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Parents protest changes to Paris bilingual schools

Expat parents in the Paris area are threatening legal action after the city's education chiefs changed the rules meaning their children will likely miss out on the much-sought after places in bilingual schools.

Parents protest changes to Paris bilingual schools
Places at bilingual schools in Paris will not be handed out to pupils from the suburbs. Photo: AFP

Paris education chiefs have provoked the wrath of Anglo parents after deciding to give priority for places in the international sections of three of the city's bilingual schools to pupils from within Paris.

That means that those living in les banlieues or the suburbs outside Paris will almost certainly miss out on a school place despite having already passed the tough English-language entry tests which they spent years preparing for. 

Parents are vowing not to give up without a fight and have launched a petition on the site Change.org, with almost all of the desired 1,500 signatures achieved as of early Thursday afternoon.

Those parents have also threatened to sue the capital's education authority, the Académie de Paris.

“This is has come out of nowhere. We had no warning this would happen,” parent Isabelle Dennieau told The Local. “People only found out once the application process was closed.

“Some pupils have been preparing for their tests for two years. They’ve invested so much time into studying,” she added.

The international sections of the three schools Honoré de Balzac (17th) Maurice Ravel (20th) and Camille Sée (15th) are much sought after as they are part of the French national education system but allow around 30 pupils in each year group access to bilingual classes, on top of the French curriculum.

The pupils are predominantly from parents of expat or binational couples who are keen for their children to learn subjects like history and literature in English, but also remain part of the French state system.

Pupils often travel in to Paris from far and wide to attend the schools.

SEE ALSO: Dos and Don'ts for raising bilingual children

It's not just those in the English section that are affected but also in other bilingual sections including Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Arabic. 

“These sections are a fantastic way for communities to mix, especially those from outside Paris who are not privileged kids at all,” says Dennieau, who lives within Paris.

A leaflet sent out to all parents telling them of the need to protest the change stresses that the Paris terror attacks highlight “how urgent it is to prioritize the social integration of less privileged children.”

One of those parents directly affected is Derek Ferguson, originally from Britain, whose daughter Alice is waiting to hear whether she will have a place in the international section at Balzac.

The family moved out of Paris in February and now face the prospect that the relocation could cost their daughter a place at the school.

Ferguson, who said he only found out last week about the change in rules, said he backs taking legal action against the Académie de Paris.

“We’ve been building up to this for three to four years and we were expecting to get the result this week,” he told The Local.

“We moved outside of Paris on the assumption that all would be well. If she doesn’t get in I have no idea what we’ll do for my daughter’s education,” he said.

“The irony of the situation is that those who can afford to stay in Paris are those who can probably afford to pay for private education.

“Those of us who have felt obliged to move to the suburbs are now going to feel forced to move into the private sector for the bilingual education of our children yet are probably less likely to be able to afford it.”

The schools themselves are believed to be against the move to prioritize Paris children and it remains to be seen whether they follow the directive of the education authority.

The Académie de Paris has not yet responded to The Local's request to explain the change in the rules, but parents believe the motivation comes from a need to cut costs rather than anything to do with snobbery.

“They just don't want to pay for the children who are not from Paris,” said Isabelle Dennieau.

The move to favour Parisian pupils over those from the suburbs comes at a time when the French government is under pressure to reduce inequality in its schools system.

France's Minister of Education Najat Vallaud-Belkacem came under fire for a package of reforms designed to make schools less elitist.

One of the more controversial reforms was the move to scrap the learning of a second modern language for gifted children (around 16 percent took these classes) at the age of 11, replacing it with a modern language for everyone at age 12.

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SCHOOLS

Fears in rural France over plans to close hundreds of school classes

Parents, teaching unions and mayors in rural France are up in arms over an announcement by the government that 200 to 300 classes in schools throughout the country will be closed at the end of the school year. They blame the president.

Fears in rural France over plans to close hundreds of school classes
Photos: AFP

Anger in the French countryside has been increasing for weeks over the threat to close hundreds of classes and worried parents, teachers and local authorities will not have been pacified by the words of the education minister this week.

Jean-Michel Blanquer admitted that between 200 and 300 classes will close in rural areas at the end of this school year.

Blanquer however tried his best to ease worries by insisting that the government would be “opening more classes than they are closing”.

“We only talk about those which are closing but could easily talk about the classes that are opening,” he said.

“We must differentiate between closing classes and closing whole schools,” said Blanquer. “Class closures are normal. They have always happened and always will.”

The minister also tried to reassure those in rural areas that he was the “biggest supporter of schools in the countryside” and that “he was working to preserve classes” in these areas.

And the closures aren't all the government's fault.

(AFP)

Statistics show that among elementary schools (écoles maternelles) the number of pupils will be 30,000 less in September 2018 than the previous year, for a total of around 6.76 million throughout the country.

As the minister points out: “There are population movements. There is nothing wrong with what is happening today.”

Blanquer say that despite the drop in pupil numbers some 3,800 extra teaching posts will be created in primary schools next September.

But teaching unions are unlikely to be satisfied by his words, because they don't believe these posts will be created in rural areas.

They blame the closures of classes in countryside schools on President Emmanuel Macron's flagship election promise to cut class sizes in primary schools located in deprived neighbourhoods which are mainly in urban areas.

Macron's reform, which will be rolled out over the coming years and will see class sizes reduced to 12 pupils in underprivileged urban neighbourhoods, will require thousands of new teachers.

But unions representing schools in rural France say the reform, which they support, comes at the expense of teaching jobs in the countryside.

“It's like stripping Peter to dress Paul,” as one union pointed out.

They claim that even the 3,800 new posts won't cover the vacancies created by Macron's plan to cut class sizes let alone fill the vacancies in rural schools.

Local education authorities “will have no choice but to close a lot of classes, particularly in rural elementary schools.”

Unions give the example of the Somme department, in rural northern France. The department will have 800 fewer school pupils in September and there are currently 45 planned class closures.

On the other hand there are 47 planned class openings in the department but all but two of those are in Macron's “priority zones” which will benefit from his promise to cut class sizes.

Julien Cristofoli from France's main teaching union SNUipp said those living in rural areas “feel abandoned”.

Senators representing rural departments had strong words for the minister.

“We are in a period where 75 percent of our territory is being abandoned by the state. The closures of schools are the last straw that breaks the camel's back,” said the senator for Indre-et-Loire Pierre Louault.

Anne Chain-Larche, the senator for Seine-et-Marne added: “The rural territories are tired of being robbed in favor of your public policies. Do the small schoolchildren of the fields not have the same rights to those of the cities?”

The anger of elected officials in rural areas is even greater given Macron promised in July 2017 that “there will be no closing of classes in primary schools” in rural areas.

What is likely to happen over the coming weeks and months is that parents and local mayors will up their campaigns to save classes. In the past parents at schools in rural France have not been afraid to “occupy” their kids' schools in protest.

There are already several “Nuits des Ecoles” planned in certain areas in which parents will spend the night in schools in a bid to raise the alarm.

“We are and will be very attentive and responsive. We will not let rural schools be stripped,” said a recent statement from the Associaton of France's Rural Mayors.