Teacher training reforms announced by French education minister Luc Ferry will place more emphasis on practical skills and focus on areas such as combating illiteracy.
Closer collaboration between the universities and the IUFM (Instituts Universitaires de Formation des Maitres) - the 29 university-level teacher training colleges set up after 1989 - is among the more radical proposals.
Mr Ferry included teacher training reform as one of his priorities when he was appointed a year ago. He presented his plans to ministers this month, after a report by education inspectors in February criticised the present system and called for a radical rethink.
It accused successive governments of not specifying what teachers should be required to do, with the result that initial and continuing teacher training in the IUFM was out of line with the country's needs.
Among its criticisms, it says that new teachers are inadequately trained to cope with pupils. Training has become too complex, with trainees required to study instructions for practising teachers on matters such as education in citizenship, mastery of language, pupils' choices of studies, health, road safety and sex education. The report says there are too many different entrance exams, and in-service training has been neglected.
Mr Ferry's measures, which will take effect from autumn 2004, are based on the inspectors' recommendations. They include:
- Refocusing training on simple priorities, such as preventing illiteracy rather than "accumulation of diverse concerns of varying importance" that "too often destroy the efficiency of training"
- Closer links between theory and practice, with increased teaching practice in the classroom. Prospective secondary teachers will follow compulsory training in lycées professionnels, which teach vocational and work-based courses, to understand better the diversity of ability ranges and educational programmes. All trainees will learn how to cater for disabled pupils
- Overhauling the competitive recruitment exams, to ensure they correspond to the subjects candidates propose to teach
- The first year of teacher training at the IUFM should count towards university degree recognition. More flexible conditions of access to exams should be introduced for outside candidates, such as business professionals who want to take up teaching
- Development of partnerships between IUFM or education authorities and teacher training colleges abroad
- In-service training to receive a boost to keep established teachers abreast of developments.