France's teacher training institutes face a major overhaul as they prepare to integrate with universities and make their programmes longer, with a greater emphasis on practical elements.
Gilles de Robien, Education Minister, last week outlined the changes, due to start by autumn 2008, after recommendations by the Haut Conseil de L'education (HCE).
The HCE was set up to advise on the education system under a 2005 reform to establish a "common core" of knowledge and skills that every pupil should achieve.
The same law set in motion the integration of the 31 Instituts Universitaires de Formation des Maitres (IUFM), postgraduate teacher training colleges, with universities.
Mr de Robien asked the HCE to propose teacher training improvements. He took inspiration from other European countries, such as encouraging secondary-level trainees to teach more than one subject.
"Reform of teacher training has become urgent," Mr de Robien said. He added that the training must be adapted to the needs of pupils today.
Trainees complain that courses are too abstract and that there is not enough teaching practice to prepare them for the reality of their first job, where they are thrust into a post often in a "difficult" school.
Posts are allocated according to a scale that takes into account factors such as length of service. New teachers usually start their careers in areas rejected by longer serving colleagues.
The HCE aims to professionalise the theoretical approach to teaching. It challenges the assumption that expertise in a subject makes a teacher competent.
It lists additional practical skills that students must master. These include recognising pupils' diversity; ability to control a class; working with colleagues in a multidisciplinary team; coping with parents and difficult situations; and acting ethically.
The BCE recommends that training starts before students attend the IUFM and continues afterwards. Undergraduates should be able to follow multidisciplinary degrees including "observation" placements.
Teachers' first posts should be at schools in the authority where they were trained, so they continue to receive guidance from their IUFM for two years after starting work. Inservice training should be compulsory throughout teachers' careers.
All trainers of student teachers should have regular classroom experience, the HCE adds; and the trainees, whatever their speciality, should do a placement in industry to acquaint them with the world of work their pupils will encounter.