Private school numbers on the rise
Following whole-scale changes in the French education system last year, it is perhaps not surprising that the private school sector has seen a rise in the number of pupils – but parent groups say the two events are not connected.
The changes largely affected pupils in collège – and private collèges drew an extra 6,300 pupils at the 2016 rentrée.State collège numbers were down 9,900.
Alongside this there was also a 1.5% rise in pupils in private primary schools and an extra 4,000 students at private lycées – although at the same time state lycées saw a 43,000 rise in numbers.
Around 17% of children attend private schools – just over two million pupils at the latest rentrée – part of a total of 12.8 million children in education.
The vast majority of private schools are run by catholic organisations and nearly all private schools, 98%, are sous contrat or under contract to the state.
This means teachers are paid by the government and fees paid by the parents contribute to the running costs of the establishment, such as building maintenance and paying non-teaching staff. Sous contrat schools must also follow the national education programme and teach for the same number of hours as state schools. Teachers have the same training and are subject to controls by the education department.
Although most are catholic-run there is no religious bar on pupils as schools are duty bound by their contract with the government to welcome all students, irrespective of race or religion.
What private schools can do, which state schools cannot, is choose their own timetables and select their own educational priorities. The head, can for example, interview and choose his or her own teaching staff, which is not the case in the public system where teachers are allocated to a school according to a complicated points system.
France’s biggest parents’ federation, Apel (Association de Parents d’Elèves de l’Enseignement Libre), represents 915,000 families with children in catholic schools and says the main advantage is that there is choice.
National representative Gilles Demarquet, said: “It means there is the possibility of finding a school adapted to the needs of your child. In our schools it is the child, rather than the pupil, who is important and the development of his personality is valued as much as his academic achievements.
“We want children to leave school well-balanced and able to take their place in society.”
For parents who want their child to go to a catholic school, he warned there was now more demand than there were places and parents should contact schools sooner rather than later. You should visit and talk to the head and find out if it is likely to suit you. Mr Demarquet said it was difficult to know why there had been an increase in pupil numbers in private schools. He did not believe it was a reaction against the 2016 collège reforms as their collèges supported the changes, which echoed their own education philosophy including individual support of pupils and interdisciplinary studies.
As the schools are private, they are fee-paying but are unlikely to be as expensive as private schools in the UK or US, as a large part of the costs are paid for by the government covering teacher’s pay etc.
Mr Demarquet said: “Prices can vary enormously. It depends on the overheads. A school in the centre of a city is likely to be more expensive because property costs so much more. Then it depends whether the pupil eats in the canteen or boards and there may be extras for out-of-school activities.”
As an example, Le Cluzeau Collège in Sigoulès, Dordogne, has fees of €480 a year for a pupil in 6ème going up to €550 in 3ème, whilst Saint-Sulpice in Paris costs €1,436 for a year in collège. There are extra charges for the canteen and boarding.
Fees can easily be found on school websites and a list of schools can be found on www.enseignement-prive.info
Private schools are often chosen by parents for what they see as better discipline but Mr Demarquet said he was not sure whether this was really very different – although he did think there was less absenteeism from teachers.
He accepted that pupils may come from “slightly more privileged” families.
Unlike the 98% of private schools which are sous contrat, the 2% that are hors contrat do not have any link to the government, receive no public money and are not bound to follow the national education programme.
Many of them are post-bac schools or alternative schools – including the 200 Montessori schools in France.
Although the numbers remain marginal, with about 5,000 pupils mainly in nursery and primary level, the Association Montessori de France estimates there has been an increase of 20% in the number of pupils every year for the past two or three years.
Most of these schools follow their own curriculum and while teachers must be Montessori-trained they do not have to have had state teacher training.
The cost of signing up to a school can vary from between €0 (where schools are sponsored) to €1,000 a month.
Many are bi-lingual French/English and the Association Montessori says that although they do not follow the national curriculum their students are ready to go to collège at the end of primary school.