Minister appeals for end to school sitins

Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou on Friday appealed to local authorities and teachers? unions not to exploit pupils for party political reasons as around 100 primary and secondary schools remained under occupation by teachers protesting government plans to merge hundreds of schools as part of a broader cost-cutting drive.

?I would like to appeal to certain local authority and educational bodies not to involve children in clashes over the administrative overhaul of the education sector,? Diamantopoulou said. She added that the ministry was open to discussion and criticism but objected to protesters using schoolchildren to make their point by ?taking pupils out of their classes and making a spectacle of them on television channels.?

According to sources, of the 100 or so schools that remained occupied by protesters on Friday, the majority appeared to have the backing of teachers as well as pupils? parents. Around 35 of the sit-ins were in the central region of Thessaly, with 15 in Macedonia, 12 in the Peloponnese and fewer in other regions.

Local teachers? unions are scheduled to convene on Saturday to plan their protest action.

The Secondary School Teachers? Federation (OLME) already has proposed a 24-hour strike for March 30.

Diamantopoulou has reassured teachers in state schools that her ministry?s plan to merge 1,933 primary and secondary schools across the country does not involve job losses among teachers. In view of this, it appears that the protesters? main objections are to plans to reduce the number of school head positions, which come with a special bonus, and to the inconvenience of changing the layout of school buildings.

The ministry insists that the mergers will cut administrative costs without compromising the quality of education for schoolchildren, noting that the average number of students per class will not exceed 25.

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