Teacher training overhaul

March 2, 2001

France's teacher training is to undergo wide-ranging reforms that will affect every sector of the system, from improving future teachers' knowledge of their specialised subjects before they start formal training, to continuing training for new teachers and revamped recruitment methods for education lecturers.

Announcing the measures this week, education minister Jack Lang said that if teachers could not master the subject they had to teach and the methods for transmitting it, the result would be "failure by exclusion" for pupils.

Among the reforms, university courses for the licence and maîtrise will offer complementary units relevant for students hoping to enter teaching.

The Instituts Universitaires de Formation des Matres (IUFMs) will better prepare students for the realities of professional life. During the second year, seminars for primary trainees will reinforce links between educational theory and practice, with a third of time devoted to the teaching of reading, writing and maths. Secondary trainees will learn to deal with violent and rowdy pupils.

The complete five-year course may qualify students for a masters degree, bringing France into line with other European countries.

Teacher trainers will be required to have recent experience of "real" work -nearly 40 per cent have had no contact with a class for several years.

The renovation comes a decade after the last complete overhaul of the system created the IUFM postgraduate colleges, which train for all teaching levels from nursery to lycée and raised the status of primary teachers to equal that of their secondary colleagues. So far the institutes have trained nearly 200,000 teachers.

The reforms answer some of the criticisms of Gilles Bertrand, president of the Comité National d'Evaluation that has inspected 22 of France's 29 postgraduate teacher training institutes since 1996, in a recent report.

He asked the minister for a detailed definition of teachers' roles and responsibilities "to guide the direction of training, and clarify procedures for those entering the profession, and for teacher trainers and recruiters".

The report criticised the abrupt switch of status from student to teacher that occurred at the end of the first year at an IUFM, when trainees took a qualifying exam. The nature of the exam should be more vocational, the report said.

Mr Bertrand noted that until 1996, the quality of teacher training candidates had been high, but since the recovery of the economy numbers of applicants had dropped, especially in physics and maths, and vocational and technological subjects.

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