As in most Western countries, there is an obligation to school children in France between ages 6 and 16. The parents are responsible for making sure the schooling occurs, but the choice of how it happens is up to them. There are in effect four types of schooling in France: Public school, private school with a contract with the state, private school without a contract, homeschooling.
Public school, as its name implies, is run by the government; the teachers and everyone else working there are civil servants. They must do exactly what the Ministry of Education rules.
Some private schools have signed a contract with the state, and therefore are more or less government-monitored. Their teachers are paid by the state and they must have education and diplomas meeting government standards. Their teaching is monitored by the state regarding the topics for each grade. The main difference is generally that religious instruction is included on top of the school curriculum, and there may be a slightly different orientation in the teaching methods, some philosophical or religious views, and so on.
Until very recently, private schools without a contract, had no interaction with the French administration. For a long time such schools had only to send a note informing the government of their establishment and that was that. Neither the teachers nor the curriculum were verified. Now, however, new regulations have changed this: the school must obtain government approval, which means presenting the teachers, the staff, the curriculum for each grade, and so on. Time will tell how much control is exercised and how rigid the requirements will be.
Homeschooling was unheard of in France until recently. I am sure it always existed but on a minimal level, and there were objective reasons for that: the authorities did not see it as a threat. Also, when it did happen, it was done through the Centre National d’Education à Distance, a division of the Ministry of Education.
On June 9th, however, the Ministry of Education, in addition to cracking down on non-contract private schools, warned that homeschooling might be limited as well. Its reasoning is that a growing segment of the population has radical views that are incompatible with the French way of life, and that children educated at home are in danger of being taught dangerous views. Many people might immediately think of radical Muslims and terrorism, but while it is true that this danger exists, today all three monotheistic religions have among them radical groups that refuse to accept the authority of the state, preferring allegiance to their religious beliefs.
My concern is that a wide range of alternative schooling methods be preserved. Some, like Montessori, are not recognized by the French authorities, which I find odd; thus, they cannot sign a contract with the government. This type of school should easily be approved. I worry that the government is taking too narrow a view of the situation and treating proven methods of education the same as schooling by religious extremists and cults only because they differ from the traditional approach. Still, the statistics make it clear that the number of parents choosing the “Montessori type” of schooling is growing, so this issue should be addressed and these schools should be fully recognized.
By Jean Taquet
Jean holds a master’s degree in commercial and civil law from the Sorbonne University. He served as a French “officier juriste” and graduated from Saint Cyr de Coëtquidan in the French Army. He has also been a teacher at W.I.C.E. and a speaker at the OECD. Since 1997 he has been a consultant in cross-cultural practical issues of all kinds confronting expatriate families residing in France.