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.
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.
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.