Minister signals an end to love affair with union

4th July 1997 at 01:00
The new ministry plans to drag education into the 21st century. Jane Marshall reports

France's new education minister has warned teachers that the era of "co-management of the ministry by the unions" is at an end.

Claude All gre, the socialist minister for education, research and technology, said that the education system should be updated to take new technology into account.

As he spelt out his education programme to the press, the plain-speaking M Allegre said that the close relationship enjoyed by the largest secondary teachers' union, the SNES (Syndicat National des Enseignements de Second degre), with former minister Francois Bayrou was over. In future, he said, there would be "consultation, not co-management".

A key area of dispute is the minister's plan to change the allocation of teaching posts at secondary level - at present largely controlled by the SNES - to make it less centralised.

But Monique Vuaillat, the union's general secretary, has said that organising the system on a regional basis would confine teachers within their present authorities.

Another contentious issue is M Allegre's proposal to do away with differences in pay and hours between different grades of secondary teacher. These plans are in tune with M Allegre's wish to decentralise and cut bureaucracy at the vast education ministry, which has more than a million employees. He has described the policy as "cutting the fat from the mammoth". The minister also wants an end to official jargon in favour of "simple language that everyone can understand".

Accompanied by Segolene Royal, minister for schools, M Allegre said his programme would mark a "radical change in the concept of schools".

France ranked only 15th among European countries in the use of new technology, he claimed, and science teaching had "deteriorated very much in recent years". The minister, an eminent geophysicist, called for a rethink.

He described technology as an area where "there is constant competition, there are changes every day and subjects are continually being born. How should we teach biology today? Or physics? Or chemistry?" Mme Royal, who takes charge of schools from nursery to baccalaureat level, listed her priorities as fighting against school failure and social exclusion, redistribution of funds to where they are needed most, measures against violence and the introduction of some kind of moral education including "citizens' days".

She announced that the "draconian" axing of classes and posts - a policy introduced by former education minister Francois Bayrou. She promised to create ancillary jobs in the schools for many of the young people currently unemployed.

At meetings with representatives of the teaching unions, parents and students, the two ministers proposed setting up working parties to prepare for the new academic year in September.

The working parties will look at the plan for young people and how it fits in with anti-violence measures, the curriculum and new technology, administrative and technical staff, development of research and technology and the student charter.

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