Unions warn of policy deadlock

19th December 1997 at 00:00
France. Relations between the government and teaching unions deteriorated last week when the leader of the biggest teachers' federation attacked education ministers Claude Allegre and Segolene Royal.

At the congress of the Federation Syndicale Unitaire, general secretary Michel Deschamps condemned M Allegre for his "unacceptable accusations and provocation" which would lead "educational policy into deadlock and confrontation".

M Allegre upset teachers this summer by criticising their "unacceptably high" absenteeism rate, proposing that in-service training take place during school holidays and by his plans to decentralise some of his ministry's functions.

M Deschamps described the minister's first six months as "disquieting". Although he had appreciated the government's early measures, now "the All gre policy seems confused, contradictory and even dangerous".

He also accused the minister of turning public opinion against teachers. A poll published this month showed that the minister has won public approval for planned changes to the school timetable, primary and lower secondary reforms and teacher reorganisation.

More than three-quarters of those questioned thought teachers should take in-service courses outside school time. More than half of parents questioned thought teachers were absent too often.

M Deschamps also vigorously defended Monique Vuaillat, general secretary of the SNES, France's biggest secondary teachers' union. He said she was the victim of a "campaign of rumours and personal attacks tolerated at the highest ministerial level".

The previous government had co-operated with the SNES, notably over the administration of teacher transfers. This will change under Claude All gre's decentralisation plans.

Following the minister's criticism of the old system, his relations with the union have deteriorated so badly that All gre now refuses to name the SNES in public.

Segol ne Royal, the junior minister for schools, fuelled the row by attacking what she called union "corporatism and impediments" and declaring that there would be no future joint decision-making. The following day, she backtracked, saying she had made no hostile comments about the unions but "within the limits of respect for dialogue, ministers are assuming their responsibilities".

Jane Marshall

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