When homeschooling in France, a letter of intent must be sent yearly to the Education Department for your primary residence. No permission is required. But the intent must be acknowledged for the home instruction to be legal.
After receipt of these letters, the educational department sends an inspector to verify that instruction is, in fact, taking place. There must be at least 3 month’s delay between the reception of the letter and the yearly inspection. And they are required to give a month’s notice.
As mentioned in my previous post about homeschooling in France, this inspection happens in 3 steps and in this order:
- an interview with the parents concerning their choice of method;
- a presentation of the child(ren)’s work;
- and exercises in line with the method choices of the parents.
At least, this is what is supposed to happen. It very rarely does.
We Started Prepping
I began officially homeschooling in 2016, the year my oldest daughter, V, turned 6. Though she was still only 5 at the start of the school year (her birthday is in December), I was required, by law, to submit my letter of intent. Which I did.
Because of the multiple horror stories I had heard from other moms in the various homeschool groups online, we started formal schooling at the end of August. I was determined to be prepared (and my daughter with me) for whatever they wanted to throw at me. And I made sure I understood the letter of the law and stuck to that.
The pressure was tremendous because though we lived in France, our kids spoke mainly in English. I had never forced them to communicate in French with others because I knew that it would happen naturally when they were ready. My husband already spoke to them almost exclusively in French and read a book to them every night since birth. And when asked a question in French, they would respond correctly, albeit in English. We knew they understood.
But the state would be sending representatives into our home to judge us. I just knew we would fail in their eyes because V’s level in French was not the same as her government-schooled peers. They would never understand that in her native language, she was years above her age group. Plus we had never done any formal schooling before this year. I was trying to adhere as much as possible to the Charlotte Mason method which held that formal lessons not start before the age of 6 and to wait until 7 if at all possible.
Already we would be starting with V before her 6th birthday because of French administration. And I would be introducing new skill sets like learning to read or do calculations in English before presenting the same in French. I felt it was important that she read comfortably in her first language before attempting to read in her second. But this could work against her when inspection time came around.
The First Inspection
Which it did, rather quickly. I received my notice for our côntrole (as it is referred to in French) very shortly after the official start of the school year. We were to be inspected just days after V turned 6. And they were sending not one but two people: the inspector and a conseiller pédagogique, (an educational adviser).
My husband stayed home from work that day to take care of the other kids. I did not want to be distracted during the interview.
We were lucky. The contrôle went just about as well as could be expected. They followed the 3 steps: interview, an inspection of materials, and questions to V done orally since I explained we were only doing copywork and drawing for most of our studies per the Mason method. I did notice they only took a cursory notice of our materials but since none of the questions were out of line, I didn’t worry too much.
They were respectful of our choices, seemed suitably impressed with V’s ability to read in English and did not have much negative to say in general. I was grateful considering V didn’t respond much in French. But they could apparently see she was understanding everything and that we were well on our way.
I thought to myself, “If it is like this every year, I guess I don’t have much to worry about.”
The thing is: it is not like this every year. As I would find out the next year.
Having one inspection under our belt with a good result, I was not stressing too much about the next year.
That is until, the educational department made a decree that homeschooled children would have to complete exercises at the end of each cycle of learning (grade school, middle school, high school) to show they have achieved the knowledge and abilities required by the state at each age group. A decree is NOT a law. The law simply states that a child must have instruction but does not require any particular type of instruction over another.
Hypocrisy in Government
Now, here is where it gets interesting. The government has a program, much like common core, that all schools must abide by. Teachers in public schools are required to pass an inspection of their use of the program every 3 years or so. If the teacher fails this inspection, he or she will not receive a raise in his or her salary and will not advance in seniority. They will, however, continue to teach.
Homeschool families are not required by law to follow this program. And they are to be inspected every year. However, should these families fail the inspection (using criteria often based on the program), they will have a follow-up inspection. This gives the family time to make sure they have applied any and all requirements. Should they fail again, they must then send the child to public school. Where they may be taught by a teacher who has failed but is still there.
Follow along with me here. Public school teachers are required by law to follow the state-mandated program. They are inspected periodically and if fail the inspection, continue to teach but without a raise.
Homeschooling families are NOT required by law to follow the state-mandated program. They are inspected annually and if fail, the child must go to a public school, or a private school recognized by the government and following the same program.
Read about our second inspection in the follow-up What to Expect When You’re Inspected – Part 2.