Speech of Agnès Ohlenbusch,
member of the French Home Education Association :
Les Enfants d’Abord (Led’a)
for the International Home Education Conference in Spain,
Aug 31st - Sept 4th 2011
Holà everybody !
My name is Agnès Ohlenbusch and I am from France, as you can probably hear.
I am a member of the French association Led’a, Les Enfants d’Abord.
In France, there are three national home education associations, which are :
Led’a : “Les Enfants d’Abord”, which means “children first”. The name comes from the title
of a book written in the 80’s by Christiane Rochefort which is about what should be
children’s real rights, namely a total respect of individual human beings from birth on). Led’a
was created 23 years ago in 1988, and today there are 500 family members.
Another association is : Cise : “Choisir d’Instruire Son Enfant”, which means “choose to
teach our child”. It was created in 1998 and today there are about 200 family members.
And there’s also the association : Laia : “Libre d’apprendre et d’instruire autrement”, which
means “Free to learn and teach otherwise”. It was created in 2006 and today there are 150
Each association has its own history and its particularities, but the main common point is of
course that our children are home educated.
Since December 2006, when the French politicians wanted to change the law concerning
home education, the three national home education associations created a group called :
CPLI : “Collectif Pour la Liberté d’Instruction” which means : “collectif or Group for
freedom in instruction/education”. This group’s purpose is political action ; we used it
especially in 2007 and we are now thinking of using it again as political pressure is again
Since March 2009, active members of the three national associations agreed to participate on
a discussion list so they could keep in contact. They developed political action together and
went several times to meet administrators at the National Education ministry.
Besides those three national home education associations, there are also lots of regional
associations and groups, which are or not in contact with the national associations.
About numbers for children aged 6 to 16 :
There are :
- 18 0000 children enrolled in the national educational correspondence course called the Cned
- between 7 000 and 10 0000 children enrolled in private correspondence courses
So there are in all between 25 000 and 28 000 children enrolled in correspondence courses
- and there are 3 000 children aged 6 to 16 home educated by their parents.
It makes a total of 32 000 children who officially don’t go to school.
Now, home education has always existed in France. After the French Revolution, the
Constitution and the laws were written down and voted and it was decided, as every citizen
was meant to be equal, that school should be for everyone. But some raised their voices to
ask that the choice of children’s education and instruction should remain the choice of their
parents (at that time it was the father who was officially responsible for the children. Later,
the law was changed to make it “the parents’” right to choose their children’s education).
Thanks to these people, home education was then officially authorised in French law ! Of
course at that time in the 19th century, it was to enable the rich families, who had lost a lot of
their privileges with the Revolution, to have their children get a “better” education than the
children from poor families.
So the French law says since 1882 that (here’s a translation of the law) : “Compulsory
instruction can be given either in public or private schools, or in families by the parents or one
of them, or any person of their choice”.
« L'instruction obligatoire peut être donnée soit dans les établissements ou écoles publics ou
privés, soit dans les familles par les parents, ou l'un d'entre eux, ou toute personne de leur
choix. » - Article L.131-2 du Code de l’Education
Later on, there were changes in the law, but until 1998, the home educating families had quite
a lot of freedom. There was only one declaration of home education and three inspections
between age 6 and 16, which were meant only to see if the child could read, write and
But, in December 1998, the law changed.
A 19 month-old child died in a family who was in a Christian community where other older
children were home educated. Although this 19 month-old child was not at the age concerned
by compulsory instruction (which is from 6 to 16), his death became the reason for politicians
to change the law. So they decided to reinforce compulsory education and the control of
home education. The official reason being to fight against sect endoctrination.
So, since December 1998, parents who are home educating their children have to make a
declaration every year. Then they will have an investigation from the mayor or his services
every second year, mainly to determine the reasons why the parents do home educate their
children, keeping in mind that it’s a routine enquiry to fight against sect endoctrination. Well,
after more than 10 years of control, NO cases of children home educated by their parents and
being endoctrinated in sects has been found.
The families will also have an annual pedagogical evaluation from a National Education
inspector. The law says that this inspection must respect the age, the health of the child and
that the education given to him is in accordance with the children’s rights for education. But
the law also says that the parent’s educational choices have to be respected. The only
obligation the parents have is that their child at age 16, must have acquired the knowledge and
skills of the “socle commun” which is a list of skills that every French person should have.
But well, this is not the case, even our French national Education ministers don’t have all
those skills or knowledge.
The French law also says that if the head inspector thinks that the evaluation shows that there
isn’t enough instruction, the parents will be informed, have to improve the situation and there
will be another evaluation after a minimum of one month. And if this second evaluation isn’t
good enough, the child must go to school.
