French town near Paris votes to have school uniforms

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Sourdun classroom - file pic Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pupils at Sourdun School of Excellence near Paris have to wear a uniform

Parents in a town near Paris have voted in favour of school uniforms for their pre-teen children – a rare development in French state education.

Six primary schools in Provins, teaching children from age six to 11, will adopt the dress code in November.

On Sunday the education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, said schools must be free to introduce school uniforms, but the government would not rule on it.

Most children in the EU, apart from the UK, do not wear school uniforms.

French news website LCI says the Provins children – 759 in total – will be encouraged, but not forced, to wear a standard blue polo shirt bearing the French republican motto: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. The 10-piece uniform, including the shirt, will cost €145 (£127; $170).

If a family has more than one child in that age group the uniform will be €72.50.

According to a September 2016 survey in France, 65% of respondents were in favour of introducing school uniforms. French news magazine L’Express reports that the percentage in favour has grown year-on-year; in 2011 it was 50%.

Mr Blanquer said he favoured uniforms because they could “encourage pride in the school” and “it’s a question of equality between children”.

“Clothes brands count for too much these days. The uniform can be an answer to that.”

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President Emmanuel Macron’s election manifesto did not spell out any policy on school uniforms, but it did promise to ban mobile phones from classrooms.

The Muslim headscarf and other overt religious symbols are banned from French schools – and the Macron manifesto said it would “enforce secularism strictly”. But the headscarf ban would not be extended to universities, it said.

Provins is in Seine-et-Marne district, where the Sourdun School of Excellence, catering mainly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, already has a compulsory uniform.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Pupils at a French private school in the 1930s wear smocks during exercises

No ink pens, no smocks

A minority of other French schools – some private, some in the state sector – also have uniforms. Among them are schools linked to the military, such as the Légion d’honneur academies.

Until the 1960s most French children wore standard smocks at school, to protect their clothes from ink stains. Once ballpoint pens were introduced the smocks were phased out.

Uniforms are, however, standard in schools in the French Caribbean: the territories of Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana.

Catherine Nave-Bekhti of the French teachers’ union Sgen-CFDT said “no scientific study has ever shown that wearing a uniform makes an education system more efficient”.

Quoted by French new site BFMTV, she also rejected the argument that a uniform could help make children more equal, saying “inequalities exist outside school”.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Russia has continued the Soviet school uniform tradition – but minus red neckties

For more than 400 years, most schools in the UK have required children to wear uniforms, a few of them little-changed for centuries, including the school coat of arms.

Before World War Two many German schools also had uniforms, but they were generally scrapped after the war, partly to erase any reminders of the Hitler Youth.

Uniforms are generally worn in schools in Russia and Japan, but unlike in the UK, they do not usually have an individual school’s branding.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Girls in Shinjuku: Japanese schools favour traditional-style uniforms

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