The start of the new school year marks the introduction of the "teachers' pact" for French schools, a new scheme enabling teachers to take on additional better-paid assignments. But unions have denounced the measure, calling for unconditional pay rises.
It's back-to-school time for 12 million students in France, and the French government is proposing a "teachers' pact" for educators in primary and secondary schools.
Under the scheme, teachers will be offered additional, better-paid assignments and duties, but unconvinced school staff, who feel underpaid and overworked, are angry that the government's only apparent solution to stagnant teacher salaries is to burden them with even more to do.
"It would suggest that we have time [to take on more work], but we don't," laments Janette Barrier, a school teacher interviewed by Euronews. "We're already overloaded and the pay rises aren't up to scratch. Otherwise, there wouldn't be a recruitment crisis."
The pact will give primary and secondary school teachers the opportunity to carry out assignments paid at double the rate of a standard overtime hour. At a minimum, this works out at an additional 18 hours per year, paid at €1,250 gross.
"No pact was signed here!"
Far from embracing the opportunity to 'work more to earn more', teachers across France have poured scorn on a scheme that they see as an order to work harder.
"Having an extra 18 hours puts pressure on teachers," says Bachir Touati Tliba, headteacher at Tonkin High School in Villeurbanne, near Lyon.
When adding the time it takes to plan lessons, deliver them, meet with parents and handle any additional duties -- such as acting as head -- schoolteachers often have a packed timetable that makes it impossible to fit in extra hours.
"No pact has been signed here," the principal tells Euronews. His school's teachers have refused to sign it out of principle, or due to their lack of availability, because they don't see it as a pay rise, but a demand to work more.
"Some will do it out of necessity to make ends meet [...] but not everyone has the opportunity to work overtime, so it's discriminatory," laments Janette Barrier, a member of the Sgen-CFDT teachers union.
"The [education] ministry opted for this project to better control the system [...] but it creates rigidity in the way things work," explains Bachir Touati Tliba.
Different types of assignments allowing teachers to fill in for an absent colleague were already made possible before, but teachers feel the new pact was rushed through.
"It [the previous replacement system] was already more or less organised, but now the system is incomplete," laments Janette Barrier.
"It wasn't designed for general and technological high schools," says François Tessier, history-geography teacher and president of the SNALC union at the Orléans-Tours Academy.
"More concern than enthusiasm"
For teachers, the new pact is just one of many symptoms of a failing school system.
François Tessier told Euronews he regrets French education's current inefficiency and pointed to the deterioration of another government-implemented homework scheme, which was previously effective but is now "distorted" in his opinion.
"It's a kind of fabricated white elephant, with elementary school teachers coming in to teach pupils in sixth grade [first level of high school] whom they don't know," he explains.
"School teachers won't be able to give support to sixth-graders, they already have enough hours, and travel between schools isn't paid for," says Janette Barrier.
"Simply putting an adult in front of students doesn't mean there will be better teaching," she adds.
Salary increases for new teachers
This new school year has brought salary increases for some teachers, however. Almost 853,700 teachers will see their wages rise between €125 and €250 net per month, depending on the time of contract they're on.
This follows President Emmanuel Macron's announcement that no tenured teacher will be paid less than €2,000 net per month.
"Considering the number of teachers, this represents a considerable sum, but it doesn't make up for the pay gap that has plagued the teaching profession for decades," laments François Tessier.
"This will only apply to the rare new teachers, all the veterans [with 20 to 30 years experience] are forgotten," explains Janette Barrier.
A "political" project based on "communication"
Rather than focussing on benefits for students and staff alike, some teachers accuse the government of playing politics.
"There's more of a political will in this project than an educational or pedagogical one," says Bachir Touati Tliba.
"There's far too much communication, there's no plan!" complains Janette Barrier.
When it comes to communication, the government seems to be addressing parents rather than teachers and school heads.
"For the past six to seven years, we've been learning everything from the media, and school leaders were informed after everyone else," says François Tessier; "BFM TV [France's number one 24/7 news channel] was informed before us," explains Bachir Touati Tliba.
The teachers pact is already up and running but it's yet to be seen how many teachers have signed up for it and whether the government will consider it a success. While the education ministry was hoping for a 30% up-take rate, education minister Gabriel Attal is more cautious and has refrained from making any predictions.