Revolt persists against violence at work

16th February 1996 at 00:00
Teachers are not convinced that the Government is doing enough to keep them safe, reports Jane Marshall.

Teachers who have gone on strike in recent weeks over escalating violence in schools have dismissed government efforts to solve the problems.

Francois Bayrou, the education minister, announced measures to combat school violence earlier this month during a visit to a lower secondary in a "sensitive" area.

M Bayrou's visit coincided with the launch of the prime minister's Frs15 billion (Pounds 2bn) "pact" to revitalise deprived urban areas - where most of the disrupted schools are based. Last week, however, there were few signs of a return to calm.

Since January schools, mainly in the region surrounding Paris, have been shut for up to a week as teachers have protested against mounting violence. Staff have been attacked, classrooms have been wrecked, windows broken by stone-throwing youths and cars vandalised. At a school in Val-d'Oise region, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a classroom full of children.

Prime minister Alain Juppe's Pounds 2bn programme is intended to bring together national and local government, housing organisations, local business and the police, as well as education. It includes a job creation scheme for young people, of whom 615,000, or about one in five, are unemployed.

One recent battleground was the College Louise-Michel, in Rouen where youths held a "rodeo" of stolen cars in front of the school. While this scale of violence is rare, there are problems every day in the alienated sink suburbs of many French towns.

A ministry of education report published a year ago identified 220 "sensitive" schools where insults, fights, racketeering, stone-throwing and teacher intimidation were common.

M Bayrou announced a dozen anti-violence initiatives nearly a year ago, but many have either not started or have failed. Two of the three "additional" measures he revealed this month, were included in the original 12.

First, beleaguered teachers may ring a new hotline at the education ministry for help and advice on coping with violence.

Second, from the next academic year, all trainees will take courses in teaching in difficult areas. Third, a number of the new jobs will be reserved for local youngsters to work in schools as mediators and peace-keepers.

Teachers are reported to be sceptical, and last week unions called for members to demonstrate for more money.

M Bayrou said in the National Assembly: "Violence at school is a reflection of violence in society. For decades, we have pleaded for schools to be open . . . but now we must adopt the opposite position and work to make them sanctuaries again." He envisaged reintroducing laws to allow schools to refuse to accept troublesome pupils.

Meanwhile, M Juppe's "pact to relaunch the city" will create "free zones" for businesses, which will be exempt from tax and social charges for five years; introduce 100,000 subsidised community-based jobs for under-25s; and tighten up law and order with community policing and measures against drugs and juvenile delinquency.

Schools in the urban priority areas will receive extra money and help. The support will be similar to that provided in the 558 educational priority zones that already exist.

Timetables will be revised in these areas to create a shorter school day and a longer term, at an estimated annual cost of Frs 90 million (Pounds 13million) to cover 30,000 pupils. There will be more cash to set up education and leisure activities for teenagers after school and during holidays.

While it is widely accepted that exclusion and unemployment can drive young people to violence, teacher representatives have doubts about the government's solutions - chiefly about their financing. Only the Frs 2bn of the money earmarked for job creation is new.

Herve Baro, general secretary of the secondary teaching union SNES, said the pact was a long way from the promises made by President Jacques Chirac during his election campaign. "It is no more or less than an umpteenth plan, like others before, which bring neither hope nor happiness to those who suffer most in our society," he said.

SNES described the pact's educational measures as empty: "It tries to exploit the situation in these neighbourhoods to reduce teaching time, and increase the intervention of outside partners in the name of the school timetable.

"It redeploys the meagre resources of the 1996 budget, and stretches a little further all the least costly educational solutions, such as hiring conscripts and student volunteers," it said.

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