From public to private school: These parents who change sides

From public to private school: These parents who change sides

They took the plunge a few years ago. Christine and Jalelle, a couple of nurses at the public hospital, calmly walk through the doors of the private Jeanne-d’Arc high school in Thonon les-Bains (Haute-Savoie). Both say they are “attached” to public education where they completed their schooling, surrounded by “excellent teachers”. But for six years, however, the year their daughter Ambre entered middle school, they have been banking on the private sector, seduced by the “good” results of these establishments compared to a public that they consider “abandoned” by the State . So, despite the forty-minute journey from their home, the family made an appointment with the principal of this technological and professional establishment, hoping that the 17-year-old would join a first STMG (Science and Technology of Management and Technology). management). “It’s almost a regret,” admits Christine.

After taking a look at the school playground, the family heads to the office of principal Christophe Bansard, it’s time for the educational meeting. Parents and young girl listen attentively as the head of the school talks about the “demanding but caring” teachers at the high school he runs. “That’s what we expect,” the mother responds promptly. Then the principal looks delightedly at Ambre’s results before congratulating her on her cover letter. “You wrote it yourself, I hope?” he asks. The student responds with a small “yes”, accompanied by a forced smile. The parents don’t say a word.

There is no question of their daughter going to the public high school in the area. This year, the son of one of their colleagues did not have a teacher for three months. “That was the case for me last year too,” recalls Ambre. Her mother immediately corrects her: “Yes, but other teachers have arranged among themselves to provide the lessons…”

Attractive educational offer

While Jalelle is Muslim and Christine an atheist, the family does not consider religious education a priority. “All that matters is the excellence that the private sector seems to offer,” continues Ambre’s mother, aside. A family whose profile is increasingly found in the private school landscape. “Twenty or thirty years ago, 99% of students were Catholic, remembers Philippe Delorme, general secretary of Catholic Education (read the interview). This is no longer the case today, society has evolved .”

A phenomenon confirmed by Christophe Bansard, the principal of the Jeanne-d’Arc high school. Although he assures that he “does not want to relaunch the school war with the public”, he often receives parents who did not grow up in a Christian community and yet are “seduced by his educational offer”. “The attractiveness of Catholic education now seems to be a matter of the educational market rather than religious reasons,” confirms François Dubet, sociologist and specialist in these issues.

Over the years, would the old ideological divide around school gradually fade away? The school wars between the pro-public “secular left” and “right-wing Catholic” camps, which culminated in the demonstrations in defense of free schools in 1984, seem to belong to ancient history. “Young parents born in the 1980s and 1990s are now putting their children in the private sector even though they themselves had studied in the public sector and they claim to be left-wing,” analyzes political scientist Jérôme Fourquet , author of The French Archipelago (Ed. Seuil, 2019).

In Pornic (Loire-Atlantique), the Banasiak-Richet family illustrates this phenomenon. In September, their 6-year-old eldest and the 3-year-old twins will find themselves sitting on the benches of the Sainte-Opportune Catholic school, in Saint-Père-en-Retz. However, Sophie and Maxime, the young parents in their thirties, are pure products of public school. The mother is the daughter of teachers who have spent their entire career in National Education. “They were the ones who encouraged us to switch to the private sector,” she explains. The grandparents even agree to pay half of the children’s school fees, which amount to 700 euros over the year for all three. “Our entourage convinced us. We have friends who are teachers in the public sector and their children are all in the private sector. That caught our attention, we started to wonder why” explains the mother, who nevertheless has very good memories from his public schooling in eastern France.

“Our friend who is a maths teacher at the public high school in Pornic gave up one day: out of an hour of lessons, he spends thirty minutes laying down the law. This seems surprising in Pornic, with its wealthy environment, but there are a lot of agricultural poverty here,” continues Sophie, secretary of a driving school in the city. As such, she also met many parents of high school students, which helped her make her choice. “Some people told me that, during Covid, in Pornic, the teachers had not set up online courses, the kids and parents were left to their own devices,” she says. “It’s sad, but in the private sector next door it was the opposite,” she admits, a little embarrassed.