So the families have to get a positive result in instruction and education, which school doesn’t
Even for private school, the situation is different as the law says that the inspectors CAN
inspect them. For home educating families, the inspectors HAVE to evaluate them. For years
the national home education associations have asked that the law be changed to “can” and not
Until 2007, the children who were enrolled in correspondence courses were not evaluated at
all as they were considered to be in a school that was doing that evaluation, but since 2007 the
law changed to make the mayor’s investigation compulsory for those families. But the law
was written down in such a way that in fact the children in correspondence schools are now
assimilated to children who are home educated by the parents, so nowadays those children
also are evaluated by the national Education inspectors, although they are enrolled in a
Now even if the French law says that the parent’s educational choices should be respected, in
the reality it is not the case. The pedagogical inspections are almost all carried on in
accordance with the national program and the inspectors are inclined to test the children
according to this program, since they are used to inspecting schools which have to follow the
national curriculum. This is really the main issue for the home educating families.
The national associations try their best to help the families who don’t want to accept those
abuses. Most of the families are afraid to refuse the academic way in which the evaluation is
done, because the inspectors often tell them that if they refuse, the public prosecutor will be
notified, since their children will be suspected to be in danger of not receiving any instruction.
And they do notify the prosecutor more and more often. This is really strong pressure on the
families who then have to go and explain themselves to the police or to a child protection
juge. But when families want to fight to get their rights respected, the associations do help
them, for example, by writing letters in their name, also in the name of the association, calling
the inspectors, providing witnesses during the inspection so the parents are not alone, etc.
So in reality, there are very few children who have to go to school (the associations have
resolved almost every case except when there are also social or private issues where home
education is not directly concerned). Still, these inspections are very stressful for the families
because they have to fight for their rights : the respect of their educational choices which the
law itself protects. So, we can say that the national education administration has not been
respecting the families’ legal rights and freedom in education for more than ten years.
As to the legislation, the home education associations have been waiting for more than a year,
for new administrative guidelines, which explain to the school inspectors how to proceed
during the inspection of home educating families. The present guidelines, we’ve had since
1999, already add restrictions to the law. For example, they say that the evaluation can take
place with or without the parent “to more easily determine whether the parents are hiding the
real situation”. The guidelines create a suspicious atmosphere about home education so that
the inspectors have right away a negative and doubtful feeling about home education. But
they also indicate that the evaluation should not be carried out according to the national
curriculum. However, this point has not been followed nationally for ten years ! So we do not
know what will be in this new version of the guidelines, but we are not very optimistic about
Also, last Spring, four proposals to change the Educational Law were registered in the French
Parliament. These proposals were to make education compulsory for all children from age 3
(instead of 6) to 16. One of these proposals used the word “schooling” instead of
“instruction” making the sentence : “Compulsory instruction is for every child aged 6 to 16”
unto “Schooling is compulsory for every child aged 3 to 16”. Home educating families did
react right away and the law did not get changed, but it was for political reasons : it was a
proposal from the left-wing and the majority right-wing government didn’t vote for it ! Still,
one politician asked about the change of the word “instruction” to “schooling” and the
member of parliament who wrote the proposal said that of course it didn’t meant that school
would be compulsory but that instruction being part of schooling, this was the reason for the
change of that word. But for home educators, there’s a big danger here : to use a word that
has more than one meaning in the law, especially the word “schooling” which has the word
“school” in it, could be the end of home education possibilities.
Some of the other proposals to make education compulsory from age 3 to 16 still remain to be
discussed in Parliament. One of the official reasons these law changes were proposed is in
order to prevent children from having bad school results, the argument being that the earlier a
child goes to school the better his result will be.
Another reason is that making instruction compulsory at age 3, gives a more important status
to the kindergarten teachers. Another reason is that for years the government has been
fighting against truanting. The officials want to compel those children to go to school. There
are more and more truants and of course they are not home educated children, they are
So, we know that in the next months, with the presidential elections in Spring 2012, the topics
about school and instruction and education will be main topics. So we believe that we have to
be very careful of what might happen.
Well, as you might know, France is supposed to be a country of Freedom; it probably is on
paper, but not in the reality concerning home education. I often say that we have only one
freedom : the one to educate our children like in public school. But still, we do hope that a
real freedom in education will one day really exist for the all of us.
I would like to finish by reminding you that September 15th will be for the 5th year, the
International Freedom in Education Day. This day, or any day in September, can be used as a
tool to make home education more known, or to defend home education rights. Home
education associations or just a group of families (even just 2 !) can meet, give information,
organise discussions about home education, invite journalists or officials, or just have a picnic
and have fun. It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s really above all a possibility to say : on that
day we will talk about home education at the same time as many other families in other
countries all around the world. It should give strength to home educating families and a
notion of … worldship, I don’t know if this word exists but I liked the idea it gives (!), and
this day is also a possibility to make home education more known around us.
So I wish you all to get in your countries and for your families and your children’s families a
real freedom in education.
September 2011, for the International Home Education Conference in Spain