When, during his presidential election campaign, François Hollande promised the creation of 60,000 jobs in the education sector, he was met with applause and criticism in equal measure.
Hollande’s promise, which was launched amid controversy over how it would be funded, became one of his key manifesto propositions.
The applause, mainly from the Left, came for his rejection of the all-austerity dogma that demands a constant reduction of the public sector payroll, and also for recognizing the importance of investment in education. His critics, the majority of them from the Right, saw in this an irresponsible deepening of the public debt in a cynical bid for votes.
But now, following the election of Hollande and a socialist majority in parliament, implementation of the plan has met with an obstacle which few had foreseen; there are simply not enough candidates. The situation is so surprising that education minister Vincent Peillon earlier this month announced he was extending the deadline for applications by students to sit national exams for teaching posts, from July 10th to July 19th.
Already, the results of the yearly exams for the Capes (certificat d’aptitude au professorat de l’enseignement du second degré), the professional qualification for secondary school teachers, showed a 15% shortfall of candidates for existing vacant teaching posts. These 706 unfilled vacancies included 300 mathematics teachers, 131 English teachers and 95 classical literature teachers.
Candidates for primary school teaching posts have also fallen, although less sharply.
Teacher unions argue that one immediate reason for the shortfall is the 2010 reform led by former education minister Xavier Darcos, under Hollande’s presidential predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, which centred on a fast-track scheme to bring Master degree students into teaching jobs, allowing them to skip the one-year teacher-training course. “The Darcos ‘masterisation’ led to a depletion of the pool of candidates by the simple fact that while there are 300,000 bachelor degree graduates, there are just100,000 master degree students, not all of whom, quite naturally, want to enter education,” commented Christian Chevalier, general secretary of the SE Unsa union, the third largest representative body among secondary school teachers.
Practical problems were also inherent in the Darcos scheme, for those Master degree students who choose to join the educational sector are required to prepare for entry exams while also completing the intensive final stages of their degree course - a stressful hurdle that would likely deter many.
But the most profound reason for the problem is that a teaching career is no longer one that young people aspire to. “The image of schools as portrayed in the media, and in films, is one of anxiety, with the job of teacher perceived as a difficult one,” commented Chevalier.
Chevalier believes widespread concerns about violence in schools are caused by “a generalization based on a few cases”. Nevertheless, a number of shocking events, like the case of the teacher who set fire to herself last October in a secondary school playground in Beziers, southern France, have created a malaise within, and outside of, the profession. Adding to the disenchantment is the fact that teachers in France are among the worst-paid of any in OECD member-countries.