Top French institute censored

September 10, 1999

PARIS

Lax administration, falsified payments and excessive granting of sick leave are among charges made in a damning report on France's principal education research institute.

Philippe Meirieu, former professor of education at Lyons University, commissioned the investigation into the Institut National de Recherche Pedagogique last year shortly after he took over as director.

The report by the General Inspectorate of Administration of National Education (IGAEN) has been submitted to education minister Claude Allegre, who appointed Mr Meirieu to reorganise the INRP and make it of more practical use to teachers.

The institute - with a budget this year of ¤12 million (Pounds 8 million) - is traditionally viewed as spearheading French educational research.

According to the unpublished report leaked to Le Monde, individual departments had a "wide margin of financial manoeuvre" regarding telephone and duplicating expenses, despite ostensibly adequate administrative controls. They each independently purchased their own photocopiers and computers, so machines were incompatible with each other, expensive and oversupplied.

Inspectors found numerous cases of petty dishonesty due to lack of budgetary controls. Cited were a baker's shop assistant and a child minder who were paid for temporary work for which they were unqualified. A retired primary schoolteacher had a contract to "observe classes" during December last year.

Investigation revealed payment of unearned bonuses, for example to a member of staff "of whom it is public knowledge that he has not written a line for nine years", Le Monde said. Inspectors also noted that 84 employees had taken 1,758 days off sick - equivalent to eight-and-a-half full-time posts. "Do INRP officials have particularly delicate health?" the newspaper asked, noting that some couples had taken the same days off sick: "a coincidence too disturbing not to raise".

Dishonesty aside, inspectors criticised the age structure of the 4 personnel. Of 114 researchers, 63 have worked more than 12 years at the institute, including eight for more than 30 years; and 56 are aged over 50. "Employees have grown old in their posts in most cases," said the report, which also commented that associated teachers were concentrated in the Paris region, producing "research based on observation of a school population essentially coming from the Ile-de-France".

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