It’s a note from the Department of National Education’s statistical services, but released in the middle of summer, that continues to fuel debate in education circles because the numbers are so telling. If private charter schooling has welcomed around one in five pupils in France for several decades, it has strengthened more among them than in the public sector, this study suggests, while Minister Pap Ndiaye has made social diversity one of his priorities. At the start of the 2021 school year, 40% of students enrolled in a private college contract came from highly privileged social backgrounds, compared to barely 20% in the public.
In contrast, 18% of private sector contract university students belonged to disadvantaged social strata, compared to 42% of public sector students. Gaps that have only widened, while segregation among public colleges has been on a slightly downward trend since 2018. In 1989, the share of students from a very privileged social environment was already 11 points higher in the sixth grade at private universities compared to public ones. Today it climbs to more than 20 points, with an acceleration since 2010. The university concentrates on issues of social diversity, true. In elementary school, families choose proximity.
In secondary school, the orientation between general, technological and professional directions causes social sorting, with disadvantaged classes being more represented in the last two directions. In addition to national actors, everything takes place at the local level, the place of residence and the social environment are connected. Historically, private colleges and secondary schools were more established in city centers, more bourgeois willy-nilly. If today a tenth of private universities educate less than 6% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, the tenth welcomes at least 39%, states a study by the Ministry of National Education.
In fact, the differences in social composition between private and public reach their peak in Ile-de-France, the southern Mediterranean and the overseas departments and regions. The case of Paris is exemplary in this regard. In the capital, 37% of university students are educated in private schools on the basis of a contract, which, according to the calculations of education economist Julien Grenet, has 3% of disadvantaged students among its employees. According to a study he conducted in 2017, it is “social segregation” at universities in the capital, half is caused by the typology of the district of residence itself and the other half by the share of pupils enrolled in private education, a small share (5%) relates to enrollment in public universities outside the sector.
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