Stopping bullying is France’s ‘absolute priority’ for this school year as new measures are announced

The start of the new school year in France was marked by two issues: the shortage of teachers and school bullying.

With too few teachers and too many bullies, the government wants to get tough. And it has. On Monday 18 September, an alleged bully was arrested by the police in the middle of a lesson which caused some reaction in the country.

One month before, French Education Minister Gabriel Attal passed a decree that allows bullies to be moved to a new school, where previously it was more likely the victim would be relocated.

The next steps would include measures such as setting up dedicated teams in the education authorities, confiscating mobile phones in serious cases and creating empathy courses. 

On Wednesday, the government announced its inter-ministerial plan to combat bullying at school, which Elisabeth Borne, the French Prime Minister, described as an “absolute priority” for the new school year.

According to a 2021 French Senate report, between 800,000 and one million of France’s 12 million pupils are victims of bullying at school every year.

“Fear must change sides”

The package of measures to be detailed is based on a “clear philosophy”, explained Gabriel Attal: “100% prevention, 100% detection and 100% reaction”.

“We called for an electroshock, and I see that the electroshock has begun”, he insisted on Tuesday at the French National Assembly. “Yes, fear must change sides, yes, we must be more effective in the fight against bullying at school”.

The country had been left horrified following the death of Lindsay, a 13-year-old schoolgirl who took her own life on 12 May after being bullied. The death was described as a “collective failure” by former Education Minister Pap Ndiaye.

“Social networks cannot be a jungle”.

Social media has been blamed for facilitating bullying. Because of the social networks, harassment spreads across the school walls to infiltrate the victim’s home. 

“Social networks can’t be a jungle, a playground with no adult supervision”, Gabriel Attal told Le Figaro.

The Minister is proposing to make it easier to ensure that young people under the age of 15 can no longer register on social networks without parental consent. This measure is provided for in the Marcangelli law passed in July, which places the burden of verification on the platforms.

Another measure is the digital curfew: “This measure will now be possible on the Internet. It would create a digital curfew, which would prohibit the use of social networks from 6pm to 8am, for example”.

The minister also mentioned confiscating mobile phones in serious cases and possibly banning people from social networks. These two options could be put in place before the bully goes on trial, to help the victim as quickly as possible.

“Empathy classes” based on the Danish model

Some people believe that more preventative measures are needed to avoid this type of repressive measure. Gabriel Attal said he was working on a questionnaire for all pupils to identify “weak signals” in the fight against harassment.

He envisaged the creation of dedicated “brigades” based in local education authorities, which could intervene rapidly. He also said he would like to introduce “empathy courses” in schools, based on the Danish model, to prevent the school environment from creating bullies.

He also mentioned the introduction of a dedicated time to talk about harassment in all schools on 9 November, the national day against harassment.

Attal, who has launched an audit into the management of cases of harassment during the last school year, added that each education authority “should have an anti-harassment strategy” by “the end of the year”.

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