Category Archives: Homeschooling in France

The Social Services Visit

The social services ladies came today.  They were pretty professional, in that they asked the questions the law requires them to ask and nothing else.   They said the job of inspecting the three families in this division has been knocked around with nobody really knowing who should do it, until finally it landed on their desk.  They don’t know if they will ever be expected to do it again, or if they are the right people.

In retrospect, the only thing that is raising my hackles was them asking me if we ever thought of taking Antonia to a child psychologist.  The reason I’m upset is not because they asked it, specifically.  It’s to be expected, as it’s a standard solution here.  Believe it or not, lots of kids just don’t seem to be too happy in school!  I just feel I did a really bad job of explaining why I don’t agree with defining a child as in need of medical help because of it.  School is not so right and wonderful that only a psychologically abnormal child wouldn’t deal with it.  Not by a long way.  I’m still explaining it badly.  Oh well…

As far as I know, we will never hear anything back from this meeting.  It is just an information collecting exercise.

Homeschool inspection survivors

Well, we’re back from the dreaded inspection. Thanks for all your supportive messages. It took place in an atmosphere of great civility and friendliness, and utter disrespect for the law! Antonia did wonderfully, especially considering that they subjected her to two hours of schoolish tests. She was a credit to homeschoolers everywhere. She was polite, friendly, forthcoming in her answers. Even to stupid questions like “how many friends have you got?”, which I think she took to be a maths problem. Later, in general knowledge, the tester really pressed her quite hard to see if she couldn’t think of the name of just one artist. Names are not her strong point. She didn’t freak out totally as she would have in the past. Instead she fixed the inspector in the eye, with a knowingly ironic expression on her face and said “OK then, me!”. I was so proud (wipes away tear)!

She did fine on the actual tests. She has ‘one of the’ typical homeschool child profiles. She reads well enough to draw admiration from a tester who wasn’t particularly out to give us positive feedback. I dare say she writes slower and spells less well than the reading might have led them to expect, we just potter along slowly with writing in two languages. Just fine with all the rest. I doubt the tester knows just how fragile her French comprehension of some of the questions was. Some of her answers that seemed ordinarily eccentric or reticent for her age were due to incomplete understanding as I later found out. So no worries about their perception of her learning… they’ll find something to bitch about if they’re looking to, but they can’t call her uneducated. But the tester could hardly believe that she had no siblings, and spent a lot of time trying to figure out how much time she spends outside the house. Now, I know that it’s a rare afternoon that she spends at home, but you wouldn’t have got that impression from interviewing her, and I had been entreated to silence.

You could say that all was pretty reasonable… except that 30 minutes after we left, we were driving along and suddenly Antonia began wailing with terrible stomach cramps. We had to make an emergency stop in a dive of a bistro. After using their toilet for quarter of an hour, I just ordered a couple of drinks, but what I hadn’t packed in my emergency kit was some loose change. We waited for Mike to come and bail us out. After that she was fine, we went to a restaurant, I got her that medal she wanted and she got to watch Harry Potter all afternoon. All the treats she requested, and boy did she care about getting them. I could go on about the psychology of all that, most of which is barely positive, but we all just did what we needed to do.

Since then, she has been feeling proud of herself, obviously, and also letting out plenty of agression and nervous tension. She’s been making the beautiful moral narrative drawings that she used to make just after she left school. They’re full of violence, sorrow, fear, love and justice. They are truly amazing, but… they reflect something going on inside. Less positively, she isn’t quite the sweet easy-going Antonia we’re used to yet. She had a massive row with Mike at lunchtime over whether her lunch was to be served in a bowl or a dish!!??! She had a massive row with me at the park because I took a slightly different path from her, and failed to call her and tell her ‘which way she needed to go’!! Everybody is a bit tired, ratty and niggly at our house just now, for various reasons, but everyone will be fine, and we’re getting back to the real business of homeschooling.

I said the inspection took place in perfect disrespect for the law. That is because it is the teaching that is supposed to be inspected, not the child’s level of achievement, and certainly not their achievements in relation to the school curriculum. But that’s all they wanted to check. They did not allow any time to look at her work, or to interview me. They also have big blinkers on and have not got a single, solitary clue what homeschooling is all about. The tester asked Antonia “who corrects your work?” and she had no idea what to say. I tried to explain why not, but the tester let me know politely that she only wanted Antonia’s answers. I was pleased with myself for preparing a document with examples of Antonia’s real work and a little explanation of my educational philosophy and methods. I left it with them, and if they don’t read it, at least they can’t say they don’t have it.

