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School Uniforms Making a Comeback in France After Six Decades

Paris: A significant shift is underway as France considers reintroducing school uniforms after a hiatus of six decades, aiming to address escalating inequality issues. The French government has initiated a pilot uniform project, viewed as a potential solution to societal disparities. The trial run involved 700 students across four schools in Beziers, a southern town. Should the initiative prove successful, the government intends to implement it nationwide.

This decision arrives amidst ongoing debates regarding the accommodation of religious attire within educational institutions. Since 1968, state schools in mainland France have not mandated uniforms. The reintroduction of uniforms is framed as an experimental measure to potentially mitigate inequality and enhance discipline within schools.

Crafted by far-right proponents, the proposed uniform comprises a navy blue blazer bearing the school insignia, two white polo shirts, a grey pullover, trousers for boys, shorts, and skirts for girls, priced at 200 euros. The uniforms were supplied by the City and Local Education Authority.

Ninety-two schools have enrolled in the pilot programme, with a deadline for additional participation set for June. Education Minister Nicole Belloubet asserts that the initiative aims to foster a conducive learning environment by promoting tranquillity in classrooms. Notable figures such as First Lady Brigitte Macron, a former drama teacher, and Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, a former Minister of Education, have expressed support for the initiative, echoing Beziers Mayor Robert Ménard’s belief that uniforms could contribute to a more peaceful atmosphere.
However, opposition from teachers’ organisations and certain parents has surfaced, casting doubt on the efficacy of the uniform plan. Marcelli, a mayor affiliated with Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party, withdrew from the pilot project due to parental objections.

The SE UNSA Teachers’ Union contends that the uniform initiative offers only superficial remedies and fails to address underlying student challenges. Similarly, some parents argue that resources would be better allocated to other areas of public education.

France has a historical precedent for school uniforms, dating back to Napoleon Bonaparte’s introduction of military-style uniforms in secondary schools in 1802. The practice ceased in mainland state schools in 1968, following civil unrest. Attempts to revisit the issue were made in 2003 but lacked governmental support. In subsequent years, school uniforms resurfaced in political discourse, featured in the election manifestos of right-wing figures like François Fillon and far-right leader Marine Le Pen in 2016.

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