Teachers in France went on strike Tuesday to protest against a proposed reform of secondary education that has become a bitter battleground for one of the country’s rising political stars.

Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, 37, has come under fire for the disputed changes, which concern schools for children aged between 11 and 15.

Among the most disputed elements of the reforms is a proposal to reduce the teaching of Latin and Ancient Greek, replacing these languages with a general class on classical culture.

Teachers are also furious at plans to give schools more autonomy in a system that has previously sought to ensure that all children at high school level receive exactly the same education.

Despite this attempt at egalitarianism, there are wide differences between schools in poorer areas and those in more prosperous parts of the country.

The high school drop-out rate among children of manual labourers is 32 percent whereas only five percent of children from white collar families drop out of school prematurely.

And the French education system has slipped down the rankings drawn up by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which says it is one of the least egalitarian in the world.

The reforms aim to even up this balance but critics say it will result in a race to the bottom.

According to the SNES union that organised the industrial action, more than half of high school teachers were on strike whereas the ministry said only 27 percent had walked off the job.

“There is still time… to take up discussions again and to stop what looks like being a serious waste for young people, for our profession,” said the SNES.

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