Replacing absent teachers: a headache for National Education

Replacing absent teachers a puzzle for National Education

The President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed on July 24 that there would be "a teacher in front of each class in September. We are putting in place a system that will make it possible to no longer lose teaching hours, first by putting the continuing education modules out of the time spent in front of the students, and then by having a more efficient replacement system.

These are strong announcements, but the past tends to show that "putting in place for the start of the school year a system which will make it possible to no longer lose teaching hours" is more a utopia than an objective. really achievable, even if there are indeed possible margins of progress as we are far from it.

Differences between first and second degree

In secondary education, and until the end of the 1950s, the replacement of teachers absent for a short period essentially involved welcoming students "permanently", but a permanence where it was possible that they were not only monitored but also framed by the then existing bodies of "masters of studies" or "teacher teachers". These bodies of educators did not survive the demographic wave that followed the Liberation and the massification of secondary education.

In primary education, the device is historically derived from the law of May 8, 1951. The memo dated March 25, 1982 specifies the need to reserve the replacement holders of the ZIL (local intervention areas) for short-term replacements (ordinary sick leave, internships, absences, etc.), and those of the brigade (departmental level) for long replacements (holidays long illness, maternity leave, etc.). According to the DEPP, for the year 2019-2020, more than 8% of teachers are substitute teachers in primary compared to 2,7% in secondary.

Teacher absences from students are less penalizing in primary education than in secondary education, because the substitute teachers are, like the teachers in the schools they replace, versatile, which facilitates their assignment. The rate of substitution in front of students rose to 80% during the 2017-2018 school year. While waiting for a replacement (or in the absence of a replacement sometimes), the director distributes the pupils affected by the absence between several classes.

Anglet: absent teachers not replaced, "it's a disaster" according to the parents of students (France 3 Nouvelle-Aquitaine, 2021).

We are therefore still a long way from the objective set by the President of the Republic, despite the staff resources implemented in primary education and even if many observers consider that primary education is a "good student" in matter, in comparison to the second degree.

In middle school and high school, the replacement rate certainly reached 96%, but only for "long absences" (greater than 15 days). Because short absences represent 2,5 million hours, and less than a fifth is replaced. Slightly downgraded figures compared to 2017, the date of a previous report of the Court of Auditors on the subject, with similar findings.

Steps taken by parents of students

A major change, however: families accept this situation less and less, no doubt alerted by the health crisis which has highlighted certain difficulties of the school in ensuring the "educational continuity". They "no longer hesitate to engage the responsibility of the State before the courts for lack of continuity of the public service of Education", is it underlined in the December 2021 report of the Court of Auditors.

The FCPE – the main federation of parents of public school pupils – had already encouraged the parents of pupils to fill in lost lesson hours on a dedicated site indicating the name of the school, the discipline, the school level and the date of the start of the absence. With a success of effective registrations far from being negligible.

In addition, at the start of the 2022 school year, 170 parents of students joined the collective #Onveutdesprofs launched the previous June just after a year marked by confinements and health protocols: "the objective is to have the State condemned" because of "repeated absences of unreplaced teachers, which cause harm to students" . And at the end of 2022, 127 first compensation claims to the rectorates were submitted, and more than 1500 files were being processed.

These parents and their lawyers believe they can rely on legal precedents. Thus, in 1988, the Council of State condemned the State to pay 1000 francs to the parents of a schoolboy whose teacher had been absent for seven hours: "The teaching mission of general interest imposes on the Minister of National Education the legal obligation to ensure the teaching of all compulsory subjects. The breach of this legal obligation constitutes a fault likely to engage the responsibility of the State”, had specified the judges.

Teacher pact and administrative matters

A decree published on August 8, 2023 lays down new rules for absences of less than 15 days in secondary education, the indisputable downside of replacing absent teachers.

From September this year, high school principals and middle school principals must draw up, with their teaching teams, an "annual plan aimed at effectively ensuring the hours provided for in the students' timetable" by using "priority" teachers who have signed a "pact"These teachers who have committed themselves to this will be mobilized eighteen hours a year and on fixed time slots of at least one hour a week during which they cannot refuse to intervene (whether or not they are from the same discipline as the absent teacher or whether or not they have the class in question).

We have to compare with the previous decree of August 26, 2005 according to which, for short-term replacements fixed at a maximum of two weeks, the heads of establishments were called upon to seek "as a priority the agreement of qualified teachers" and, failing agreement, to designate the staff responsible for ensuring replacements for absent teachers.

But according to the report of the General Inspectorate of National Education Administration of June 2011 this decree had "a very limited application; it was in fact badly perceived by many teachers and by the trade unions; the heads of establishments did not want to make this subject a point of conflict. The protocols have certainly almost everywhere were established during the year 2005-2006 under the pressure of the rectors, but in many cases they were only made up of declarations of good intentions".

Moreover, in their conclusion, the IGAs point to an origin of the difficulties which does not seem to have to be easily reduced, even if the injunction was reiterated recently by the Head of State himself:

"It has been observed that, despite previous reports and recommendations, the administration itself contributes to increasing replacement problems, in particular by setting up training courses coinciding with the traditional peaks in absences observed during the school year. , by organizing pedagogical days without taking into account the timetables of the establishments or even by summoning juries without anticipating the replacement needs that these summons give rise to.

One can finally doubt the possibility of arriving all of a sudden to put "a teacher in front of each class". Especially since what is currently planned by the ministry is already set back (despite the inevitable problems that this will pose). It is indeed specified that short replacements will be "primarily provided in the form of teaching hours", but that in order to "effectively ensure the hours provided for in the timetable" the ministerial text introduces the possibility of organize “educational sequences (…) using digital tools” and use educational assistants, who are school life staff, to supervise them.

Claude Lelievre, Teacher-researcher in the history of education, honorary professor at Paris-Descartes, Paris Cité University

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image credit: Shutterstock/ ESB Professional

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