Tens of thousands of people across France have been demonstrating against education reform plans. More than half of all teachers followed the call for strike according to unions – the interior ministry put the figure at around a third.
They are protesting against a range of reforms including plans to cut thousands of teaching jobs. “We’re striking and demonstrating today against the French education minister’s plans to cut weekly class attendance by two hours for primary school students, and to get rid of specialised help for special needs children,” said union member Claude Charnont. “Education is one of the most important things in our society and it’s unbearable that the government has decided to make budget cuts there,” said student Elodie Kuhn.
It is the first test for new laws introduced by President Nicolas Sarkozy, under which local councils must provide a minimum service in schools in the event of a strike. “We had put in place a system which enabled us to ensure a minimum service,” said one local councillor. “But here we’ve reached our limit, because the personnel we had trained to look after the children in schools are mostly on strike.”
Unions have threatened further strike action unless the government agrees to open talks in the coming days. The government says it will stand firm, arguing the changes are necessary to modernise France’s education system.