After two months of vacation, schoolchildren (6.5 million), college students (3.4 million) and high school students (2.2 million) began Thursday morning to find their friends, get to know their teachers and discover their schedule.

“What class are you in?” asks a child in a white sweatshirt and pink satchel in the large interior courtyard of the Nina-Simone college in Lille. Gathered in the courtyard, the children exchange a few words or stay close to their parents, listening to the speech of the headmistress in this college of around 500 students where only the sixth come back to school on Thursday morning.

Anne-Lorraine Marqueze, 50, mother of a student, is happy to be able to enter the establishment “without a mask, without thinking about the Covid”. “It really is an air of freedom.”

Unlike the two previous back-to-school periods, teachers and students are not wearing masks for this start of the school year, due to the lull on the Covid-19 front. Two years ago, college and high school students had to put it on. Last year, this was the case for all students from CP.

– “We cross fingers” –

In Lyon, in front of the Aristide-Briand elementary school, Guillermo Feo, 38, father of a CP pupil, is delighted: “For the children it is a relief not to wear a mask. don’t wear either and that will make communication much easier”.

The start of the school year takes place this year under the seal of the teacher recruitment crisis. A phenomenon which is not new but which has worsened further this year, with more than 4,000 unfilled positions in the country’s competitions, out of 27,300 open positions in the public and private sectors (and 850,000 teachers in total).

“We obviously wanted there to be a teacher in front of each student for this start of the school year. And it is necessarily an anxiety for parents to ask themselves the question of whether this will be the case”, declared Thursday the Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on France Inter.

“I’m not going to tell you that there can’t be a case”, with “adjustments in the days to come”, she admitted. “But in any case, I think that this return to school will go well.”

“We don’t want to relive the non-replacements of absence from last year, it harmed the students too much. For the moment, things are going well in our school, all the teachers are there. Fingers crossed”, confides a CP teacher in Seine-Saint-Denis.

– “An explosive comeback” –

The Minister of Education Pap Ndiaye has promised in recent days that even if the conditions “are not optimal”, the start of the school year would be “comparable to that of last year”, “with a teacher in front of each class”.

To overcome the shortage of teachers, the National Education has recruited contract teachers – 3,000 according to Pap Ndiaye – trained in a few days before finding themselves facing a class.

But the concerns are strong on the side of the parents of pupils as well as the unions.

Parents fear “an explosive return to school,” Nageate Belahcen, co-president of the FCPE, the first federation of parents of students, told AFP. “Absent teachers who are not replaced, contract workers who are not sufficiently trained or maths in high school…Families are anxious”, she says.

The unions denounce them “a tinkering” in the face of the recruitment of contract workers during the summer.

“The promise of a teacher to each student seems more like a political slogan than reality,” said Sophie Vénétitay, general secretary of Snes-FSU, the first secondary union, this week. This union started the keyword