Co-designing a city’s education strategy

28 February 2019

The IIEP research project ‘Local challenges, global imperatives: Cities at the forefront to achieve the Education Agenda 2030’ aims to examine the role played by local elected officials in the development of a local educational strategy, through a co-construction approach with all stakeholders. In parallel with the fieldwork carried out in several cities in France, the IIEP research team meets experts to discuss key research questions based on the French experience.  

An interview was conducted in December 2018 with Ms Rozenn Merrien, President of the National Association of City Education Directors (ANDEV) and Director of Childhood for the City of Saint-Denis (Seine-Saint-Denis Department, France). Ms Merrien's testimony made it possible to address various themes related to the action of cities in education: 

  • The role of ANDEV.
  • The impact of the 2013 law.
  • Partnerships between the Ministry of National Education and local authorities.
  • The role of the PEDT (Territorial Educational Project). 
  • A city's educational strategy.

IIEP: Can you introduce ANDEV and its role in promoting the active role of cities in education?

Rozenn Merrien: ANDEV is an association created in 1992, at a time when the active role of cities in education was not yet recognized. It was therefore born from a desire to promote their educational action. Now, the role of cities has not only been recognized, but also realised through the Law for the Refounding of the Republican School(1) in 2013 and the creation of the PEDT(2)

The Association now has more than 400 members spread throughout the country, including in the French overseas departments and territories. We include large local authorities, such as Marseille, Lille, Strasbourg, and Lyon, as well as smaller ones with a population of 5,000 to 10,000 inhabitants. Not all cities have a Directorate for Education: Out of 36,000 French municipalities, about 24,000 have a school, so there are about 12,000 small municipalities that do not. These small towns often do not have sufficient resources to manage a programme of educational action, which is why inter-municipal authorities invest in education in order to pool resources and personnel, both for the design of educational policies and for the maintenance of buildings. As a result, all the sizes and strata of local authorities are represented within the association: cities, inter-municipalities, and departments.

IIEP: As President of a network of City Education Directors, what changes have you noticed in the role of cities in education, and in the relationship between cities and the national education system?

Rozenn Merrien: The collaboration between cities and the national education system has evolved substantially. Initially, the French education system aimed at creating continuity in the child’s day. For example, teaching staff also provided supervision for the children during the lunch period. Gradually, the profile and role of teachers changed: where once they adopted a ‘popular’ approach to education, they became increasingly focused on teaching. In the 1970s and 1980s, the growing number of women in employment led to a sharp increase in the demand for childcare, and alternative forms of childcare were developed, most notably the creation of the job of facilitator. This is how education stakeholders, initially confined to the national education system, became active in the non-profit sector, and then in wider city policy. In the 1990s, the Local Educational Contract (CEL)(3) raised the question of educational time outside school hours, by integrating the extracurricular activities of the associated municipal framework. The 2013 law was a milestone: it changed the rhythm of school life and questioned the partitioning of children's time between school and extracurricular activities. This law has really shed light on the complementary nature of time spent in and outside school hours, by positing extracurricular time as a key factor in the child’s development and education. The recognition of the educational challenge posed by extracurricular hours has also fostered a rise in new educational professions, and has marked a real turning point in the partnership between cities and the national education system, with municipalities now recognized as key actors in local education among a larger network of stakeholders. 

IIEP: Has the implementation of the 2013 law gone well? 

Rozenn Merrien: In terms of the collaboration between the new stakeholders, it was difficult to bring cities and other partners into the educational field. The 2013 law led the French Ministry of Education to integrate different perspectives on education and to share certain educational missions with other actors. There has been confusion about the risk of overlapping competencies, a fear that is most evident among teachers. Teachers could have prejudices against the facilitators and vice versa, because they are professions with different challenges and cultures. The challenge of implementing the 2013 law was precisely to create a dialogue between the groups so that they could get to know each other and work together, to ensure the educational continuity of the child's day. 

