Almost half of French principals suffer abuse from pupils’ parents

Study by International Observatory of Violence in Schools shows deterioration since 2005

A parent threatened to sue after a music teacher referred to her capricious son as “Louis XIV” Original Artwork: Engraving by Gustave Levy, from a painting by Philippe de Champagne. Photograph by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A parent threatened to sue after a music teacher referred to her capricious son as “Louis XIV” Original Artwork: Engraving by Gustave Levy, from a painting by Philippe de Champagne. Photograph by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Wed, Apr 30, 2014, 01:00



Nearly half of French primary school principals have been victims of verbal or physical abuse during the past year, according to a study published by Le Parisien newspaper.

Georges Fotinos, a former inspector general for the French ministry of education, now a researcher at the International Observatory of Violence in Schools, interviewed some 4,000 school directors, 49 per cent of whom said they endured parental aggression during the 2012-2013 school year, a marked deterioration since a similar study in 2005.

Punishment of students was the source of tension in 53.3 per cent of cases, followed by spats between students and poor scholastic results.

Harassment was the most widely reported form of abuse (38.6 per cent), followed by threats (26.7 per cent), insults (23.1 per cent) and physical violence in 0.7 per cent of cases.

In an extreme incident, a mother who was upset at her son’s poor results shouted at the teacher: “Bitch, you’re dead!” The angry parent tried to strangle the teacher, broke her glasses and ransacked the classroom. She got a month in prison.

“Parents treat us more and more like merchants of knowledge: they demand a catalogue of services, as if we were in business meetings,” said Alain Rei, spokesman for the association of school directors.

Some parents no longer recognise schools’ authority over their children. For example, parents told a child he did not need to write a sentence over and over, the punishment prescribed by his teacher for talking in class.

Parents have also become more litigious. A parent threatened to sue after a music teacher referred to her capricious son as “Louis XIV”.

French conservatives claim that public school teachers, the majority of whom are socialists, are imposing “gender theory” that negates traditional roles. “Families consider that the values taught in schools no longer correspond to their own,” Mr Fortinos continues. “There’s a rift between familial culture and the culture taught at school.”

As a result, teachers increasingly shrink from contact with parents. In 2005, 40 per cent of school directors organised at least five parent-teacher meetings annually. That has fallen to 17 per cent.

The French ministry of education organises three-hour courses on “conflict management” in which teachers are taught to avoid meeting alone with parents, and to keep a record of every encounter. In 2012, more than half of French school teachers subscribed to a special insurance policy which for €40 promises psychological assistance and reimbursement of medical and legal fees and lost income.

SOS Education publishes teachers’ grievances online at souffrancedesprofs.com. The group denounces “growing violence in schools between students, between teachers and students, but also with their parents.”

The Autonomes de Solidarité Laiques federation, which has defended public and secular private school teachers for 110 years, said half of the 6,000 “conflictual situations” it deals with annually arise from separations and divorce. One school director had to call police four times because parents fought over who had the right to fetch a child after school.