French to overhaul teacher training

March 24, 2000

A decade after comprehensive reform, France's teacher training faces a fresh overhaul, which will give added weight to professional skills and provide students with more classroom experience.

The education ministry has issued proposals for change that are under discussion with teachers' representatives, the universities and the 29 Instituts Universitaires de Formation des Maitres (IUFM) - the university institutes of teacher training. The final version will be ready in May, with the new measures due to start in September 2001.

The IUFM, set up between 1989 and 1991, introduced a new teacher-training system that gave priority to raising teaching standards and equality of status for all teachers. Previously, primary teachers (instituteurs) and secondary teachers (professeurs) were trained in separate institutions and had different statuses; instituteurs did not need a university degree.

Now, during a two-year post-graduate course, the IUFM trains a student body numbering nearly 80,000 for all teaching grades and, whether preparing for a career in a nursery school or a lycee, entrants need at least a licence (BA equivalent). Primary teachers who have graduated from the institutes are now called professeurs d'ecoles.

But while the IUFM has raised standards, critics, including education minister Claude Allegre, believe that trainees lack sufficient contact with pupils and the reality of the classroom.

Young teachers say the training is too theoretical and focuses excessively on the subjects they are to teach. Teaching union Snesup-FSU estimates that 10 to 15 per cent of secondary teachers have major difficulties coping in the classroom.

Under the new measures, first-year trainees will spend 12 weeks, rather than the present eight, working in the classroom; and the competitive recruitment exam will be made less academic, instead emphasising oral and professional skills.

Second-year students will also spend more time teaching in class. In a new transitional third year, the newly qualified teachers will regularly return to their IUFM for tutoring.

Even before they start their training at an IUFM, undergraduates considering a teaching career will be able to take

"pre-vocational" modules in such subjects as epistemology and knowledge of the education system as part of their university studies.

The units, which were introduced years ago but which few universities offer, will be resurrected under the new measures.

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