Since the law against Muslim separatism was passed in 2021, homeschooling has been banned in France. Faced with the government’s almost systematic obstruction of parents who opt for homeschooling, the Liberté Éducation association has decided to plead the cause of educational freedom before the UN in Geneva.
There are between 50,000 and 60,000 homeschooled children in France, but this figure is set to fall drastically. In August 2021, during Emmanuel Macron’s first term in office, the government passed the law “consolidating respect for the principles of the Republic” also known as the law against separatism—intended primarily to combat Muslim communalism. In its provisions, the law put an end to the regime that had prevailed until then for homeschooling—a flexible declaratory regime that allowed many families to homeschool. The various associations defending homeschooling fought tooth and nail to prevent this legislative change, arguing that no report or data could establish a link between Islamist radicalisation and homeschooling—without success.
Since the law was passed, the restrictions have multiplied. One after another, families have been refused permission to continue educating their children at home, despite their justified educational plans—whether they be specific courses for children with illnesses or learning disabilities, or because their parents cannot find enough to satisfy them in the existing public and private systems. For the time being, some families are still managing to keep their children at home. There will be a transitional period until 2024, when the ban will be firm and definitive for all families.
Against a backdrop of bankruptcy for the national education system, insecurity in schools and an increase in dramatic cases of bullying at school, leading to suicides, a ban on home schooling—which provides an alternative for tens of thousands of children in distress—seems to make no sense at all, and a denial of parents’ mission to educate their children. The right to freedom of education, including family education, is supposed to be guaranteed by the French constitution. In a 2017 ruling, the State Council issued a reminder that freedom of education implies “the right for parents to choose, for their children, alternative educational methods to those offered by the public school system, including instruction within the family.”
The Liberté Éducation association is working hard to enable parents to educate their children as they wish. On Friday, September 29th, its Secretary General Jean-Baptiste Maillard appeared before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva to defend parents’ right to family education. The hearing took place in the run-up to the 74th session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which is due to be held in Geneva in early October to examine France’s compliance with the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. According to Liberté Éducation, since the law was passed in August 2021, France has not complied with article 15 of the Covenant, which states that parents have the right to choose an alternative to school.
Speaking at the United Nations, Jean-Baptiste Maillard explained that his action was a last resort in the face of the French administration’s relentless obstruction. Recourse to the European courts is not possible, because referral to the ECHR can only be envisaged once all administrative appeals have been exhausted at national level. Dozens of cases are currently before the courts throughout France, with proceedings likely to drag on for several years.
In its speech, the association was keen to dispel a number of negative stereotypes associated with family education. Contrary to popular belief, this system of education guarantees excellent academic results, is usually practised by families from modest backgrounds, and encourages children’s development.
The fight to guarantee family education might seem anecdotal, given that ‘only’ a few tens of thousands of children are concerned. But the battle being waged here is of a completely different dimension. It’s about defending the fundamental principle of respect for the educational choices of parents, who must remain the primary educators of their children. Today, this principle is constantly being flouted by education authorities, whether public or private, and for several decades now, education systems in France and elsewhere in Europe have continued to arrogate ever greater responsibilities to themselves in order to control young people and the transmission of knowledge more closely.
Liberté Éducation has sent the UN Committee a list of 10 practical recommendations to give parents back the freedom to choose what they feel is best for their children. France is now awaiting the international body’s deliberations.