What parents in France need to know about school closures and the help they can get

As schools in France stayed closed on Tuesday as part of the third nationwide lockdown measures that took effect this weekend, many parents will be left juggling work and childcare. Here's a look at the help that is available.

What parents in France need to know about school closures and the help they can get
French school children are working from home this week, just like they did back in the spring of 2020. Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

“We will close crèches, schools, and high schools for three weeks,” French President Emmanuel Macron said during a live speech on March 31st where he announced new measures to halt the spread of Covid-19 across the country.

These are the dates to look out for:

Monday, April 5th – a week of distance learning for all schools

Monday, April 12th – the start of the two-week Easter holiday for all schools, across all areas (a change in holiday dates for most schools)

Monday, April 26th – return of in-person infant and primary classes – secondary and high schools to continue with distance learning

Monday, May 3rd – secondary and high schools return to in-person classes

The help parents can get

Parents who are unable to work while their children are out of school will qualify for temporary work furlough or financial aid, the president promised.

“All the measures currently in force will be extended,” Macron said.

A public scheme providing aid to parents whose children’s school or class closed has been in place since September 1st 2020

Parents or guardians can ask to be placed on partial leave or to get an arrêt de travail (doctor’s certificate) for the time they need to be absent from work.

However what parents are entitled to depends on their job and household situation.

Here’s an overview:

Private sector employees who cannot work remotely

Employees in the private sector who are not able to work from home can get on the chômage partiel (furlough) scheme. The scheme remains in place for parents who have to stay home with their children due to Covid, however there are a few catches to receive this aid. Firstly, both parents or guardians have to be unable to work from home (unless they are a single parent). Secondly, the employer has to be the one stating that the employee is needed in the office, as the Education Ministry confirmed to French daily Le Parisien.

Thirdly, the child in question must be either under 16 years old or disabled.

The parent set to take care of the child also has to provide their employer with a written statement confirming that the school or class has closed, OR a document from the Assurance maladie social security service stating that the child is considered a Covid contact case.

Lastly, the parent has to write an attestation sur l’honneur – that specific French legal form where you swear on your “honour”, more information HERE – that they are the only parent asking to benefit from this aid. 

If all this is done correctly, the employee will be declared as furloughedwhich means that the state pays 84 percent of their salary (100 percent for employees on the minimum wage). The scheme begins on the first day of the arrêt de travail and can last until the last day of the child’s isolation period or when the school or class reopens, as applicable.

Private sector employees who can work remotely

Parents who are employees in the private sector and who can work from home are in a less protected situation.

They can get a doctor’s certificate for time off work in order to take care of a small child, although there are no rules regulating the age of the child or circumstances here. It is really up to the employer, so parents finding themselves in this situation will have to negotiate with their boss directly.

Self-employed and freelancers

Self-employed, small business owners and freelancers may also get a doctor’s certificate in order to stay at home and claim compensation of their salaries these days. Again, this goes for those with children either under the age of 16 or with disabilities.

This group includes independent agricultural workers, nannies, artists, independent health workers, people working on a contractual basis for the public sector and others – full list on the government’s website HERE.

Parents in this situation need to make a request online via the Caisse nationale de l’Assurance maladie (CNAM), link HERE, or via the Mutualité sociale agricole (MSA), link HERE.

Two-parent families may share the leave between parents if they wish. They will need to provide a document confirming the closure of the school or class, OR that their child is considered a contact case. 

Self-employed people without a fixed salary may apply for the Solidarity Fund, the government’s scheme that gives out grants to the self-employed whose revenues have dropped due to Covid-19. The amounts self-employed people are entitled to depend on their type of business and how much income they have lost. Full details on the government’s website HERE.

EXPLAINED: The economic help schemes that businesses and the self-employed in France can now benefit from

Public sector employees 

Parents who work in the public sector can get a so-called ‘special authorisation of absence’ (ASA), which reimburses them 100 percent for the days concerned. Only one parent per household can get this support, and only if the child is younger than 16 years old or disabled.

In order to benefit from the scheme they have to provide their employer with two documents: a letter from the school stating that their child has to stay home and an attestation sur l’honneur declaring that they are the only one asking to benefit from this support for the days concerned.

For more information, visit the government’s website, link HERE.

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MAP: The 20 cheapest French towns and cities to live in

The cost of living is a hot topic in France and across Europe right now - so where are the cheapest places to live?

MAP: The 20 cheapest French towns and cities to live in

At a time when purchasing power has never been so central to French people’s concerns, French daily Le Parisien has compiled a list of towns and cities where your money will go the furthest.

In order to produce this ranking, Le Parisien compiled the average salary in each location and then looked at the price of the average supermarket shop, the cost of transport (fuel as well as public transport), property prices (to buy or rent), property tax rates and the cost of a cinema ticket. 

READ ALSO Food, fuel and transport: Which prices will rise in France in 2023?

And it turns out smaller is better.

Of the 96 towns and cities tested, Niort, in the département of Deux-Sèvres in south west France (population around 60,000) came top,

Laval, in Mayenne (population around 50,000) was third; Saint-Brieuc, in the Brittany département of Côtes-d’Armor (population around 45,000), was 8th, and Rodez, down in the southern département of Aveyron (pop: c 25,000) was 10th.

The 20 most wallet-friendly towns in France are:

  1. Niort
  2. Châteauroux
  3. Laval
  4. Nevers
  5. Belfort
  6. Chaumont
  7. Épinal
  8. Saint-Brieuc
  9. Saint-Étienne
  10. Rodez
  11. Châlons-en-Champagne
  12. Quimper
  13. Arras
  14. Foix
  15. Poitiers
  16. Le Mans
  17. Colmar
  18. Montauban
  19. Bourg-en-Bresse
  20. Nantes

READ ALSO The 20 small towns most popular with house-hunters in France

Niort gains, the study found, in part because it has offered free local public transport since 2017 - a policy that other towns that rank well also implement, including second-placed Châteauroux (Indre), Bourg-en-Bresse (Ain, 24th) and Gap (Hautes-Alpes, 63rd).

For various reasons, including infrastructure, offering free public transport that meets higher levels of demand in larger cities is unviable, the report said. 

In fact, France’s larger cities are noticeably low in Le Parisien’s rankings. Lyon stumbled on to the list in 58th, Paris in 77th, Marseille 84th, and Montpellier 90th. Nantes, coming in 20th, is the only ‘large city’ representative in the top 20.

READ ALSO Wild boar, fast internet and kindly neighbours – why small-town France has the best of all worlds

The report stated that, despite salaries being little higher than average in larger conurbations, people also pay more for shopping, public transport, movie tickets, and housing.

The survey found that, on the whole, your euro goes further in the west of the country - where supermarkets are cheaper, and towns aren’t too congested, while the cost of a tank of fuel is lower, as are - researchers discovered - the more abstract costs, such as insurance, for the same level of service as elsewhere.

READ ALSO OPINION: An inflation ‘tsunami’ is about to hit France

Eastern France, the study found, benefited from relatively cheap property prices - offering more bang for a house-buying buck than the expensive ‘coastal bounce’-affected south or the Ile-de-France region, which orbits the cost-of-living singularity that is Paris.