French pupils' strike spreads

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS OF sixth-formers walked out of classes in 30 towns across France this week, complaining about crowded classes, long hours, crumbling schools and a shortage of teachers.

The leaders of the protests, which began in Nimes, have called for a nationwide strike next week if their demands are not met. The Education Minister, Claude Allegre, met a representative of the main union of lycee pupils yesterday to try to defuse the crisis.

In a sense, he brought the problem on himself. Last year he circulated all 1.5 million lycee pupils, asking for comments and ideas on the future of the state school system.

He was inundated with replies, many supporting his own arguments that the curriculum was too heavy and fact-based, that the hours were too long and the schools ill-equipped and badly organised to meet the demands of modern education.

In summer he admitted nothing could be done to improve the pupils' lot in time for the new school year, which started last month; it would be another year before effective reforms would be in place.

The Nimes protesters said they had to study demanding science and language courses with up to 39 pupils in a class; that constant repair work on their schools made studying impossible; and that a shortage of teachers had forced the cancellation of sports and some subject combinations.

At some schools, especially in the Paris area, protesters complained that their lives were being made impossible by violence and protection rackets run by fellow pupils.