They are called Montessori, Freinet or Steiner. By promoting alternative learning methods, these non-contractual private schools in France are growing with each new school year. Nearly 120 branches opened across the territory in 2022, a continuation of a momentum that has increased their numbers over a decade.
These private schools are qualified as “non-contractual” as they have not signed an agreement with the French state and thus receive no subsidy. The institutions are not obliged to follow the same programs and to adhere to the schedules of the National Education. On the other hand, the children raised there must acquire the knowledge of the common ground.
About fifty branches in Brittany
In the past school year, the Ministry of National Education identified 88,437 uncontracted private sector students across the area – in particular, a 180% increase in first-degree enrollment since 2012! In Brittany there are more than 2,000 students in about fifty institutions. In contrast, although these figures are still far from those of Île-de-France, the evolution observed in recent years is more significant than in many other regions.
In detail, Rennes centralises a large part of the independent school groups, but we see that a growing number of establishments are now settling in the countryside. In 2022, a third of all creations in France took place in municipalities with less than 2,000 inhabitants.
Creations in the countryside
Illustration of this phenomenon: the schools that open their doors this year in the rural areas of Ille-et-Vilaine – such as “1, 2, Tree School” in Bréal-sous-Montfort, “Graines de joie” in Châteaugiron or even ” Hêtre et Becoming” in Sixt-sur-Aff – alone represents 5% of new creations at national level “It is a region always rich in alternative school projects”, confirms Anne-Françoise de Saint-Albin, of the Foundation for the school, an organization that supervises many creative projects: “What also strikes us in Brittany is that we have schools that are quickly becoming permanent”.
More than 25% of all Breton establishments have a declared confessional character. A figure roughly equal to that of the rest of the country. Yet a specificity emerges: they are all Catholic. There is therefore no Islamic, Jewish or Protestant school in Brittany – the only French region in this case with Normandy.
Regarding the dominant pedagogy, if the Montessori method has remained one of the most popular over the past ten years, the 2022 vintage shows a tendency to mix genres. “Parents are looking for schools that take their child’s personality into account,” analyzes Michel Valladier, new director-general of the Foundation for the school. “From now on, the creators allow themselves to use the best of any pedagogy to offer less rigid education.”
Towards an influx of children from home education?
In the long run, the dynamics of opening independent schools should accelerate further with the arrival of children practicing at home at school. Following the promulgation of the Law Against Separatism in August 2021, family education is no longer based on a declaratory regime, but requires obtaining a much more complicated consent. A large part of the retoquées families could go to non-contract schools.
“This situation is not so surprising,” confirms Michel Valadier. “National Education is such a monolithic block that independent education makes customization much easier than contracted public and private schools.” To meet the different requirements, more and more different establishments have emerged: school on the farm, feet in the grass, inclusive or sometimes even trilingual.
Growing distrust of national education
In 2018, a Senate report sought to understand the reasons for this success story. The results of this analysis combine both a growing mistrust of national education and the contracted private sector, and a craze for new pedagogy perceived as benevolent and child-centred.
The document also notes that a large number of non-contractual institutions often provide better responses to “special educational needs” that are poorly taken into account in the rest of the education system (dyslexics, the gifted, etc.).
Parents want to favor a certain well-being for their children
For Céline Pageot, who will open the Graine de Joies school in Châteaugiron, near Rennes, in November, the educational conditions and lack of individualization in the supervision of children necessarily weigh on the choice of some parents. “Teachers work in very difficult circumstances with overcrowded classrooms. What I see are parents who want to get out of this imposed rhythm and promote a certain well-being for their children. I think we really evolved from an educational point of view by saying that we were going to support our children instead of educating them.”
Exorbitant prices and some worries
Sometimes even having to pay up to € 10,000 per year to register your child in certain institutions. “Many schools are trying to make an effort to offer a price based on the family quotient or declining rates for siblings,” said Anne-Françoise de Saint-Albin. “But if there is no subsidy, you still have to pay the teachers and the classrooms…”
In addition to the price that generates a real selection among families, some schools are also very closely monitored by various organizations because of practices that raise questions. For several years now, the Interministerial Mission for Vigilance and the Combating of Sectarian Aberrations (Miviludes) has been targeting branches claiming the Steiner-Waldorf pedagogy. An educational method coupled with an esoteric train of thought. In 2021, a Steiner school in Bagnères-de-Bigorre was closed by the rectorate of Hautes-Pyrénées due to “administrative and pedagogical shortcomings”.
Under strict supervision
The National Committee for Secular Action (CNAL) is also closely following this boom in non-contract schools. At the beginning of the year, based on inspection reports, the association denounced “significant deviations both in the educational conditions for children and adolescents and in the content of education and its implementation” in some schools. In particular, a branch in Ille-et-Vilaine – the name of which has not been communicated – has been reported for suspicion of discrimination between girls and boys.
Here is an extract from the inspection report: “The group of boys is supervised by a sports teacher in counter or group games, while the group of girls is supervised in artistic expressive activities, such as rhythmic and athletic gymnastics.
If a school turns out to be bigot, there are enough laws in this country to shut it down.
When asked about the subject, Michel Valadier, General Director of the Fondation pour l’école, defends the notion of academic freedom: “From the moment an institution is allowed to open and the school is proclaimed, let us not pass judgment on the excessive seriousness, the narrow-mindedness or the ideological choices that can be made there. If a school turns out to be sectarian, there are laws in this country to shut it down.”
In the crosshairs of National Education, some institutions have received up to three surprise inspections in the past school year. If necessary, prove that the subject is extremely sensitive. In fact, according to our information, the Rennes academy has just created a specific position to oversee the oversight of non-contract schools in the region.