French MP: why I fast-tracked law to combat bullying in schools

An estimated one in 10 children in France are the victim of bullying. Brittany MP Erwan Balanant tells us his hopes for the new law

Sad school boy being gossiped about and bullied
French MP hopes new law will give victims of bullying confidence to speak out
Published Last updated

Tell us a bit about the new law...

The law introduces a written right to education for all without bullying or violence within schools, whatever the situation.

This already exists in a limited way, but it has now been extended to private schools and universities, in addition to state schools.

It also covers situations where an adult is involved, as well as those solely between children.

It is important there is this definition, because it makes it clear to a parent or a child that if they suspect there is bullying going on, they have a right to complain – it is written down that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable in our society.

I think it will help a child to speak out with confidence, rather than keep it to themselves and feel ashamed.

The law also makes bullying a crime, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a €150,000 fine if a victim commits suicide or attempts it. How can this help?

The criminal code reflects how our society expects people to behave and that is why it is important there are these penalties.

It is easier for people to understand it is wrong if it is seen to be a crime.

It is not meant to be a repressive measure, but an educational one.

Making it a crime also makes it possible to introduce a measure which gives internet platforms a duty to control the content on their sites to reduce the risk of cyber-bullying.

The penalties seem very high, particularly when most cases in school concern under-18-year-olds...

You have quoted the penalty for an adult. There are precise rules governing what punishment can be handed out to a child.

It would have to be reduced and the judge would take into account the particular circumstances of the case.

We do not want to see people in court, we want to prevent situations getting that far, but making it a crime shows that bullying is serious and wrong.

It also reminds parents they have a duty of care to ensure their children are not being bullied, but also to make sure their children are not bullies themselves. It shows them that bullying is a crime.

How, practically, can the law reduce bullying?

There will have to be a section on bullying in any training scheme for jobs where an adult will come into contact with schoolchildren. This does not exist at present.

As well as teachers, it will include, among others, school medical staff, monitors, police and the judiciary.

It will mean a whole new generation of professionals will understand how to look out for bullying and deal with it.

All schools will have a duty to put into place ways of preventing and dealing with bullying.

If parents think an establishment is not doing enough, they will be able to ask the school to do more, because it is written down in law.

The government has already introduced a programme called Phare, which was trialled in six regions and introduced across France from the beginning of this school year.

Schools have an action plan in place to prevent, and to react in cases of, bullying, with trained staff and workshops for parents, encouraging pupils to become ‘no to bullying’ ambassadors to spread the word among their classmates.

Is this what your law wants to see in schools?

Yes, and it is important it is in law, so that it will continue to be applied, and resources given over to it, whatever government and minister of education is in power.

Does the Phare programme work?

It is not yet in place everywhere, but I have seen examples where it has been introduced, with positive results, and where there are schools with very little bullying as a result and a good atmosphere among pupils.

We know that if there are trained staff and a plan of action, tensions can be defused more quickly as the sooner an episode is picked up, the quicker it can be resolved with the least effect on the future of either the person who is bullied or the bully.

When an incident is detected, there needs to be support for both the victim and the aggressor, as it can cause problems on both sides.

We know how damaging bullying can be. It can make victims lose confidence in themselves, which means they might eventually drop out of the education system and lose all faith in society.

Do you think the measures in the law will be effectively applied in all educational establishments?

It is one thing to have a law, but quite another thing to make sure adequate resources and time are allocated to it...

I think there is a willingness to make sure the measures will be implemented.

Your law was introduced in record time – presented on November 5, 2021, and accepted definitively on February 24, 2022.

How did you get it through so fast?

It was rushed through because I succeeded in convincing the government that it was important, and I had the support of President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Jean Castex and Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer.

I think there is a collective willingness in this country to fight bullying.

If I am re-elected, I will continue to improve matters further, because I think the education of our children under the best circumstances is essential to the wellbeing of our society.

Helplines for parents, teachers and children

There are two free telephone numbers set up by the Ministry of Education for pupils, parents and professionals in relation to bullying:

3020: Helpers listen and give advice and, with the caller’s consent, the case can be handed over to someone specialised in bullying;

3018: The number for victims of cyberbullying at school.

You can call either Monday to Friday, 9:00-20:00, and Saturday, 9:00-18:00.

Related articles

What help is available for victims of online bullying in France?

Interview: Death of French schoolgirl Alisha shows bullying kills

Family claims suicide of girl, 12, due to bullying in north France