16 June 2016, The Tablet

Bishops resist reforms to private education

The French bishops have protested against government plans to impose tighter rules on opening private schools, an initiative meant to prevent the spread of radical Muslim schools that could also affect schools of other religions. writes Tom Heneghan.

Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux, in charge of education issues for the bishops’ conference, expressed his “concern and very serious doubts” about the plans. The reform would require a new school to get prior official permission, rather than being able to open as before and then have inspectors confirm it conformed to hygiene and safety norms.

The main target of the reform is the growing number of private Muslim primary and secondary schools, some reputed to be run by Salafists or the Muslim Brotherhood and to propagate radical Islam and anti-democratic thinking. “This fight [against radicalisation] is necessary, but not at any price,” Ricard said.

“Our country needs to be calm when it has to resist the violence attacking it,” he said in a statement. France must “confirm its choice of freedoms when its demo­cratic model is challenged”.

Most Catholic schools in France operate under a contract with national authorities, which provides them subsidies for teaching secular topics but opens them to some influence by the state.

There has been a boom in new private Catholic schools opening after the legalisation of same-sex marriage and restrictions on Latin and ancient Greek. It is estimated that up to 300 are operating.

 Many are run by traditionalist groups that seek neither state approval, nor canonical recognition by the diocese, as they criticise the priorities in approved schools.

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