Is private education reserved for the wealthy?

At the beginning of June, Pap Ndiaye received the heads of Catholic education in his office. Its message can be summed up in one sentence: the private sector must do much more in favor of social diversity. On that day, the Minister of Education had in mind the figures that his statistics department would make public a month later.

What does this note say? That “segregation among public colleges is on a downward trend”while “the gaps in social composition between the public and private sectors are growing”. Thus, private colleges educate 40% of children from very privileged backgrounds, a proportion twice that found in the public sector. A gap that has increased from 10 to 20 points since 1989.

What comfort Rémy-Charles Sirvent, secretary general of the National Committee for Secular Action, in his analysis: “The state finances through private education an educational separatism that weakens the success of students from modest backgrounds. »

Does the private sector deliberately keep the poor at a distance?

Does the private sector – which welcomes more than one in six pupils – really thrive on the promise of a sense of self-segregation? Does he deliberately keep the poor at a distance? » For a long time, those responsible for Catholic education have held a voluntarist discourse, stemming from the Gospel, notes Bruno Poucet, professor of education sciences and private sector specialist. It is a question of going “towards the peripheries”, to speak like Pope Francis. » This is how in 2019, for his first interview as general secretary of Catholic education, Philippe Delorme declared to The cross : “Being together is neither a solution nor our vocation. »

However, continues Bruno Poucet, the scope of the message is limited because the network brings together a multitude of establishments with great autonomy. “Some welcome heterogeneous audiences, as is often the case in Brittany for example. Others are under pressure from parents, who want to maintain a social, cultural, political interpersonal relationship…”

« This temptation may exist in some families but remains very minority », shade Gilles Demarquet. The president of the Association of parents of free education students (Apel) advances other factors, such as « the historical establishment of many establishments in city centers, which have become gentrified ».

The approach launched by the General Secretariat to think about Catholic education by 2030 aims in particular to adjust the network to new needs. But it’s not easy to open schools, in the suburbs as elsewhere, because it means operating for five years first – one year for the branch of an existing establishment – before applying for an association contract and seeing your teachers. paid by the state.

Private school 73% funded by public grants

Philippe Delorme discusses more broadly « the financial obstacles that prevent further diversification of reception ». He goes so far as to denounce » discrimination » of which private students would be victims in terms of school catering. Communities are indeed required to subsidize the canteen in the public sector, but not in the private sector. A very modest family wishing to join a Catholic establishment in Paris can thus see the price per meal go from a social price of €0.13 to a single price of around €7…

« This canteen file could be integrated into a negotiation with a view to greater social diversity », says researcher Julien Grenet. Although he believes that private funding – « up to 73%, without taking into account tax-exempt donations made to public utility foundations that support it » – should already be conditional on other quid pro quos than compliance with the programs and access offered, in principle, to all children, without distinction of origin, opinions or beliefs.

This research director at the CNRS and professor at the Paris School of Economics suggests modulating public funding according to the social composition of the establishment (social position index), as Haute-Garonne and Paris do for part of their package.

A single platform for public and private high schools?

Julien Grenet also suggests that the private sector recruits students via a digital platform shared with the public, as is the case in higher education, on Parcoursup. One track would be to integrate the private sector into Affelnet, the assignment tool in public high schools. “This would help to understand on what criteria the private sector decides between two candidates when there is only one place. And whether the lack of diversity is the result of a mode of selection or self-censorship by low-income families, who do not apply”, says the researcher.

Often brandished by opponents of private schools, considered a casus belli by Catholic education because “contrary to the freedom guaranteed to families”, the track of integrating the private sector into the school map seems less effective in the eyes of Julien Grenet. In fact, sectorization tends to freeze residential segregation. Forcing a private school located in a wealthy neighborhood to recruit within a restricted perimeter could thus prove to be counterproductive.

Catholic teaching, for its part, puts forward other strategies. Like the gradual reassignment of positions to establishments with greater social and educational diversity, as part of its program “for educational success” (more than 1,600 since 2008). And invite its establishments welcoming underprivileged people to sign new local support contracts (14 more for this start of the school year, 20 in total) opening the door to funding to carry out educational projects. Ultimately, this system could replace the priority education networks based on a zone logic and reserved for public schools and colleges.

Higher tuition fees for wealthy families

Philippe Delorme also says he is working on the generalization of a principle already applied in some of the establishments: the modulation of tuition fees according to family income, the wealthiest showing solidarity with the most modest. Otherwise, the mix could decline further. “In this new school year, faced with the difficulties, a large number of families have given up enrolling their children in our establishments, when they do not unenroll them”, deplores the patron of Catholic education.

The context, obviously, complicates the fight for social diversity. Because seeing their energy bills explode and their workforce decrease under the effect of the demographic decline, many establishments will be led, from next year, to increase their prices.


Social diversity in colleges

Segregation between public colleges “follows a downward trend”. A surplus of diversity offset by growing gaps in social composition between public and private.

In 2021, public colleges educated 42.6% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, compared to 18.3% for private schools under contract.

Conversely, the private sector took in twice as many students from very privileged backgrounds. A gap that has doubled since 1989.

However, there are strong geographical contrasts: since 2014, segregation has « significantly reduced » in about twenty departments, especially in the North and West. The gaps between public and private have not increased.

Researchers identify social segregation as a factor of educational inequalities.

Source: Depp


“It would be contrary to our values”

Vivien Joby, president of Snceel, organization of heads of private establishments under contract

“To think that private schools under contract systematically favor the children of the rich in their recruitment is a pure fantasy. When there are more requests than places, the selection is made on the basis of school results and any remarks relating to the student’s behavior, in no case according to the socio-professional category or the parents’ bank account. It would be contrary to our values.

We also generally give priority to the brothers and sisters of students already educated with us, as well as to the children of former students. It is not uncommon, it is true, when an additional class is opened in CM1 or sixth, that a large part of the places is allocated to them. This may contribute to social reproduction, but it is in no way a matter of deliberate self-will. Many establishments, like mine, in Saint-Malo, offer financial aid to very modest families. But some of them sometimes give up enrolling their children with us, for fear that they will feel out of place. »


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