TRUTH OR LIE. Was Nicole Belloubet thinking about “abolishing the Ministry of National Education”?

This expression comes from the title of an article on the decentralization of the French school system that the new minister wrote in 2016. A provocative title that the former rector of the academy then took on.

Published on 2.12.2024 06:13

Reading time: 3 min

Nicole Belloubet, appointed Minister of Education after the ministerial reshuffle, February 8, 2024. (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP)

Nicole Belloubet, appointed Minister of Education after the ministerial reshuffle, February 8, 2024. (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP)

The new head of National Education is not in the habit of mincing words about the institution. In 2016, the former rector of the academy published an article in the academic magazine Après-demain entitled “Suffocate the Ministry of National Education?”. The title that immediately temporizes the article: “It is obviously a provocation, but a provocation that is a source of thought!” Indeed, in this article, for the author, it is not so much the question of abolishing the ministry, the importance of which she reminds, as it is about the decentralization of the French education system.

Succeeding Amélie Oudéa-Caster on the hot seat, Nicole Belloubet assured on Thursday February 8 that she “continues the implementation” of the measures announced by Gabriel Attal and Emmanuel Macron. Wearing uniforms, school bullying, class groups… There are many pressing problems awaiting the new minister. However, the former minister of justice from the socialist circle was not always aligned with the current educational policy of the executive power. How did she think about reforming the National Education System seven years ago? Franceinfo returns to its positions.

“Tricks on wearing a blouse”

When she published her article on the “stifling of the Ministry of National Education”, Nicole Belloubet was then a member of the Constitutional Council. Before that, her career was closely related to the French education system: doctor of public law, university professor, then rector of the academies in Limoges and Toulouse, between 1997 and 2005. In her article, she recalls the mission of teachers and the mission of the ministerial authority, which “guarantees its consistency, implements essential equalizations to achieve greater equality, marks diplomas, their quality and their value for social integration, in particular”.

While pleading for “taking into account the specific needs of students”, the former rector on the other hand criticized “tribes about returning power or wearing blouses”. Gabriel Attal announced a major uniform experiment last December. Asked about Nicole Belloubet, the prime minister said on France 2 Thursday night that “we may have taken positions in the past and evolved” by ensuring his ministers were “fully aligned” with his positions. On Friday, upon arriving at the ministry, Nicole Belloubet made sure to mention the “values ​​of respect and authority”.

“Decentralization” of the French education system

More local, less national. For Nicole Belloubet, “the French education system must evolve towards greater territorial and functional decentralization,” she estimated in her 2016 article, which resembles a ministerial roadmap. Namely, more local management of educational institutions, provided by local authorities, with the aim of greater social diversity and reduction of educational inequalities.

When it comes to human resources, the former rector advocated for greater autonomy of schools in hiring teachers. “Even if a higher level of regulatory authority is needed, it is the head of the institution who is the guarantor of the unity and success of his team. Should we go further?”, she asked. Nicole Belloubet also wanted to entrust the management of the agricultural and professional sectors to the regions. “The state has been trying unsuccessfully for years to revalue vocational education, whose image is degraded as always, even though it attracts a significant number of young people,” she explained.

In order to support her claim, the former sage did not hesitate to recall the example of 35 other OECD member countries, where for most “single management by the state becomes the exception, as well as centralized and detailed design of school programs”, she notes. Without completely questioning that state, since it claimed that “concrete support” for educational institutions “comes from tenders from both the state and local authorities”.

Therefore, there is no “replacement of the Ministry of National Education” on the agenda. But in 2024, is the decentralization of the French school system part of the minister's future projects? At the request of franceinfo, the office of the Ministry of National Education did not respond to our request.

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