I should emphasise that they were friendly and polite, very, very sweet to the children, and I really believe they were not setting out to ‘fail’ any of us. But they sure wanted to retain total control over the situation. Maybe I should wait till I get the report before I jubilate, but in fact, I think they were just much too busy to trouble to get a clue what to do about three homeschooled children, once a year. They have to do something, and they chose to use the method that seems simplest to them. Overall, in our department (county?) there are far more homeschooled children than three, and we’re getting a variety of experiences. None of them have been really negative so far, but few of them have been genuinely respectful of the laws relating to homeschooling. We’re cogitating what if anything to do about it. Their approach would be sort of tolerable, as long as it’s understood that they can’t actually fail anybody on the basis of it. Because they haven’t looked at what they’re supposed to looking at! I wonder if they do understand that? But if they don’t envisage ever failing anyone anyway, why can’t we all just sit and chat about the kid’s work over a coffee/orange juice!!?

Enough about inspections for now. I’ll post about the report when it arrives, and any militating we decide to get up to.

Homeschool inspection jitters

Tomorrow our homeschool gets inspected by the board of education. They sent us a letter one month ago, summoning us to their offices downtown at 9.00 am. They informed us that they are going to start by ‘testing the child’s knowledge’, followed by an interview, and that we should allow an hour. Oh, and that we could bring in examples of the child’s work if we wanted. It wasn’t long before I found out that at least two other families have an appointment for the same date and time. It is pretty certain that they are going to give the children a test based on the level of middle-of-first-grade in the public schools.

Now the thing is, the law is not very specific about how the homeschool inspection should take place, but it does say that parents can choose whatever educational method, philosophy and progression that they like. It makes it clear that it’s the teaching that is being inspected, not the child’s achievement. That makes me unhappy from the start about the way the inspection has being set up.

Clearly, they believe they can adequately inspect my teaching by setting my child a school curriculum-based test and by looking at concrete work produced by her. I don’t agree with this. Their test is likely to be largely irrelevant to what we actually do: there’s no reason why we should have covered the topics covered in schools. We certainly haven’t covered the techniques that children are taught in school to get the answers to the types of questions that are asked in schools. And in any case Antonia isn’t studying at the equivalent of mid-first-grade level in most subjects. All that is our right.

I feel that learning two written languages is a big task, that we don’t have the same imperative to do lots of writing as schools do, and that being made to produce lots of writing would spoil my child’s fun in learning (what a concept), and slow her down. I particularly need them to acknowledge this, because it’s the one area where Antonia is ‘only’ at grade level, more or less, and I really expect her to slip below grade level for several years, as she deals with another language and in any case writes less than public school kids. That’s our right too.

As for showing work, our nature or city walks, our science experiments, our reading, and especially our conversations don’t leave this kind of trace – but I do have photographs and records and I’m taking a selection of them in. A lot of the other homeschooling parents use Montessori type manipulatives – I’m sure they have even less to show than we do.

If the inspectors had come to our homes, as most of us would prefer, and as the law encourages them to do, they could see the materials, the environment and the kids using these things normally. If they ask to see something in particular, it’s easy to pull it out. And if they asked my dear sweet daughter what she does all day and she said “nothing” or “play” they would have before their eyes the evidence that ‘playing at nothing’ consists of painting, constructing, miscellaneous experiments, manipulatives, writing and figuring out sums, etc…

Apart from that, their procedure is just not nice. I will say nothing of making us get up a couple of hours earlier than usual and dragging us downtown during rush hour. It’s the test situation that bugs me. I know that some areas in the US use testing for homeschoolers. But tests administered to 6-year olds by strange adults in a strange place? With neither the educator nor the student ever having had access to a sample test, or even a rundown of what’s likely to be covered? Does anyone think this is developmentally appropriate? Or appropriate for exams at any age, anywhere?

Developmentally appropriate or not, it isn’t appropriate for my daughter. She has a history of responding badly to test situations and of being very uncomfortable if she thinks she has to perform. She tends to freeze, literally, or burst into tears. She has a bunch of other strategies that she can and will use unconsciously to avoid giving an answer. She’s only just started to talk to French adults if they are her friend’s parents, and if the conversation is on her own terms. She usually still ignores questions that they ask her. Despite being globally at or above the level of their test, she may be psychologically unable to answer their test questions, or indeed any question.

