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20 June, 2024
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Can dress codes tackle bullying in French schools?

French school uniform experiment sparks debate


As French schools gear up to implement mandatory uniforms in September, a two-year trial initiated by Education Minister Gabriel Attal aims to address inequality and curb bullying. However, public school teachers, psychologists, and experts express skepticism, viewing uniforms as a superficial fix.

As reported by France 24, prototypes of the navy blue uniforms, unveiled by Laurent Wauquiez, president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes regional council, received a mixed response on social media. Despite Wauquiez's pride in the sustainable initiative, local high schoolers mock the ensembles on platforms like TikTok.

The experiment follows Attal's plan to test uniforms in various locations across France, allowing municipalities to implement mandatory uniforms at the start of the new academic year. However, skepticism persists, with critics questioning the impact on secularism, bullying, and social inequalities.

Implementing uniforms comes at a cost, with a basic kit for each pupil amounting to €200. Despite spirited responses from municipalities, Attal himself expresses reservations about the measure, echoing the doubts of public school teachers and experts.

One key government argument is that uniforms could counter attempts to undermine French secularism, particularly amidst recent controversies surrounding clothing associated with Islam. The ban on abayas on September 4 intensified the debate on secular values, sparking fury across the country.

Public school teacher Sabrina remains unconvinced that uniforms will alter the social climate, emphasizing the deeper issues at play. Rising tensions in French public schools, including violent incidents, prompt a broader discussion on security improvement.

Education Minister Attal's goal is to measure the impact of uniforms on secularism, bullying, social inequalities, and academic performance. However, existing research from countries with uniform policies, such as the US and UK, suggests uncertain outcomes.

Critics argue that France's push for mandatory uniforms has long-standing political roots, often proposed by right-wing and far-right politicians. The recent ban on abayas and the subsequent uniform experiment are viewed as responses to fears of 'Islamisation' and radicalization.

The consensus among French teacher unions, experts, and teachers is that uniforms won't resolve pressing issues in public schools. Chronic underfunding, teacher shortages, and deteriorating working conditions take precedence over sartorial solutions.

As French schools grapple with challenges, the priority is seen as improving working conditions, increasing teacher salaries, and addressing fundamental needs rather than focusing on uniforms.

The sentiment among educators is clear: schools can't fix everything, and quick fixes may divert attention from crucial systemic improvements.

[With information sourced from France 24]

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