Absent teachers

Warning - this is a rant!!

Last week my step-sons Spanish teacher was absent from the lycee. She is also absent this week. The English teacher is absent this week on Thursday and Friday. There is no explanation from the school as to why this is the case. As well as these absences today there was a strike and there were no teachers at all.

There are no supply teachers and the class is never left work to do when teachers are not there. The children are expected to sit in a classroom, unsupervised, and study - whatever that means.

These planned absences happen on a regular basis, as much as weekly. The online timetable will show a "prof absent" in advance so this is not just sickness.

What a sorry state of affairs. Dare I say it this would not happen in the UK.

This week it's the turn of the history/geography teacher to be absent. That's 3 weeks in a row that teachers have been absent or 6 hours teaching time (plus another 6 hours for the day of the strike). Whatever the reason the children should be left work to do and be properly supervised. 12 hours of lost learning time in just 3 weeks is unacceptable.

What a great idea.

No, it's not. Although I believe others like it exist in France (there are a couple in Paris), ours is a private association on the cote d'azur. Parents pay us tuition for the English and History/Geography classes, but the classes take place within the public schools. Students can go straight from our classes to their other subjects taught in French.

Hi Holly

Is your association nationwide? I'm sure there are lots of SFN people who might be interested if so? x

Alas Cheryl I'd never get a job in London - too old to retrain or get a visa. It's not quality that counts.

I cannot entirely agree. We have teachers among our friends who are dedicated, hard working people trying to do what they are supposed to do. It is not just rote learning, no opinion, be quiet and know your place either. Yes, they exist and probably too many. Things need to change and there the writing is on the wall for them to see. At least two French universities used to be in the top 10 in the world 20 years ago, at present only one is in the top 100 and that is not the one everybody expects. The one Véro and I are alumni of has retained either second, third or fourth place for decades. I spent 30 and a bit years there, did lots of teaching too. Not a French university, of course. French students came with all the essential tools for study but no idea how to use them. I had an excellent doctoral student I co-supervised, a clever, clever book learner but doing field based work he had not a clue because he had never been prepared for anything outside a classroom. In fact, many of the errors learned at each layer of school and through French undergraduate study came with him. For somebody studying social anthropology he had the least useful amount of geography. Beyond France and former French colonies he scarcely knew which continents countries were on. Bolivia in East Africa is the classic I will never forget. As for being told to go out to find materials himself, he could only ask precisely which books I meant him to read. The word 'choose' foxed him. Yet for all of that he was incredibly well educated in things UK students fell apart doing, for instance writing good grammatical English. Alongside domestic students from the top public schools he would have been top of that class, somehow the way of teaching language by dogged repetition and treating them (sorry Véro) clinically the way I was actually taught half a century ago worked.

Perhaps the solution is between the two somewhere. The structure is outmoded here, teachers not really that well treated by the state anyway (yeah, yeah jobs for life - that does not mean they are in clover) and the incentives to do anything creatively in an inflexible curriculum are just not there. It is probably a case of the entire European continent banging its collective heads together and seeing that if they cherry picked the best of what each country has to offer then countries like China and India that are modernising education at quite a good pace will not run off ahead. I doubt, Cheryl, your voice is any more than just another in the wilderness given that among the teachers we know there are people who have a lot to say but are not being heard. Above all else, perhaps the old regime that controls education should be locked away in homes for the elderly and young, visionary people put in their places? Even then I wonder, many of the powers that be would have been my contemporaries at the time of the '68 student actions who demanded change. Perhaps, what I am saying is wrong and it is simply what people want because they feel safe with that? It is deeper than what the article implies and so I would say I doubt very much whether that article 'says it all' or indeed his book either.

Has anybody read Peter Gumbel's book on French state education? This article says it all:


As an education consultant (retired head) I have a number of ways to help with the key issues, but the bureaucracy involved in getting to speak to anyone with influence in France is defeating me at the moment..

Aha! I didn't realise you were a Kiwi...in the London schools I have worked in the Aussie and Kiwi teachers were without exception, stunning.

Absolutely right Brian. If I'd been an EU with a CDI contract my story would be entirely different and very much more positive.

Cheryl, Frances is a New Zealander, that is a large part of her problem.

Frances, you might want to check out about getting work in schools - as it is th EU, there certainly used to be a system of "mutual recognition" so if you are UK qualified as a teacher your recognition as qualified to teach should be automatic - see http://ec.europa.eu/growth/single-market/services/free-movement-professionals/qualifications-recognition/index_en.htm - teachers are specifically mentioned under

Directive 2005/36/EC


I'm an English teacher in a lycee in southern France and understand your frustration. I work for a private association that hires native English speakers to teach English and History/Geography within the French school system and alongside French Education teachers. When I started my job, I was surprised to learn that when a teacher is absent, there are no substitutes to take over. For us, if another employed teacher can and is willing to take the class, then that is what happens. Work is provided. If not, the class is canceled. For a medical issue that I had last year, I found out that one of my classes didn't meet for two weeks! Luckily, I was able to connect with most of the students through a Facebook page that was created to let students know about homework, upcoming tests, teacher absences, special reminders, etc.