If this turns out to be the case, I fear they will decide to blame it on homeschooling. They don’t get to see how much progress she has made – in psychological resilience, I mean. They don’t get to see that she is happy and confident in her normal environment, having made sure that they only get to see her in the most stressful circumstances that could be devised. They may even decide that she actually knows nothing. I have found myself unable to prepare her mentally for something that she genuinely isn’t ready for. Last night she asked me what would happen if we ran away, locked ourselves in our house and hid. That’s a fair indication of her state of mind, and it’s scary for a parent who has past experience of her nervous meltdowns.

Really she just shouldn’t be put through this inspection… and if I said it didn’t make me angry I would be lying. It’s true that I didn’t write the inspector a detailed letter explaining all this. That, I suppose, is because I don’t trust them enough to let them in on my concerns. I suspect them of being hostile to homeschooling in principle and quick to blame any and all difficulties on the parent. Maybe that’s a mistake on my part. But I can’t help feeling that they should have remembered that some parents pull their kids from school because those kids are fragile and failing to thrive in some way. And they should not subject any child to situations that a child psychologist would deem potentially stressful and inappropriate for the age. And I think most child psychologists would. It’s obviously not the best thing for me to be entering the inspection situation in the frame of mind that I am in, but there you go.

Still, I’ve done what I can. I’ve produced a portfolio/report that I think would allow them to inspect what we do adequately – if they read it! I’ll rustle up a few books, and a small portfolio of math/writing type things that were manifestly done by Antonia without adult help, in case she really proves unable to do the test. I’m packing a treat for afterwards, the favourite soft toy in case things get really desperate, a change of clothes (yup, it could be that bad!), and a drawing book. I found in India that drawing helps her handle stress. Oh, and I’ve promised her a medal. That’s what she asked for. I’ve been wondering about getting one that says ‘Homeschool Inspection Survivor’ on it, but I’ll probably go for something a bit more upbeat.

Homeschooling in France

This was one of the more public-spirited themes of my old blog, and I’m putting the information back here, in an more orderly manner. If you’re homeschoolers thinking of moving to France, or you’re English-speakers already here and thinking about homeschooling, here is a quick guide.


Parents can choose to homeschool their children, using whatever method they like. However, the legality of unschooling in France is a subject of debate, and sometimes of law cases.

Last year the law was changed to state that in the context of homeschooling, only the children of a same family can be educated together. It isn’t possible to form systematic lesson groups with the children of other families. You can, of course, use a tutor for all or part of your own children’s education.

The law specifies that children must ‘receive instruction’, from September of the year in which they turn 6 to the age of 16. There is also a legal definition of what children must know by the age of 16, and the method of instruction chosen must be intended to produce this. At 16, children educated at home must have a level in each area ‘comparable to that of children educated in the public schools’. The law also specifies that children living in France must master the French language.

Do ex-pats have a special status? The truth is, I don’t know. I’m not sure if there’s a legal distinction between ex-pats and immigrants. I thought there was a forum for homeschooling ex-pats in Paris, but I can’t find it again. I have also heard of a lady in my area who homeschooled her children in English according to the American public school curriculum during a three year contract, but I have not met her, and don’t know what legal framework she was operating under.

The associations

There are three national homeschooling associations. They can provide information, exchange of ideas, moral support, legal support, a way to meet other homeschoolers. They organise regular meetings at a national level. You can find the details of homeschooling law and the standard letters you need to send on each of their sites. I don’t feel that the membership fees are very expensive.

I feel I wouldn’t be giving complete information if I didn’t mention some ‘politics’ associated with them. Obviously, I can imagine some people coming forward to dispute whatever I say. LEDA, the first association, has a reputation for being more supportive of relaxed homeschoolers and unschoolers. CISE has a reputation for being more ‘schooley’. I’m a member of both and have found the reality to be more nuanced. I think it is true however, that members of LEDA are more likely to be ‘alternative’, by French standards, in other ways as well. Members of CISE are more likely to be ‘conventional’, except in the one respect of homeschooling.

LAIA is a fairly new association, and I’m not a member of it, simply because it came along after I joined the other two, and three seems too much. It seems to me that they would like to militate for changes in the law in favour of less regulation and probably an easier ride for alternative educational methods, (especially unschooling?). CISE on the other hand is openly in favour of homeschooling within the law, and working to get officials to respect the law. None of the associations have any official party political or religious bias, and none, in theory, take a stand on the parent’s choice of educational method (except maybe in the case of unschooling?).

There are a sprinkling of english speakers in CISE and LEDA for sure, and quite possibly also in LAIA. There are other languages as well, of course. I believe CISE has started a discussion forum for bilingual homeschooling but I don’t really have time to frequent it just now.

