Since 2021 and the law on Muslim separatism, homeschooling has been banned in France. This ban has been reported to the UN. The international organisation condemned France for this serious infringement of the fundamental right of parents to choose how their children are taught.
Under the guise of combating Islamist communalism, the French government, in its law “reinforcing respect for the principles of the Republic”of August 2021, has decided to severely restrict family education—in defiance of studies showing that it is in no way a breeding ground for radicalisation. Previously subject to a declaratory system, homeschooling now requires prior administrative authorisation. Since the law was passed, a growing number of families have been banned from homeschooling by the authorities, even though some of them have been successfully practising it for many years.
Families are supposed to benefit from a deferment in the application of the law until 2024, but administrative authorisation is already being refused on an increasing scale, to the point of reaching almost 40% nationally, according to statistics provided by the Liberté Education association, which defends the right of parents to homeschool. In some académies (French administrative educational constituencies), the refusal rate can be as high as 90%, leaving many parents at a loss at a time when the public education system is showing its shortcomings and the private system, which is expensive and overcrowded, cannot accommodate more children than it does at present.
On September 29th, the secretary general of the Liberté Education association pleaded the cause of family education in Geneva before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in the run-up to the committee’s 74th session, which is due to rule on possible breaches by France of the agreement on economic, social, and cultural rights. The association defended the idea that France has not complied with this covenant, which states that parents have the right to choose an alternative to school.
After examining the case, the UN concluded that France was guilty. The organisation warned of the potential violation of the principles of necessity and proportionality of the law on separatism in its provisions governing family instruction, which it recognises as an educational alternative on par with private schooling. As a result, the UN is asking France to “take the necessary measures” to respect the freedom of families to choose an alternative to school, in accordance with Article 13.3 of the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, which France has ratified.
The Geneva committee expressed its concern at the increase in the number of bans imposed on families by the authorities. Their observations confirm the potential violation of the principles of necessity and proportionality. Although homeschooling was introduced to combat Islamic radicalisation, administrative refusals are increasingly based on pedagogical grounds, far from the stated intentions.
Finally, the UN insists on the need to ensure the “best interests of the child” and respect his or her “special needs.” The French government has been particularly guilty of denying children’s best interests by refusing homeschooling to children with disabilities, learning difficulties, or who are the victims of bullying at school.
The UN ruling comes at just the right time, as a new bill has just been proposed in the French National Assembly on the initiative of Les Républicains MP Xavier Breton, which aims to reinstate the declaratory system in force prior to the 2021 law. The challenge now is to get it passed before March 2024, when the reprieve granted to families already benefiting from homeschooling will come to an end, subjecting them once and for all to the whims of the French education authorities.