the restoration of order in the riot-torn areas.

Educational priority zones (ZEPs) will be replaced by a system that targets individual schools and concentrates resources on between 200 and 250 coll ges (lower secondary schools) facing the most difficulties.

These ambition reussite ("ambition success") schools will be chosen on criteria including pupils' social background, the proportion of new pupils who have repeated two or more years at primary school, and the numbers of pupils from immigrant families who do not speak French.

Mr de Robien said the schools would employ an extra 1,000 experienced teachers and 3,000 classroom assistants to give pupils more individual attention and remedial support, and to reduce the number of pupils repeating years at school.

He hopes that improved links with local primary schools will allow smooth transition to secondary level. Disruptive pupils will be taught in an improved system of separate classes.

Schools now in the ZEP priority zones that are performing well will lose their priority status after three years. The extra resources will be reallocated to the ambition reussite schools. A third group of schools will continue to receive priority funding as at present.

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