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May 12, 2003
No education otherwise in France

I've been chatting with my hosts, as you would expect of me, about the relative merits of the British and French education systems. They are English , but with experience of both systems, so their opinions are worth attending to.

In some ways the French system of education appears to be in worse shape than the British one. The state bit of it probably works rather better, although it's hard to tell with things like that. But the real problem is that there is no "unofficial" system of education that remotely resembles the unofficial sector in Britain. There's no "education otherwise" here.

The French system of education seems to suffer from all the same difficulties as the British one of falling academic standards and declining standards of behaviour, and from all the same worries caused by wanting to combine social inclusiveness with keeping order in the only way that order can actually be kept, which is by excluding some children. Teachers are civil servants with jobs for life, which probably makes bad ones even harder to avoid than in Britain.

But those are mere differences of nuance and degree. The fundamental difference is that the French system lacks the self-corrective balance supplied by educational mavericks simply being allowed to do their own thing. The private sector is more heavily regulated than in Britain. This private sector seems to be quite good, but of course it is expensive, and that vital power to simply remove your kid altogether from any school is unavailable.

At present, with "education otherwise" being the practice of only a tiny minority, this difference between continental Europe and the Anglo-Saxons may not matter much. But as the practice of home education and home schools spreads in Anglo-Saxonia, as it is spreading and surely will spread more, it is likely to result in huge educational improvements, which could in the longer run leave continental Europe as far behind educationally as it already is in things like computer making and computer programming.

Which is why preserving the legal status quo in this matter in Britain is so important.

On that front I'm starting to become more optimistic as I meet more home schoolers. Remember those home schoolers I told you about last week. (I'll add links to all my France postings when I get home - for now, good luck or good memories to all.) I remember discussing with them how any government which took on the home-schoolers of Britain would have got itself the Political Enemies from Hell. Think of all those terrifyingly bright children who'd overrun morning television. Consider the fact that many home-schoolers have considerable demonstrating experience. I may not hold with their political views about war, peace, etc., but these people do know how to lay on a good demo and to mobilise the media. And they must be, almost by definition, among the most intellectually self-confident people around. So, no, I rather suspect that education otherwise will remain a legal fixture in Britain for some time to come, and that this difference between Anglo-Saxonia and the continent will continue to be a fact, and a fact of great significance.

And I suppose it is just possible that instead of continental Europe infecting Britain in this matter, the infection might be made to spread in the opposite direction. We can hope.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:34 PM
Category: Home education

It certainly is legal to home teach in France and I know people who do.

The only countries where it is actually illlegal are Germany and Holland.

Comment by: Mike on December 3, 2003 01:21 PM
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