Even in public establishments or private establishments under contract, mixed education is not legally compulsory.
In this case, we are not talking about the fact that there is practically no gender diversity which can exist in certain vocational high school courses where the rate of girls can approach 99% (for example 96% in medico-social sciences) or else where the rate of boys also approaches 99% (for example 93% in industrial science and technology)
By unmixed, we mean the deliberate possibility of separating girls and boys within school structures which are not statistically saturated, some by girls, others by boys, as is the case in primary or to college.
On the contrary, in May 2008, in the name of an alleged European directive, the French government had Parliament adopt, in a law intended in principle to combat discrimination, an article which makes it possible to organize ” lessons by grouping students according to their gender ”.
The parliamentary context in which this was done is worth stopping at. While none of the European directives which were to be transposed into this text of law touched on the field of education, which remains a fundamentally national competence, the government claimed that this article was a requirement of the European Commission and that therefore could not escape it.
The device having been exposed, all the parliamentary groups of the Senate as well as the delegation for women’s rights agreed to remove this provision from the bill. But against all odds, during the discussion of the text in public session, the government maintained its position and demanded of its majority to comply. What was done, straight away … This was a break, in principle, and in principle, with a whole development that took place in the 1960s and 1970s.
It was by the decree of August 3, 1963 that coeducation became the normal regime for secondary education colleges (CES) instituted by the Capelle-Fouchet reform the same year. By the circular of June 15, 1965, co-education then became the normal regime for newly created elementary educational establishments. Then the decrees of application of December 28, 1976 of the “Haby law” of July 11, 1975, which established the single college, ensure the obligation of mixed education, from kindergarten to bac.
We can also measure the doctrinal evolution of the Catholic Church in this case. If, in 1929, the encyclical Divini illius Magistri of Pope Pius XI had reaffirmed the traditional position of the Church which formally condemned the coeducation of girls and boys, considered harmful because based on the negation of original sin, in 1958 , we can see a certain relaxation. According to the only canonical document published at that time, namely the Instruction of the SC of the Religious on coeducation , coeducation itself cannot always be approved in itself in general, but mixed Catholic schools can be instituted .
A decisive step is taken when, in the conciliar context of Vatican II, the French National Committee for Catholic Education declares itself favorable to mixed education “in a modern world which puts boys and girls more and more in touch” . The note of June 1966 from the General Secretariat of French Catholic Education even calls for the implementation of “true coeducation”:
where, for purely administrative reasons, we are content to make boys and girls live together without implementing either co-construction or co-education, the result is for young people more disadvantages than advantages: managers and educators, who are moving towards the mix of establishments, have the serious duty of implementing a real coeducation which meets the precise educational requirements of this new situation.
We will therefore not be surprised that the main Catholic school organization which resists implementing a mix of girls and boys in the classes is an anti-conciliar organization, as education historian Bruno Poucet points out, asking about “Private school education without contract: refuge or refusal of school”:
The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X (fundamentalist Catholics in dissent with the conciliar Catholic Church) considers that it carries the “tradition”. Since the 1970s, it has been responsible for the creation of around 35 schools and 15 colleges, which represents 4,000 to 5,000 students […]. These schools reject gender diversity from the age of 10 […]. They reject the principle of secularism and call for resistance to the secularization of French society.
Then Bruno Poucet shows that we have in a way the counterpart of this with the ultra-Orthodox Jewish currents:
The Jewish network essentially developed in the Paris region from the 1980s: the attacks, anti-Semitism, the desire for social self-sufficiency, academic success, the place given to the religious reinforced the weight of Jewish schools. It was the ultra-Orthodox Jewish currents of the Haredi and the Lubavitch who developed this type of establishment (15 school groups comprising around 8,000 students).
Certain particularities make them first cousins of Catholic establishments of “tradition”: absence of diversity from the CP, separate dress between boys (black suit, compulsory wearing of kippa) and girls (long skirts)
But the current development of out-of-contract schools (partly linked to a certain development of unmixedness in certain classes) is not limited to these Catholic schools of non-conciliar or ultra-Orthodox obedience.
According to Diane Roy – the communication manager of the Foundation for the school which promotes the development of private establishments without a contract – quoted in Le Monde of March 3, 2020 : “the demand for establishments where diversity is developed is, today today, stronger than the offer. In this sector, there are “out of contract”, “1530 establishments welcoming approximately 75000 pupils; and only 39 structures accepting only girls and 48 only boys ”.
It should be noted that the non-contracted sector , even if it remains fundamentally marginal since it currently gathers only 0.8% of students, is nevertheless in strong relative growth since it gathered only 0.2% of students in 2010 , 0.4% in 2015, and 0.6% in 2017. It has quadrupled in a decade, showing a certain tendency to separatism.
The President of the Republic has just pointed out separatism. This can take multiple forms, more or less legitimized, including non-contract schools and non-mixed education. However, this unmixed schooling – let us not forget – is now perfectly legal since 2008 including in public establishments or under contract, even if, in the public sector, unmixedness is very generally perceived as a choice against the current of “living together” defended by the school of the Republic.
Author Bio: Claude Lelièvre is Teacher-researcher in educational history, Honorary Professor at Paris-Descartes at the University of Paris