Home schooling: what are we talking about?

On October 2, during his speech detailing the measures of the action plan to combat separatism, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that from the start of the 2021 school year, school education would be compulsory for all, from the age of 3, and that instruction at home would be limited to health imperatives.

Sylvain Wagnon, University of Montpellier

This alternative form of education, known as home schooling, is now in the spotlight. What is the definition of this mode of learning, which, while very marginal, has been on the rise for several years? How will current measures change things for families?

An ancient and legal form of education

The Ferry law of March 28, 1882 introduced compulsory education, which takes place in public or private schools, or in the home. This provision is still in force today in article L.131-2 of the French Education Code.

This choice underlines the fact that instruction is compulsory, not schooling, but also that, historically, the education of children has been the prerogative of parents. By building a public school system for all since the 19th century, the State has marginalized this parental mode of education, while maintaining its legal status in France in the name of freedom of education.

In this respect, by restricting home schooling "notably to health imperatives", President Sarkozy said he had taken "a decision that is undoubtedly one of the most radical since the laws of 1882 and those ensuring co-education for boys and girls in 1969".

However, this is not a ban, but rather a strict limitation on the freedom of family teaching, which will avoid appeals on grounds of unconstitutionality.

A growing alternative

In his speech, President Sarkozy underlined the "necessity" of such a measure, given the risks posed by the growth of this form of learning. More than 50,000 children are expected to be home-schooled by 2020. This is up from 41,000 at the start of the 2019 school year and 35,000 in 2018.

However, this alternative educational trend remains very marginal, representing less than 0.5% of school-age children. Nevertheless, this is a significant increase, especially as little is known about the contours of this emerging movement, which has recently been the subject of study and research.

Non-schooling appears to be an opposition to school as an institution as such, whether public or private. But these refusals to attend school are linked to a wide range of choices made by families, whether medical, educational, human, environmental, dietary or - although no figures are given - religious.

Current legislation defines two types of non-schooling. Firstly, home schooling as a "choice" of the family, where instruction can be provided by the parents or any other person of their choice, without any diploma being required. It is this first case that is called into question in the presidential plan of October 2, 2020.

Then there are cases where the child cannot attend school, for a variety of reasons, particularly medical. In such cases, the local education authority (rectorat) approves enrolment with the Centre national d'enseignement à distance (CNED). In this way, children who do not attend school are able to receive instruction from a teacher and receive a transcript of their grades.

At present, after the declaration of instruction in the family, two investigations are carried out by the public services:

  • On the one hand, a social investigation is carried out to ensure that education is provided in conditions compatible with the child's state of health and the family's lifestyle.
  • Secondly, a pedagogical investigation to ensure that the education provided is in line with the child's right to education.

An annual check-up aims to verify the child's progress in the curriculum implemented by the people in charge according to their educational choices.

Increasingly strict controls

The President of the Republic has denounced the fact that children are "being taken out of school because their parents no longer want them to attend the school of the Republic". This situation marks the growing vigilance towards "out-of-system" modes of education.

Governments' mistrust of unschooling is international. While in some countries, such as Germany, home schooling is already restricted to exceptional cases, restrictions and controls are increasingly strict, as in Spain and Greece, where this form of education is still legal.

Since April 2018, the Gatel law has tightened controls on non-contract schools. Also in 2018, the national radicalization prevention plan aimed to improve the organization and implementation of checks on non-schooling families.

In 2019, the law of July 26, 2019, known as the "School of Confidence", specifies in its article 19 the need to strengthen the control of instruction in the very name of a right to education for all.

Home schooling and out-of-contract schools

The October 2 speech created a direct link between separatism, home schooling and non-contractual schools, which are the real targets of measures against religious separatism. Porosity exists between non-schooling families and certain non-contractual schools. The latter, which receive no public subsidies, may not follow the curricula, but are nevertheless subject to the Common Base of Knowledge, which guarantees that learning is monitored.

Also read:
Separatism: is a law really necessary?

Some of these schools take in families who want their children to acquire a social life. Clearly, however, confusing the two forms of education is detrimental to families who have made educational choices free of any religious or doctrinaire considerations. What's more, of the 1,700 non-contracted private schools in France, only a third are religious establishments, the others being secular and alternative establishments practicing Montessori pedagogy, for example.

Emmanuel Macron spoke of closed illegal schools, often run by religious extremists. Since 2018, a dozen schools outside the contractual framework have been suspected of religious indoctrination. National Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer stresses that this law against separatism will improve the legal arsenal to protect children from any indoctrination. The very question of the modalities of this new law has been raised.

The measures announced were a thunderclap for home-schooling parents. The action plan detailed on October 2 aims to ensure "school for all". Clearly, suspicion of this form of education will be heightened, and controls tightened.

As Philippe Meirieu reminds us, the school institution is the guarantor of a common education by enabling all children to meet each other, making it the major element of our democracy. Public schools are still the ideal place for social mixing, exchanges and learning, but we need to give them the means to do so.

What will be the future choices of families currently practicing home schooling? Will we see an "attractive" private education policy to attract these families? On the other hand, public schools will have to set an example by being inclusive, listening to all parents concerned about their children's well-being. Living up to its commitments is the only way to be a school for all.The Conversation

Sylvain Wagnon, Professor of Education, Faculty of Education, University of Montpellier

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.