The right to a quality education: a shared responsibility among local actors in Grigny, France

06 June 2019

In May 2019, a cluster of researchers from IIEP visited the city of Grigny, located 25 kilometres south of Paris. Grigny is the second French city that the experts have targeted as part of the Institute’s new Cities and Education 2030 research programme, launched in early December 2018. The new research programme explores how municipalities co-design appropriate educational strategies with other actors in the local educative community, all while responding to the needs of its inhabitants, to national policies and to global imperatives.

During their visit to Grigny, IIEP’s research team met with some 30 actors from the local education community, including but not limited to elected officials, administrative municipal staff, city urban planners, inspectors from the Ministry of Education, parents and students, school directors and teachers, innovation labs, social centres, and extracurricular animators.

In this city, notoriously rife with poverty and beset by negative press over recent years, those who come to work for the townhall of Grigny are fully aware at what is at stake. “No one comes to Grigny by accident,” said one municipal agent in charge of the city’s early-school leavers prevention strategy. The pressing challenges inherent to Grigny have attracted some of the most ambitious teachers and territorial agents, who came wanting to feel useful, and to know that their work makes a difference daily.

The interviews in Grigny offered a window into the multi-fold challenges faced by those actors at the city-level, who often work tirelessly to make sure every child has the right to an education that is meaningful for them.  The lack of accessible healthcare for families, and the on-going work to equip parents with a sense of confidence, purpose and responsibility vis-à-vis their children’s education, are at the heart of initiatives Grigny is co-designing with local partners in the educational community. In a city with a large migrant population boasting different cultures and values, tackling these challenges first requires revisiting what “education” means for every person, and then expanding the perimeters of education itself to time spent beyond the classroom.  Grigny’s insistence on recognizing other learning spaces – playgrounds, gymnasium, media libraries, gardens, music conservatory etc. – is also its acknowledgement of those structures and actors as being an essential part of every child’s right to a quality education. At the local level, building a true educative continuum, from pre-school through adolescence and beyond, stems from the city’s drive for both collective thinking and collaborative governance.

After decades of being “the invisible territory”, the Grigny case is finally seeing the day. Indeed, the last few years of the city’s experiences were formally recognized as the experimental basis of the French Ministry of Education and the Ministry for Territorial Cohesion’s “Cités éducatives” scheme, an excellence label launched in early May 2019 for high-priority cities facing major urban problems. By making education a shared priority among its local community actors, 80 qualified cities – among whom the city of Grigny hopes to be counted – will be awarded the label in September 2019.


During the latter part of 2019, IIEP’s research programme will continue its exploration in France, targeting next the cities of Ivry-sur-Seine (located a few kilometres on the outskirts of Paris) and Orvault (in the Nantes metropolis, Loire-Atlantique region). The research team will then go on to draw lessons from the experiences of various cities internationally in 2020-21.

Authored by Aletheia Delivre.