French pupils strike against phantom holiday cut

Click to follow

Schoolchildren in several French towns have joined wildcat strikes against a government plan to cut a month from their summer holidays.

No such plan exists. Nonetheless, a rumour has swept through social networking sites in recent days that "Sarko" plans to "steal a month" of the summer holidays. As a result, there have been walk-outs and marches by teenagers in south-west France, Normandy, the Rhône Valley and the Greater Paris area.

What is the origin of the rumour? The Education Minister, Luc Chatel, has called for discussions on the oddities of the French school timetable, which has longer working days and longer holidays than most other European countries. This consultation exercise has been transformed by the internet into a definite plan to lop at least four weeks from the nine-week summer school holiday.

"I thought it was just a rumour, but many of the others believe in it," said Nina, 14, a pupil in Vaucluse in the Rhône Valley. "For others, it was a good excuse not to go to school."

Whatever the outcome of Mr Chatel's talks, a large cut in the summer holidays is unthinkable. The influential teaching unions have always resisted any reduction in school holidays, let alone a whole month.

France has more school hours than its neighbours, shoe-horned into fewer school days. Even primary school children have classes from 8.30am to 4.30pm. Lycée pupils often have to stay until 6pm. On the other hand, schools break up for nine weeks in the summer with two-week breaks at Christmas and Easter and a two-week "skiing break" in February. Overall, French schools have an average of 914 timetabled hours a year, compared to around 800 in most other EU countries.

The Education Minister has called for a "dispassionate debate". Evidently, he omitted to post his wishes on Facebook.