France’s Education Minister in favour of schools trying out uniforms

Several areas have welcomed support for the idea

Uniforms have long been a divisive issue in France
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Uniforms could be introduced in schools that are open to the idea after the Minister of Education says he is in favour of “experimentation”.

The French national school system does not require pupils to wear uniforms, unlike many private establishments, such as military schools, and schools in overseas French departments.

Pupils in France can typically wear whatever they like so long as they do not break certain school rules. However, the government has clamped down on religious items such as turbans, Islamic veils, crosses and kippahs since 2004.

On August 27, the Minister of Education, Gabriel Attal, extended the ban to include abayas, a loose, full-length dress traditionally worn in North Africa and the Middle East.

Read more: Abaya dress worn by some Muslim girls is banned from schools

In an interview with le Figaro in late August, Mr Attal went further, offering his support for school uniforms, a measure that is supported by 60% of French people according to a 2023 poll by CSA for CNews*.

“I am very much in favour of experimentation if it can move the debate forward. The best way to evaluate the situation is by testing it,” said Mr Attal.

“It would not be a magic wand that solves all our problems, but I am in favour of letting schools try it if they so wish.”

Where might school uniforms appear?

The minister’s comments were welcomed by several mayors and MPs, including Eric Ciotti, leader of Les Republicains (right-wing) and president of the Alpes Maritimes departmental council.

Mr Ciotti tweeted his support for the proposal on September 3, saying that he would like to launch a trial of school uniforms in the Alpes Maritimes, suggesting “such a measure could help fight inequality and bullying.”

The mayor of Perpignan, Louis Aliot of the Rassemblement National (far-right), would also like to see school uniforms in his town.

“I cannot impose them on schools,” he said in a press conference on August 31, “I can only give them the possibility. Perhaps there will be some headteachers in favour. In any case, parents have asked me to do this.”

Why are uniforms divisive in France?

The support proffered by some for the uniform trials is very much along political lines. School uniforms are typically supported by right-wing politicians in France.

Both Marine le Pen (Rassemblement National) and Eric Zemmour (Reconquête) are in favour as a way of shoring up republican values against what they perceive as the threat of multiculturalism and religious expression in schools.

The Socialist party does not support the idea, with its first secretary Olivier Faure tweeting on August 29 that the measure would mean “a uniform for the poor in poor areas.”

Socialist deputy mayor of Paris Emmanuel Grégoire told France Info that “there are 1,000 more important things than uniforms.”

A long running debate

The debate around school uniforms has ebbed and flowed for many years.

Brigitte Macron, the president’s wife and a former teacher, recently spoke out in favour of uniforms.

Read more: ‘Non, Madame Macron, school uniforms do not mean social equality’

At a congress of the right-wing UMP party in 2011, then Prime Minister François Fillon proposed experimenting with the introduction of uniforms in some schools - the same measure that Mr Attal proposes today.

Even in 2003, then Minister of Education, Xavier Darcos, under President Chirac told Le Parisien that the introduction of uniforms should be considered.

While there has never been a school uniform in France, from 1882 many schools required that pupils wear simple blue, pink or beige shirts, a practice that was never subject to any legislation per se, only the recommendations of then-Prime Minister Jules Ferry.

This practice was abandoned in the aftermath of the May 1968 student protests.

*In an online poll of 1,010 people aged 18 and above performed between January 10 and 11 2023.

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