The Another

    Social diversity in schools, France’s unfinished project



    The temptation to call it a missed opportunity is strong. France’s Minister of Education Pap Ndiaye unveiled, on Wednesday, May 17, a plan to push for more social diversity in schools. Ndiaye had shown a strong sense of conviction when bringing this subject back to the forefront. According to the minister, social diversity is both a “condition for the success of each pupil” and a means for the school of the Republic “to keep its promise of equal opportunity.” But there are doubts surrounding the effectiveness of the measures presented to achieve this goal.

    At the end of a laborious process, Ndiaye unveiled a plan that is less ambitious than what his many statements since the beginning of the school year had suggested. A protocol has been signed with the private education sector, whose support is essential, but it doesn’t include a binding commitment. As for the public sector, the minister has left it up to the academy rectors, whose role is to oversee and execute state regulations on a local level, to meet a set of targets. In order to do that, they are free to take inspiration from the “toolbox” of ideas proposed by the Ministry of Education to facilitate social mixing between schools that have different proportions of pupils from underprivileged backgrounds. Everywhere, this ambition will largely depend on the willingness of local authorities, who control the decisive lever of school zoning: the primary means to move towards greater social diversity.

    Insidious segregation

    The modesty of the plan, which amounts to an impetus more than a real transformation, unfortunately reflects the political clout of a neophyte. President Emmanuel Macron, who has never made increasing social diversity one of his national causes, seems to feel that his relative majority in the National Assembly does not allow him to challenge the right on this issue. For its part, the right, which preemptively threatened to launch a school war when it came to involving private establishments, quickly realized that the issue could help it cover up its deep divisions, which were exposed during the pension battle.

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    This right doesn’t seem to care about what the social position indexes (SPI) of high schools have revealed. The statistical tool, in place since 2016 and made public at the end of 2022, showed how segregation is insidiously happening in French schools. It should leave no one indifferent. What’s more, the studies carried out up until now in schools that have committed to greater social diversity are likely to dispel many fantasies. The impact of these efforts is limited for schoolchildren from underprivileged backgrounds, but without penalizing those on top of the social ladder. Instead, the main lesson is this: greater diversity strengthens social cohesion, academic self-esteem and a feeling of optimism in all pupils.

    At a time when we are constantly lamenting the failure of the French social model, of which education is the collateral victim, and the devastating effect of social enclaves, these benefits cannot be brushed aside. Let’s hope that Ndiaye’s attempt will at least succeed in bringing the goal of greater diversity to the forefront. We all stand to benefit from it.

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    Translation of an original article published in English on; the publisher may only be liable for the French version.

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