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Is the French government really proposing a complete ban on home-schooling?

It's been slightly lost amid the many controversies around the bill, but France's proposed law to 'strengthen republican values' also contains strictures on home-schooling.

Is the French government really proposing a complete ban on home-schooling?
Illustration photo: AFP

The Loi confortant les principes républicains (law confirming republican principles) is France's response to a wave of terror attacks that have struck the country, and aims to address what in France is known as séparatisme among a minority of the country's Muslim community.

It's a wide-ranging bill and although it has been adopted by ministers, it still needs to be debated in both France's parliaments.

READ ALSO What's in France's new law to crack down on radical Islamism?

But among the provisions in the bill is one that could affect all parents in the country – the right to home-school children.

What does the bill say?

The bill has evolved slightly on this issue. The bill first draft proposed making it compulsory for all children in France to attend school, except in certain very narrow cases such as medical exemptions.

At present it is possible for parents to educate their children at home, although there is quite strict guidance in place – parents must register themselves as home-educators with their local authority and are inspected to ensure that they are teaching a balanced curriculum.

Parents can opt to home-school their children for religious or social reasons and following the spring lockdown there was an increase in interest among parents who felt that their children were learning better at home than they did in school.

Currently around 50,000 children in France are being educated at home.

This part of the bill is reportedly a pet project of President Emmanuel Macron himself, who in a speech in October spoke of it, saying: “I have taken a decision, probably one of the most radical since the laws of 1882 and those ensuring co-education between boys and girls in 1969.”

However, by the time it was presented to ministers, the text had changed and now only proposed extra regulation on people who educate their children at home.

Why is this in a bill about combating terror attacks?

Speaking ahead of the publication of this bill, Macron denounced a trend of “Islamist separatism” that flouts French rules and seeks to create a “counter-society” holding its own laws above all others.

This form of sectarianism often translates into children being kept out of school, and the use of sporting, cultural and other community activities as a “pretext to teach principles that do not conform to the laws of the republic,” Macron said.

Also contained in the bill is the proposal to extend the pupil registration numbers to all children, including those who do not attend state schools. It's this section that was misreported in some foreign press as a 'plan for a register of Muslim children'.

Is there any evidence of a connection between home-schooling and radicalisation?

France's Conseil d'Etat (council of state) apparently says there is not.

Ahead of the bill going before MPs, the council produced a legal opinion, which was leaked to French media.

And the opinion as reported does not mince its words on this issue, saying: “This suppression is not supported by reliable and documented evidence on the reasons, conditions and results of the practice of teaching within the family; in particular, it has not been established that the parents' motives are significantly related to a desire for social separatism or a challenge to the values of the Republic.

“Under these conditions, the transition from a regime of supervised and controlled freedom to a regime of prohibition does not appear to be sufficiently justified and proportionate.”

Why the climbdown on a total ban?

The key here is the Conseil d'Etat's opinion – the government does not have to take the advice offered by its state council, but the Council's opinion means that any law on this would be vulnerable to a challenge in the Constitutional Court, the country's highest authority, later down the line.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What is France's State Council

Faced with that, the government has decided to row back from a total ban.

Monitoring of home-schooled children is already fairly strict, so it remains to be seen exactly what detail will be proposed for extra supervision of this. 

 

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FRENCH POLITICS

Pro-Macron MP becomes France’s first woman speaker

France's lower house of parliament has agreed to pick an MP from President Emmanuel Macron's centrist coalition as the first woman speaker, despite the ruling alliance losing its majority in legislative elections.

Pro-Macron MP becomes France's first woman speaker

Yael Braun-Pivet, who had been serving as the minister for overseas territories, is the first woman to ever hold the post of speaker in the history of the Assemblée nationale.

Despite the loss of its overall majority, Macron’s ruling alliance still managed to push through her appointment in the second round of voting.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and other senior Macron backers have been trying to win over individual right-wing and moderate left parliamentarians to bolster their ranks.

Borne, appointed last month, is France’s second woman prime minister after the brief stint by Edith Cresson in the 1990s.

Olivier Marleix, head of the centre-right Les Républicains group seen as most compatible with Macron, met Borne on Tuesday. “We’ve told her again there is no question of any kind of coalition,” he said.

But he added that the prime minister “really showed that she wanted to listen to us. That’s quite a good sign.

“We’re here to try and find solutions,” he added. “There will be some draft laws where I think we should be able to work together,” including one to boost households’ purchasing power in the face of food and energy inflation.

“It’s not in the interest of parties who have just been elected” to make a long-term deal to support the government, said Marc Lazar, a professor at Paris’s Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Borne under pressure

One key question will be whether Thursday’s vote to head the finance committee – with its extensive powers to scrutinise government spending – will be won by an MP from the far-right Rassemblement National (RN).

Led by Macron’s defeated presidential opponent Marine Le Pen, the RN would usually have a claim on the post as the largest single opposition party.

It faces a stiff challenge from the NUPES left alliance – encompassing Greens, Communists, Socialists and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) – who agreed on Tuesday on a joint candidate after some internal jostling.

Next week could see exchanges heat up in the chamber, as government chief Borne delivers a speech setting out her policy priorities.

Macron told AFP at the weekend that he had “decided to confirm (his) confidence in Elisabeth Borne” and asked her to continue talks to find either allies for the government in parliament or at least backing for crucial confidence and budget votes.

The president has ruled out both tax increases and higher public borrowing in any compromise deals with other parties.

Even as the government projects business almost as usual, hard-left LFI especially has vowed to try to prevent key proposals, such as the flagship reform to raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 65.

Party deputy chief Adrien Quatennens said on Sunday there was “no possible agreement” with Macron, saying cooperation would “make no sense”.

“We haven’t heard (Macron) move or back down one iota on pension reform” or other controversial policies, he added.

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