France’s poorer children staying home despite schools reopening

The French education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, has told the BBC that poorer children are not returning to school as much as those from wealthier families.

He said that reopening schools was a “social emergency”, and that the lockdown had increased inequality in France. But so far, only 20% of primary school pupils have returned.

“It’s true that children of poor families are coming less than the others,” Mr Blanquer said.

“That’s why it was important to start in May not in June, because we know that it’s [a] step-by-step [process].”

Last week, France reopened 40,000 primary and nursery schools, and pupils returned to some middle schools on Monday.

It’s a voluntary process so far – a decision criticised by one mayor, who said it made things difficult for parents: “If they send [their children] to school and they get sick, they’ll feel guilty; if they keep them home and they fall behind, they’ll feel guilty. If you govern, you need to take the decision.”

The education ministry has issued 56 pages of detailed instructions to schools on how to keep premises clean and pupils safe, in the hope of building trust with parents.

There must be no more than 15 children in a class, no shared toys, and arrivals at the school must be timed. Older children must also wear masks.

There is so much that’s compulsory for schools, some say, while the attendance is not.


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