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.
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.