Concerning institutional collaboration, there has been no questioning of the role of the city since 2013. Although cities have been recognized as legitimate stakeholders, partnerships with the national education system depend very much on relations with the inspection board. Some inspectors engage actively with this territorial approach, while others have not understood its importance. We have a similar situation with school principals, some of whom remain focused on matters related to school hours and pay little to no attention to the transitions between the different parts of a child’s day, whilst others interact with multiple actors in the wider education network.

IIEP: What measures could help improve the educational partnership and the co-construction of educational action? What role does the PEDT play in this regard? 

Rozenn Merrien: There is a partnership at the level of management, there are the agents in the field, and there is the legitimacy provided by the major stakeholders, i.e. the cities and the national education system. To ensure good collaboration, these parties must work hand in hand, and collaborate with groups at all levels, so that everyone feels empowered to participate. The partnership between cities and the national education system is co-designed through a culture of trust and through the adoption of new working habits. Involvement varies with each city: Some will have an approach that is very much rooted in fieldwork, while others who are less experienced will work more under the guidance of territorial frameworks.

At the institutional level, the partnership can benefit from better dialogue between the Ministry of National Education and local authorities. Communities are often only informed late on about new guidelines and their budgetary implications, so they are forced to implement these measures as a matter of urgency. The aim is to consolidate the legitimacy of local authorities as actors in education policy, in particular through the PEDT. On certain topics, the responsibility of communities and the need for the PEDT is well established, particularly with regard to the development of infrastructure and personnel for the duplication of classes(4) and early childhood. For the partnership to work, it is important for the state to have a real understanding of the operational application of policies, and not just to have a one-way dialogue.

This is all the more crucial since the PEDT has made it possible, on the basis of a diagnosis reached through collaboration, to create a project that meets the needs of various actors while facilitating the sharing of know-how (training between peers or sharing of experience). The unifying nature of the partnership emerges from the concrete utility of these consultations. Many strategic axes cut across the child's educational development: for example, learning to read takes place over an extended timespan and in different places (neighbourhood, schools, media libraries, etc.). 

IIEP: To what extent is education a strategic issue for French municipalities today?

Rozenn Merrien: Education is a field that concerns not only all of a city’s areas of intervention, but also a very large population, and in particular a ‘captive’ population, namely families. The notion of educational strategy is interesting: From the moment a city has a school, it develops an educational policy. Talking about strategy means recognizing that the response of communities in the field of education is different for each territory, because the needs of the population and the objectives of the community are different. For example, some cities are investing in education in peri-urban areas because it is an essential factor in attracting families and so revitalizing the area, thanks to the opening of schools, extracurricular services, and day care centres. Some cities will instead seek to improve their offering of specific educational content, whether cultural, sporting, or linguistic. A city's intervention in education is therefore a highly strategic decision, because it is a political issue linked to other economic issues and the revitalization of communities. 

(1) In 2013, the Orientation and Planification Act for the Refounding of the Republican School actualized the strategy of the Ministry of National Education to give priority to primary schools, teacher training, the digital strategy, and the fight against early school leaving. The Ministry has thus committed itself to redressing the effects of socioeconomic inequality on students’ educational progress, improving the school climate, and rethinking the education professions. 

(2)  The PEDT, established in 2014, is a formal system where local authorities can volunteer to complement children’s education in school with extracurricular educational activities. The PEDT relies on the development of a close partnership between all actors concerned, and in particular with associations of local elected representatives and federations of parents, as well as youth and comprehensive education associations that are partners of the school. For more information, click here.

(3) The CEL has made it possible to set up a global policy for children and young people, thanks to the formalization of the collaboration of various education partners.

(4) Since the beginning of the 2017 school year, the Ministry of National Education has generalized the system of doubling the number of primary grade 1 and 2 classes in schools in the priority education networks (REP). This system makes it possible to create classes with a reduced number of pupils and offer pupils with difficulties a better pupil–teacher ratio (approximately one teacher for every 12 pupils).