There are also local informal associations in many places for organising meetings and so on.


These are defined by the law, but I’m putting them separately. There are two basic types of homeschooling: you can use an accredited correspondence school, or not. In both cases you must send a homeschooling declaration to the ‘mairie’ (town hall) you depend on at least 8 days before the start of each school year, or within 8 days of removing your child from school, if it’s the middle of a school year. A standard letter is available from the homeschooling associations. In both cases, the mairie should arrange a visit to your home, in the first year and every other year thereafter. The purpose of the visit is to find out why you are homeschooling, and that you are actually doing so: your children are ‘receiving an instruction’. In theory the visit should occur ‘soon’ after your declaration.

The second formality applies only if you are NOT using an accredited correspondence school. In this case you have to send another homeschooling declaration to the board of education, at the same date. Again, you can use the standard letter from the homeschooling associations. The board of education will arrange for yearly inspections to ensure ‘that the teaching dispensed conforms to the child’s right to instruction’ as defined by the law. These inspections may take place at home, and they often do. But sometimes, you may be summoned to the board of education. After the inspection, you will receive a report. If the level of instruction according to the law is deemed unsatisfactory, a second inspection may be required. If the instruction is still deemed unsatisfactory you may be ordered to send your child to school.

The reality of the formalities

Our anxieties obviously center around the social and educational inspections. What happens in practice can be very varied, and the behaviour of the officials can be unpleasant or flat out illegal. Or of course, it can be fine. The worry is that you don’t know beforehand. The social visit could consist of some combination of the following: nothing so far (my case in a small village); a respectful visit from somebody delegated by the mayor, they’re a bit curious about what you’re doing and a bit embarassed at intruding into your life; a visit from a social worker who asks how much you earn, and suggests you might need to see a psychiatrist! That’s illegal, actually case 1 (mine) is illegal also…

The educational visit could consist of some combination of the following: an inspector making an appointment to visit your home and arriving with an open mind; an inspector informing you that s/he’s coming the day after tomorrow, that it’s up to you to rearrange your other engagements, then showing up with a bunch of tests – s/he’s got no idea how to assess your children otherwise; you being summoned with your child to the board of education offices, where they want you to sit in a waiting room while your child sits an exam, then lecture you on how school is necessarily the only thing for kids! I would tend to feel that’s illegal – the education received by the child has not been assessed as the law requires. A lot of homeschoolers here would agree with me. The consensus amongst homeschoolers is that we can legally insist on being present with our children during the inspection. I do not think there is really a consensus on whether we must accept inappropriate public school inspired tests.

After this you get the report, and it’s probably optimistic to expect it to be glowing. No matter how or what your child is doing, there is every chance that it could be better/would be better in school! In theory, the report could say that the inspection proved unsatisfactory and you have to do another one. I don’t think this happens very often, but I have heard of people being bullied back into the schools or into correspondence courses by the sheer nastiness of the BoE inspectors. Sometimes the BoE people do not know the law, and I think that in general, appeals to the law or moves in the direction of legal action can be successful, but hey, you have to be willing to fight!

The social climate and general atmosphere

In general, the response from members of the public or people we know has been positive to homeschooling. In any case, people are often relatively guarded in commenting on the private lives of other people. There is some debate on homeschooling in the national media, but not on a huge scale. We suppose homeschooling is growing in popularity, but it is still very much a tiny minority choice. The attitude of the government/board of education is tolerant but barely. The law specifies that schools are considered the foremost place of education, without forbidding homeschooling as a matter of parental choice. There seems to be some fear of homeschooling as a means of isolating children from society and inculcating them into religious sects. In general, homeschooling on a day to day basis is a pleasant experience.

Children in France generally spend long days in institutions from a very young age – babyhood actually. By long day, I mean 8.00/8.30 am to 5.30/6.00 pm. School usually lasts 8.30am to 4.30pm, but many parents leave their kids in after-school care so that they can work. Wednesday is not a school day, but it is often spent in organised activities: the school curriculum does not include music and arts necessarily, and is low on sports. There has been school on Saturday mornings, but this will end with this school year. The reason I mention all this is that it can make arranging social opportunities for homeschooled children more challenging than it would be in the US. The other kids are just not all that available for play, poor things, and homeschooled children are relatively thin on the ground. It can be done, in various ways, depending on the child’s needs, but it is harder work.

If you came here looking for information on homeschooling in France, I hope this helped. Leave me a comment, if you know anything I don’t, or if there is anything you would like to know.