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French face ELT revolution - Iatefl special

Jane Ryder reports on a dramatic government clampdown on training and its consequences for English language teaching throughout France

EFL is going through a minor revolution in France, not because the peasants are revolting but because English language trainers have been caught up in a mini-tornado of government paperwork and new legislation.

As of 1 January this year everything has changed. France has long been awash with multi-billion-euro training funds handled by semi-public, semi-private bodies called OPCAs. For decades these funds have constituted a sort of feeding trough from which every citizen has effectively been able to finance whatever course they fancy, be it flower arranging for the boss’s secretary or, very often, English classes for the workforce.

All that has now changed. With the Réforme (they could have called it the guillotine since it’s talked about with the same dread and awe) only trainers with a government-approved quality label will have access to OPCA money, and they can only offer courses that are on a tightly controlled government list, ominously called the Inventaire. The flower-arranging courses have stopped.

The result has been, firstly, a significant drop in training of any kind last year. Tesol France estimates this at 20 per cent to 30 per cent down for ELT in the second half of 2015. Companies have gone into freeze mode as HR managers try and understand what they’re meant to do.

The Inventaire has also triggered a veritable horse race between ELT players jockeying for political favour with the all-powerful trade lobbies in Paris. First off the block was ETS with Toeic, closely followed by Cambridge with Bulats. Consultants close to the trade lobbies and the government have been eating out at fancy restaurants for quite some months now.

Tesol France has been watching this tidal wave come for quite a while and we are mobilising to meet it. We have organised several workshops to inform members about the Réforme, and our Spring Day conference in Paris in June will be entirely dedicated to helping members tackle the thorny question of quality, in collaboration with Cambridge English Assessment.

Furthermore we have forged a strategic partnership with a small trade union called SYCFI, which will be able to offer our members access to a quality label which the government has approved. In our opinion this is the silver lining to the whole messy business. For the first time, trainers in France will be obliged to sharpen up, professionalise further and will generally be more respected as a result. France will move closer to the situation in Germany, leaner but more professional.

This is already happening as we note an increase in trainers going to the UK for short professional development short courses. There are hardly any providers of these in France, outside workshops offered by Tesol France and in-company training offered by Celta and Delta training centre the ELT Hub.

So, while the British press has been absorbed by the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, this has hardly even featured on our horizon here in France. Between dodging bullets and beurocratic missiles, the byword for us is survival. Many of us knew, either directly or indirectly, people who were killed in Paris in November. We were deeply affected and I think we have reached a sort of emotional overload. Calais is just one step too much for us to take on at the moment.

In terms of the state sector, the good news is that this continues to open up to trainers whether or not they have the French state teaching qualification. Certain education authorities are so desperate for English teachers, particularly in ‘hot’ areas of Paris, that last year they were asking parents if they could come and take over some of the classes, including English.

It is possible to get work from primary level up to lycée (high school) in many areas of the country as the national educational system is straining at the seams. State teachers can get up to five years’ sick leave for depression and burn-out in France, and as social problems and violence in schools go up the teachers simply go out the door. The terrorist killings last year have created tension in many schools as teachers struggle to find solutions to the community divisions that are brought into schools by the children, and this has only exacerbated the problem.

As always, that small stretch of water called the Channel demarcates two very different worlds.  France is a fascinating place to be at the moment.

Jane Ryder is president of Iatefl affiliate Tesol France and owner of the ELT Hub, a Cambridge teacher-training centre in France