Truce ends war with minister;Briefing

15th January 1999 at 00:00
FRANCE

Education minister Claude All gre and the biggest secondary teachers' union SNES have called a truce after nearly 18 months of hostility.

Negotiations have taken place about Mr All gre's proposed lycee reforms, which are to come into effect from next September but had lacked the support of SNES. The union had criticised the introduction of a lighter curriculum.

The SNES compromise has removed or watered down a number of the radical proposals made by Professor Meirien. For instance a reorganisation of teachers' schedules has been omitted and a move to concentrate learning on basic facts and concepts has been dropped.

Following talks, a revised version of the lycee charter, based on findings of a public consultation last year, has gone for consideration to all secondary unions. At least two have voiced concern.

Mr All gre upset the FSU, the left-wing teachers' federation of which SNES is part, soon after he became education minister in Lionel Jospin's socialist-led government in mid-1997.

Although the minister restored job cuts, gave priority to deprived schools and pupils, tackled school violence and boosted youth employment, he was determined to reorganise, decentralise and trim the bureaucracy of the huge ministry - "cutting the fat off the mammoth". He wanted to end what he called "co-management with the unions", a reference to the frequent meetings his predecessor held with SNES.

Relations deteriorated further when he criticised teachers' "unacceptably high rate of absenteeism" and questioned why they should attend in-service training during term-time.

Last September a further cause for rage was a recalculation of overtime payments which cut secondary teachers' rates by 17 per cent; the money saved was for recruiting classroom assistants under a youth employment plan.

At the height of hostilities, Mr All gre refused to speak the name of SNES's general secretary, Monique Vuaillat.

But with the introduction of reforms, particularly of the lycees, consultation became inevitable. Intermediaries opened contact, and Mr All gre and Mme Vuaillat met discreetly last month. The minister's first public sign of conciliation was an article in Le Monde entitled "Teachers, I am one of you!" which was followed by a joint interview in the Le Journal du Dimanche.

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