French high schoolers might be wearing school uniforms in the near future. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)


New French education minister says school uniforms will help ‘restore authority’


Gabriel Attal, the new French education minister, wants to re-introduce school uniforms in a bid to “restore authority” in educational establishments and combat the rise of “religious clothing”.

Attal says he wants to curb bullying, boost teacher numbers, upgrade school buildings, improve children’s final baccalauréat test and “restore the authority” of tutors.

He sees one way to achieve such goals as the re-introduction of school uniforms. Attal said he is a proponent of allowing schools to “experiment” with the suggestion and stressed that several foreign institutions are already doing so.

However, he urged educators to be “realistic” and said he doubted that such a move would prove the “magic solution to … all the problems” of the national French education system.

Asked in an interview with the daily news outlet  Midi Libre published late on July 27 about his thoughts regarding religious clothing such as abayas, the long body-covering robe worn by females, he said: “Coming to school in abaya is a religious gesture, aimed at testing the [French] Republic’s resistance to the secular sanctuary that the school is supposed to constitute,” adding that he promised to “stand firm on this issue”.

Wearing uniforms has never been mandatory in France’s education system, unlike in military academies. Despite some high schools requiring them to be worn many years ago, 1968 saw a major shift away from uniforms, except for in a few private schools.

Since the 2000s, it has been a recurring theme in political debates. It has once again hit the headlines as Muslim youths are increasingly wanting to wear religious clothing at school, which some see as at odds with French secularism.

Attal also stated that moves to deal with school bullying must be “uncompromising” and said he will make two pronouncements on the subject.

“Before the start of the school year, I will issue two important decrees,” stated the minister. This follows the suicide of “Lindsay”, a 13-year-old pupil who was targeted by bullies in Pas-de-Calais in May.

The first decree will enable a student found responsible for bullying to be moved to another school rather than imposing such a change on a victim. This measure, already proposed by his predecessor Pap Ndiaye, is “highly anticipated by families” and “a measure of justice”, according to Attal.

“Secondly, I will provide the possibility of imposing disciplinary sanctions against a student engaged in cyberbullying against a student from another school, which is not currently possible,” he added.

At the request of the French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne, Attal is also piloting an “inter-ministerial plan” to combat bullying in schools, which will be presented “at the start of the new academic year”.