France overhauled its in-service training in 1998, but the right of all teachers to take time off to attend courses to improve their practice is long-standing. Training for teachers and heads is free and can take place during term-time or holidays. Courses might last from a day or two up to a year, although opportunities for long leave are now rare.
Training is not compulsory, but most teachers will participate at least once during their careers. Short courses do not affect a teacher's pay, but those on long-term study usually receive only 80 per cent of their salary.
In-service training for primary teachers is organised by the education inspectorate of the local departement - equivalent to a county - while those for secondary teachers are the responsibility of the rectorat, the local arm of the Education Ministry.
The inspectorate or rectorat draws up plans that define the training to be provided, taking into account teacher needs and fixing objectives. The specifications are passed to the local teacher-training college which organises the training.
Teachers apply for courses from a catalogue published annually by the rectorat. For example, in Versailles, France's biggest education authority, some 1,500 courses are on offer. Teachers can update their knowledge of the subjects they teach; learn skills such as ICT, which accounts for 17 per cent of in-service training nationally; study job-related issues such as school management or problems like pupil violence; or take courses accompanying educational reforms in some subjects such as teamwork with colleagues. They prepare teachers seeking promotion for internal exams.
But according to Maryl ne Cahouet of the secondary teachers' union SNES, teachers' continuing training is the poor relation of the education service.
Funding has been falling during the past 10 years, she claims, from more than 3 per cent of the wage bill to 2.4 per cent now. Longer courses are giving way to shorter ones, and problems such as replacing teachers in the classroom mean their requests for training are more likely to be postponed or turned down.