Give better cards

This allocation switch now begins from the small section. The number of 2-year-old children in private school increased by 3.2% between the start of the 2021 and 2022 school years while it fell by 3.1% in the public sector. (2). “Parents consider that the social future of children is built at school. They must be better than others to succeed,” explains sociologist François Dubet.

“I’m not saying that I’m going to make them doctors, but I tell myself that sending my daughters to private school now allows me to offer them better qualifications,” adds Sophie Richet. However, the idyllic image of the private sector does not exactly correspond to reality. In 2017, a study entitled Who chooses private school, and for what academic results? compared the academic results obtained in CP and CE2 between the two sectors. The differences do not appear so impressive: the overall score of correct answers in CP is 71.7% in the public sector compared to 74% in the private sector; in French we find a score of 68.4% for public students compared to 70.8% in the private sector in CE2; and in mathematics, in CE2, the public reached 67.2% correct answers compared to 68.4% in the private sector.

The study concludes that the performance of public schools is as good as that of private schools for equivalent social situations of students. But again, the picture is not that simple. If the percentage of students from disadvantaged backgrounds amounts to 42.6% in the public sector, it is not negligible in the private sector4: 18.3%. If the gap has been widening since the 2000s in urban areas, the social composition of students in the public and private sectors is quite close in the rural departments, in the north-west quarter and the south of the Massif Central.

The attractiveness of Catholic education now seems to be a matter of the academic market rather than religious reasons.”

François Dubet


A follow-up question

“The private sector has become a refuge against the feeling of general decline in national education,” describes political scientist Jérôme Fourquet in this regard. Shelter or flight, depending on your point of view, the lack of follow-up attributed to the public seems to be a strong argument for the families. “Seeing friends whose children are in the private sector, we quickly notice that they are put in the loop. We, at public kindergarten, are asking for meetings with the teacher,” explains Sophie Richet , from Pornic.

This educational specificity begins at pre-registration, during which parents meet the head of the establishment. A good point for the private sector, as Christophe Bansard, the principal of the Jeanne-d’Arc private high school in Thononles-Bains, points out between two meetings: “It’s the first thing that families appreciate.” An assertion confirmed by Stéphanie Détry and her daughter, in second general at the public high school on the other side of the city, who just entered her office. “I still don’t know what his principal looks like,” squeaks the mother with her hair pulled into a bun. However, she has repeatedly requested an interview to talk about her Emma, ​​who does not feel at home in the establishment. “It’s a factory,” sighs Stéphanie Détry. If there are 1,700 students there, there are almost three times fewer at its private counterpart. After fifteen minutes of interview, mother and daughter feel relieved: Emma will enter Jeanne-d’Arc at the start of the next school year.

A few minutes later, in the same room, Christine, Jalelle and Ambre leave satisfied with their meeting too. These parents considering themselves as pure products of the public cannot, however, help but think of the school in which they believed so much. They even half-heartedly regret that education becomes paying, “commodified”. But since it is their daughter, the heart prevails.

2) According to the Department of Evaluation, Foresight and Performance of the ministry, December 2022.

4) According to the ministry’s social position indices, made public in fall 2022.

A minimalist protocol

The school war did not take place. On May 17, the Minister of National Education, Pap Ndiaye, and the Secretary General of Catholic Education, Philippe Delorme, signed a memorandum of understanding in favor of social and academic diversity in private education under contract. . Over four pages, it sets “trajectories” for Catholic education to increase social diversity within its establishments. Neither binding objectives nor strict quotas: private education is committed to “promoting” the enrollment of scholarship students – 12% currently compared to 29% in the public sector – to reach a rate of 25% within five years. For its part, the ministry is committed to “raising awareness” among local authorities to extend social assistance to private school students (the family contribution for pastoral and educational activities being a barrier for low-income families), and the State will continue to finance up to 73% of Catholic education under contract.

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