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French schools re-start in September with Covid-19 rules

All children are expected to be back at school for the start of the new academic year, on Tuesday September 1, unless the spread of the virus worsens and warrants new protective measures.

Coronavirus health regulations are not as strict as those that were in place when pupils went to school for a fortnight before the summer holidays. However, pupils aged over 11, in collège and lycée, will have to wear masks when they are less than a metre from other pupils and staff.

Different scenarios in place for different turns of events

The government has also outlined guidance for schools if stricter health measures need to be introduced, in two scenarios. In the first, pupils would still go to school, but in smaller groups and not every day, and there are examples of how timetables could be worked out. Schools would have to make sure each pupil can be in the classroom at least once a week. This scenario would also include a return to some home-schooling.

Teachers are given a list of resources, including lessons from distance-learning organisation CNED, which has material for all classes from the top year in maternelle – children aged four to five – to the end of secondary school. The second proposal would require schools to close down, either in localised areas or over the whole of the country, with guidance on how to do this, what materials are available, and advice on how teachers can give virtual lessons via the internet.

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Catching up from home-schooling

Huge differences are expected among pupils coming back to school, reflecting a range of home-schooling experiences. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has said he recommends schools introduce evaluation tests for all ages at the beginning of term to assess how to help anyone who has fallen behind. There are obligatory annual tests for CP (six years) CE1 (seven years), 6e (11 years) and 2de
(15 years), but this year he would like to see them for all classes. The Education Department has provided short tests for teachers’ use.

Six teachers’ unions, including the SNUipp-FSU main primary school teachers’ union and Snes-FSU for secondary teachers, have released a joint statement, saying they disagree with the introduction of systematic tests, as they fear it could lead to a lack of confidence in those who do not do well. They would prefer to make decisions themselves about the best way to assess their pupils’ needs and how to respond to them.

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They said: “After months of isolation and destabilisation, pupils first need to settle back into school and get back their confidence. The teachers would like confidence to be restored in their professionalism so they can have freedom to put learning measures into practice which they think suit the specific problems they are confronted with in their classroom. Above all, education teams need time to adapt their programmes to deal with this unusual return to school.”

An Ipsos opinion poll carried out for the government maintains there is support for tests. Replies from 500 teachers, 500 parents and 500 lycée students in the first half of July found that 70% of the teachers questioned thought tests were important or indispensable, as did 89% of parents and 84% of lycée students.

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What students need post-lockdown

There was a high demand for individual support for pupils in need, with 97% of parents saying this provision is vital. The Education Department has promised to pay for 1.5million extra teacher hours for personalised help for pupils and 130,000 hours of additional support from teaching assistants to help struggling students.

At the end of confinement, Mr Blanquer said 4% of pupils had “dropped out” from education since the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown and the priority was to get them back into the classroom. Guidelines for education authorities stress that as soon as pupils go missing from the classroom, there must be a follow-up from schools. Families must be contacted and the pupil must be supported both socially and educationally.

This year, the guidelines say, there must be particular concern to make sure students between the ages of 16 and 18 stay within the education structure. Up to now, the school leaving age has been 16 but, from this September, some kind of official training programme – precise details not yet released – is obligatory for all students up to 18 years old. It is known that as well as lycée, this can include an apprenticeship, an internship or voluntary work with the Service Civique.

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In 2019, the obligatory starting age for school was lowered to three years old. From this new term, children in France must be educated from age three to 18. Penalties for families who do not comply are up to six months in prison and a €7,500 fine.

Rentrée measures in place

The main points of the government’s health protocol for the rentrée, if all is well, are:

Social distancing

Maintaining a metre distance between pupils and staff will no longer be necessary in classrooms, canteens, libraries, other interior spaces and outdoors. However, spaces should be organised so that pupils can be as far away as possible from each other. Social distancing will not be obligatory on school transport but masks will have to be worn by children over 11 years old if they are not sitting more than one metre apart.


Pupils over 11 will have to wear masks when they are closer than one metre from other pupils and staff, both inside and outdoors. Parents should provide them, but schools will have stocks if children turn up without one. Staff will no longer have to wear masks in école maternelle, but will have to do so in primary schools, collèges and lycées when they are closer than a metre from pupils.

Hand washing

Washing hands for a minimum of 30 seconds with soap and water, or alcohol-based solutions (only for use in primary schools, under strict supervision), is required on arrival at school, before each meal, after going to the toilet and before going home.

Cleaning the school

Floors, desks, tables and objects such as door handles which are frequently touched must be cleaned and disinfected at least once a day. Buildings must be aired by opening windows at least three times a day for 10-15 minutes.


The protocol stresses that parents play an essential role. They are asked not to send their children to school if they have a temperature over 38C or if the child – or any other family member – displays Covid-19 symptoms.

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