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French Government Attempts to Make Teaching Careers Attractive Again

Translated Thursday 31 January 2013, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Derek Hanson

The two competitive exams organized exceptionally this year should make the recruitment of 43,500 teachers possible, but the operation’s success is not a sure thing.

“There are recruiting problems but there is no lack of vocations,” Vincent Peillon keeps repeating. Faced with a dizzying fall in the number of teacher candidates, the minister of National Education, who is promising 43,500 new hires in 2013-2014, has decided to emphasize volunteerism to make teaching careers attractive again.

An initial publicity campaign was launched in December, accompanied by an opinion poll showing that 81% of the French have a “positive” image of the teaching profession and that three-quarters would be “proud” if their child went into teaching. But Vincent Peillon has not used publicity alone. He has also done everything to enlarge the pool of potential candidates as much as possible. Thus, the 43,500 future teachers will be recruited through two competitive exams.

The initial, written phase of the first competitive exam took place in the Autumn. This exam is intended to fill 22,100 teaching positions. It was open not only to 100,000 students currently enrolled in a second-year master’s program but also to 58,000 graduates from prestigious university level colleges and to 13,000 students pursuing their doctorate. Those who pass the written phase will go on to the oral exam phase this coming June. Those who pass the oral exam will assume their teaching positions at the beginning of the next school year.

Enrollment for the second competitive exam began on Jan. 15 and continues to Feb. 21. This exam is intended to fill 21,350 teaching positions. Enrollment is not only open to students enrolled in a first-year master’s program but also to second-year master’s students, whether they have a degree or not. The initial battery of exams will be held this coming June. Those who get through the first phase will be offered a contract and a teaching internship. They will teach one-third of a full teacher’s load but will be paid as if they were teaching half of a full load. The final exam phase will be held in June 2014, and successful candidates will assume their teaching positions at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year.

Will this measure prime the pump? Hard to say. These past few years, even though the number of job offers was very limited, the National Education service was unable to hire enough teachers. When the CAPES competitive exam was held, 978 teaching positions remained unfilled in 2011 and 706 in 2012.

It is particularly hard to find teachers for some subjects, such as French, English, and mathematics. Ten years ago, there were five times as many candidates.

Above all, the teaching profession was frazzled by the previous government and neither the working conditions nor the pay are very attractive. The starting salary remains lower than the average in the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It is less than 1700 euros a month net for people who have five years’ university education. Vincent Peillon does not intend to increase the salary.

For the time being, the National Education ministry has kept mum on the results of the initial written phase of the first competitive exam. In December, the minister only said that “the pool of students is sufficient,” while admitting that in mathematics, English, and French, there will be “more difficulty.” Hence, the situation is urgent, all the more so as, if the minister wants to fulfill the promise to create 60,000 net new teaching positions by the end of François Hollande’s five-year term, the ministry knows that some 150,000 new teachers will have to be recruited in that period.

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