Homeschooling restricted in Macron’s France

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Homeschooling restricted in Macron’s France

The equivalent of the US Supreme Court judges decided last Friday that from now on, parents in France must obtain permission to home-school from local authorities, instead of simply producing a declaration that they have opted for this form of instruction within the family as was the case to date. 

It is in fact a general ban on home-schooling, with individual exceptions, instead of a general authorization which the authorities could retract in individual cases. 

Home-schooling in France was already partially restricted in 2011 when tighter controls were set up – families who choose to home-school are normally “inspected” once a year – and the grouping of children from different families for classes was forbidden. Some 30,000 to 50,000 children are home-schooled in France at the present time. 

Under Emmanuel Macron, the president who wants to turn France into a “start-up nation,” schooling already became mandatory between ages 3 and 16 in 2019, instead of between ages 6 and 16 as was previously the case. An overwhelming majority of children in France join public or private schools at the tender age of 3 anyway, as they offer the equivalent of day-care from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for working mothers four days a week. But before the 2019 law, families did have the choice of keeping kids at home until they turned 6 with no formalities involved, and many took avail of it. 

The most recent law that was just approved by France’s Constitutional Court has introduced restrictive conditions for parents to obtain permission to home-school, despite opposition from right-wing deputies and senators who called the measures “contrary to the principle of freedom of education” that is still in force. 

Parents who apply for such permission will need to prove that one of the following motives can justify “instruction within the family”: the child’s state of health or a handicap; intensive practice of sports or artistic activities; the family’s roaming lifestyle in France or geographical remoteness from any public school; or the existence of a situation specific to the child motivating the educational project, provided that the persons responsible for the child can justify the competence of the person(s) in charge of educating the child within the family while respecting the child’s best interests. For this last motive, families will have to present a written description of their teaching plan. 

Permission will be given for one year only, meaning that families will be forced to present a full new request for every school year. 

Home-schooling, or “instruction within the family” as it is officially called, has been explicitly legal in France since 1882 when a law made schooling compulsory, but not school attendance. It is the receiving of instruction that is considered a right of the child that parents must attend to. The 1882 law recognized that the obligation could be fulfilled either by sending offspring to “a public or a private school” (historically, “private” schools are mostly Catholic), or by giving instruction “in families.” 

The Constitutional Court rejected this approach. In its decision validating the restrictions on home-schooling, it argued that instruction within the family, according to the 1882 law, was simply one of the available “modalities” of compulsory instruction, not “a component of the fundamental principles of freedom of education recognized by the laws of the Republic.” 

For many parents, the COVID lockdown from March to May 2020 – the only time when primary and secondary schools were completely shut in France –offered a rare opportunity to identify the deficiencies of the public school system, and to take at least part of the instruction of their children into their own hands. 

The dispositions on home-schooling will enter into effect in September of 2022, meaning that families can still use the declarative process to home-school their children in the coming school year. Families who are already home-schooling will need to go through the authorization process for the 2024-2025 school year. 

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