Is Catholic education reserved for an elite?

Is Catholic education reserved for an elite?

A Minister of National Education whose children study privately, nothing very original or illegitimate, obviously. Luc Ferry or more recently Pap Ndiaye were in this situation when they piloted Rue de Grenelle. But a minister – Amélie Oudéa-Castéra – who justifies the schooling of her sons at Stanislas College, in Paris, because she and her husband were “fed up with the packets of hours not seriously replaced” in the public, the controversy could only flare up. By falling on the back of public education – which she represents – and by promoting, in opposition, the Catholic school, the new boss of the “mammoth” has rekindled the flames of the educational war between public and private, never all completely extinct in France.

Does Catholic education, which represents 96% of private establishments under contract with the State, primarily attract children from privileged families, as the Oudéa-Castéra affair might suggest? If we stick to the statistics established by the ministry, the figures clearly indicate a socio-economic difference in the recruitment of students. In 2022, 41% of Catholic education students had parents belonging to the CSP + category (executives, liberal or intellectual professions, business leaders), while this figure is only 20% in the public *. This share has even increased by ten points compared to the beginning of the 2000s. The differences are particularly marked in Île-de-France – and especially in Paris -, in the South Mediterranean as well as in the departments and regions overseas. Wed, according to a study conducted by education economist Julien Grenet.

* Source: Ministry of National Education.

Territorial differences

But the observation calls for nuances, as this professor at the Paris School of Economics points out. “The causes of this phenomenon are difficult to pin down,” he admits. Two structural explanations can be put forward: “First, the proportion of favored categories in the entire population has increased over the last twenty years, reaching 36%, recalls the specialist. Then, although the number of private establishments has not increased overall, it has gained ground in large urban areas where the CSP+ are more represented. » Some examples: in Lyon, 49% of students are educated privately; 47% in Bordeaux, 38% in Lille… In Brittany or rural Vendée, on the other hand, where high-income families are fewer in number and where the private sector is culturally very established, school students present a fairly similar socio-economic profile to those of the public. Elsewhere, as in the northern districts of Marseille, they mainly belong to the middle and working classes.

To explain what he himself calls an “over-representation” of wealthy households, Gilles Demarquet, the president of the Association of Parents of Free Education (Apel), mentions the cost of tuition fees in view of from a survey of members: 430 euros on average in kindergarten per year to 1,249 euros for a high school student. But he especially highlights that of school transport and the canteen, “which, in the private sector, are supported not by local authorities but by families”.

The pricing commitment

Price barriers that the general secretariat of Catholic Education has committed to lowering in an agreement signed with the Ministry of National Education, in May 2023. The text sets two objectives: first, to increase by at least 50% in five years the number of establishments modulating family contributions according to parents’ income. Second, double the rate of scholarship students over this same period in establishments where communities subsidize the price of canteens and transport. “How do you expect,” insists Gilles Demarquet, “that a family of modest means exercises its freedom of educational choice, even though it is enshrined in the Debré law of 1959, if catering costs it six times more than in the public sector, which is sometimes the case today? »

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