France Debates New School Calendar

Vincent Peillon

As soon as he assumed his position as Minister of Education in May, Vincent Peillon talked about a reform of the school calendar, asserting that “a four day week, very long holidays, overcrowded days, this is not good for anyone.” His concern comes from a report published in July 2011 and led by Luc Chatel, the former Minister of Education.

Peillon wants to lighten the days of students, with the aim of adapting schedules to the biological rhythm of children. Mornings would be only for subjects, such as French and Math, and class would finish earlier, leaving the afternoon for sports and artistic activities. The lunch break would be 90 minutes long, as it is supposed to be now, but is often reduced for extra help for children with learning difficulties.

These changes mean that there will be fewer hours of teaching, which would be offset by a half day added on Wednesday or Saturday. This would still decrease the total hours of teaching to 23 hours a week, which is not enough compared to other European countries. Therefore, the holiday calendar would be slightly modified compensate for the lack in hours. Every seven weeks of work would be followed by two weeks of holidays, and the summer break would be shortened by two weeks.

This system has been tested in some schools beginning in 2010, and the results are impressive. Teachers and parents feel that the children seem more rested and that they are doing their homework more easily. In fact, in the elementary school of Isoret, 79% of parents said that they were thrilled by this new organization, and many parents in the region tried to put their children in this particular school.

However, not everything in the system is perfect and many problems remain to be solved. The idea of athletic and artistic activities after 3:30 p.m. raises enthusiasm but costs a lot of money. Two solutions have been proposed: the first is to leave the children with their parents, who will sign them up for various activities. However, not all the parents have money to pay for activities and, most of all, working parents would then need to pay a babysitter to drive children to the activities. This would widen the gap between rich and poor families.

The second solution is to make the schools provide activities free of charge, but not all of the schools have the same budget, and the problem would be the same between rich and poor schools. Moreover, this option would come at a great cost to the state, since one more day of school a week requires a greater level of maintenance and more public transportation.

Peillon wants to submit a bill to the Senate before November in order to have the reform included in the 2013 budget, but despite the many debates and meetings, the project is progressing rather slowly. In fact, everyone agrees that the school system must be reformed, but the solutions offered so far do not muster unanimity.

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