Currently, I am on maternity leave (I go back after the February vacation), but you can bet that I'm checking in with the replacement teacher and making sure that I know what has been taught, what I will encounter upon my return, and so forth. Obviously, it was a planned absence, so my position was advertised and the teacher is highly qualified. Our association is growing too, so it sounds as if we may be able to keep a couple trained teachers as substitutes. With the amount of teachers we have, the one or two hired should have more or less a full work week, especially during the winter months.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like this is important in the French Education system. The French Education teachers that I know DO care about their students (of course, there are some that I know who don't) and they prepare lessons like crazy and correct essays and try to have lessons that are creative, fun, and educational, but for the ones that are there who don't seem to care, I wonder about burnout. Perhaps they came into teaching with great enthusiasm, but looking at the things that they are asked to do and then looking at what they get paid which, in my opinion, is horribly low considering everything that they are asked to do...it's enough to get anyone down.

As said, we can't. Classes are not supposed to be unattended, full stop. If their teacher isn't with them a pion is supposed to be - how the Vie Scolaire sorts out its people is sometimes interesting, however.

I'm quite shocked and surprised, to read these posts....

After taking an early retirement option from my Art & Design Co-ordinators post (due to local authority re-organising provision& school closure)in the UK, I signed up with teaching agencies and worked on supply for a few years (which meant a significant pay cut, no teachers pension contributions), sometimes covering Art, but mainly on 'General Supply', covering most other subjects....Interesting at best but could also be very frustrating, as I'm sure you can imagine..

There is no way in the UK that a class could be left unattended....asking for a whole lot of trouble even in schools where behaviour is not usually an issue.....How on earth do they get away with it ?

I did a lesson on gender roles and women's clothing in sub-continental India & my pupils (boys & girls) got to try on saris, shalvar-kameez, and an Afghan chaddri (the blue pleated burqa with the net eye-piece) I had to run the chaddri by my Head first, for obvious reasons... very effective. My daughter's Latin teachers have been excellent so far & not at all dull, I wish they had been, they wouldn't be missed so much next year.

When you say children of such a young age do you mean collégiens? You would have LOATHED my prep school in Scotland! & yet it was marvellous... What age-group did you teach? Do ask about the bac, send me a pm if you like.

Hi Veronique

We taught English, Art, Design & Technology and Maths. Yes, of course there is no perfect system - we have seen quite a few in our teaching years, we just find it very sad that children of such a young age are stifled so much. It all depends on the teacher and we were delighted to see that Latin and Greek were offered and signed our son up for Latin in the hope that it would help his French - he is completely fluent verbally, but as he has only been in the system for 2 years his written and reading ability is slower. However...the Latin teacher is SOOOO dull. Case in point the class were learning about how to wear a toga. Oh great said I, do you all have to take in a sheet? No, nothing quite as fun as that mum, he replied. We're just watching a video..... what an opportunity missed. The saving grace for the school is that it is small, friendly and the principal is a very nice, approachable man who likes the kids. So in this time of upheaval and anxiety, we are happy that we have this for our child.

I do have a completely separate question about the English BAC exam, but I'm going to post it separately.

Bon Appetit!

I catch up what has been missed if I have been absent by rewriting my lessons and getting to the same point in a different way but then with the Bac in view my pupils tend to get on with it. Collège or lycée? What size? Where? that isn't the usual thing at all... we aren't allowed to leave pupils unattended, both for their sake & that of school equipment for which we are personally liable should something happen to it at a time pupils are supposed to be under our supervision. (just as we are personally liable for the pupils themselves as I said somewhere above). Sometimes the Rectorat sends us off on courses but they aren't really that frequent, or that long... if it is personal then you won't get an answer except from the person in question who may not want to talk about it for whatever reason (eg IVF or being put in the local mental hospital for a rest or whatever*). There should be no noise in étude, anything over a very low volume of noise is unacceptable and means étude serves no purpose. It sounds as if school has more problems than just teacher absences.

*I'm NOT casting aspersions at people with fertility problems or mental health problems, nor am I saying that they are in ANY way equivalent or comparable, but one thing these conditions do have in common is that a person might not want their pupils to know about them. Yes I admit I know nothing about either condition, I'm using them as an example of something that can't be helped but that a person might find embarrassing to talk about if they suffer from them, esp to teenagers. I'm sorry if I have offended anyone.

My goodness this has started a brilliant discussion!

I didn't expect the same problem to exist nationwide. I thought it was just because of the rural nature of the area we live in but clearly this is not the case.

Veronique - I'm sorry to hear your sad news. Genuine illness is really not what I'm talking about.

I don't believe that these numerous planned absences are for genuine illness. There are so many of them. The Spanish teacher I referred to in my original post had the current 2 week absence already in the diary. The school obviously knew about it and still didn't provide an alternative. This is not the first time either and I have no idea why she is so regularly absent but there should be a process in place for this situation. How can the kids learn the curriculum when such large sections of it are being missed.

For those of you saying the kids are supervised that is not my experience. They are left in a classroom to "study" and, from time to time, someone pokes their head around the door and shouts at the kids to shut up. This lasts for about 3 seconds before the general mayhem continues. It's not just what I have been told I have witnessed this myself.

Thanks for all your posts. It's been fascinating so far.

Yes, I expect that's so - poss prépa or just other courses. University in France is a real toss-up, excellent for some things in some places & truly terrible elsewhere, & very unfair in the name of fairness