Domestic Report: France

By Babeth Johnson, May 2017

France is a totally centralized country in all respects, including education of course. Therefore, Steiner-Waldorf schools have a very fine line to even exist. they get no state funding whatsoever and still have to comply with all rules and regulations including inspections and mandatory testing in grades 3, 6 and 9.

Brief History:

  • The first Waldorf school in France started in Strasbourg in 1947. Later, in the 50s, the Paris school was established in the 14th (Alesia). A split occurred later and some of the founders went to Chatou. Alesia became too small, and moved to Laboisstière en Thelle, which was also a boarding school (up to 300 students) and then to Verrières.
  • In the 60s Colmar and Lyon started and in the 70s, Avignon, Pau and a number of small rural schools opened in the country. Meanwhile, the very active founder of Chatou had a good relationship with the Board of Education and got a state contract for both Chatou and Verrières: all teachers were financed and there was very little control of the content. At the same time, the schools in Alsace also had a positive relationship with authorities because of the Concordat (more religious freedom, for instance).
  • It all changed in the 80s and 90s, when the state started to view us as a sect and it culminated in 1999 with aggressive accusations, surprise simultaneous inspections of all the schools, including the tiny schools with no financing whatsoever. Chatou lost part of the contract, had to stop class 13 and together with Verrières has been under duress ever since.

The Waldorf school system in France:

  • France is a totally centralized country in all respects, including education of course. Therefore, Steiner-Waldorf schools have a very fine line to even exist: only two schools still have a majority of their state qualified teachers under contract (Chatou from Kindergarden to Class 9, the high school has been excluded in 2000, and Verrières until now still up to class 12 but threatened). A few classes in the other schools can have a contract, but not the whole school (Avignon and some local kindergartens). That means that they get no state funding whatsoever and still have to comply with all rules and regulations including inspections and mandatory testing in grades 3, 6 and 9. Very few high schools therefore can take the students to the national Baccalauréat: Chatou is the exception with Bac in class 12, Verrières goes to class 12 and the students then go to a public school an extra year to take the exam, as do Colmar and Strasbourg. Avignon and Lyon are attempting to finish high schools.
  • The most important and difficult fact to know about being Waldorf in France since 2000 is that the Waldorf curriculum is not accepted or recognized, no matter how much national classical achievements of our students we can demonstrate. We try to survive in a hostile environment. And the accusation of being a sect by the MILIVUDES is reactivated.

Number of schools:

  • There are presently 15 schools with different levels including Kindergartens and 6 separate kindergartens. The total number of pupils as of 2016 was 1667 children in all schools and 723 in kindergartens.
  • Most of the “big” schools concentrate around – but not in – Paris, in Alsace (3 schools doing rather well), one in Lyon and one close to Avignon. Every other school, including historical ones (La Mhotte) are in the countryside and in the South. Very little in the Western coast side (Brittany, Vendée, Bordeaux). One small school disappeared: Tours, three are in very difficult situations (Aix, Caminarem and Rennes) but 2 new are being affiliated: 3 Cailloux in Meuse and 3 Abeilles in Pau.

School funding:

  • For all the above reasons, most of the schools are exclusively funded by the parents’ school fees. They are all run by a non-profit association (Loi 1901) with a board of parents and teachers. The school fee varies from place to place but teachers’ salaries are all below national average.
  • The Federation is funded in part by the schools’ contribution (82 €/family= 130 K) and by some donors, big and small.

Teacher training:

  • There are two seminars, Institut Rudolf Steiner in Chatou and Didascali in Sorgues (Avignon). All together there are about 150 students between both institutes in weekend training.

Two new positive developments: one with an Early Childhood (Pôle Petite Enfance) Certification process group and the other with Service Civil (Civic Service) which are some hope for the future.

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