Updated: Oct 13, 2022
By: Claude Loverdo
Working Parents' Group Leader and Forum Ambassador
If your child attends a French public school, you probably received a brown envelope recently, with instructions to vote for fellow parents in your child's school to be elected to the 'Association de Parents d'Élèves' (APE). We explain what these are, and why they matter.
The associations de parents d'élèves are very useful associations, whose role is to help facilitate communication between the parents and the school.
When to contact them?
When you arrive at a new school and you have questions, the parent's association is one of the groups you can reach out to for more information. In the course of the year, if you encounter any issue, they can help you understand the school system, give you specific information about the school and known issues, advise you on possible courses of action, and possibly help you concretely: for instance, a representative could accompany you to a meeting if you feel you need help for advocating for your family.
How to contact them?
At the entrance of the school, there are normally boards with posters of the associations de parents d'élèves, with a contact address. Or, you can ask the head of the school. During the first week of school, you should also receive (through your kids) flyers about them.
How do you vote for them?
For the associations to be representative of the parents, there is a vote (usually in early October). The voting material normally contains multiple pages of instructions, and there is usually the possibility to either vote in person, or in advance - by giving the completed ballot to a school representative, usually the school's directeur d'école (head of the school).
In some schools, there is only one parent association, but often there is the choice between several of them. You may prefer one over the others, and encourage them by voting for them; and even if there is only one, being officially elected by a large number of parents gives them greater legitimacy when they enter into discussions with the school during the year.
What about joining one?
Joining an association de parents d'élèves is a great way to know more about your kid's school, as well as a way to meet other parents and integrate into the community. If things at the school are going well, the role of the associations is more focused on fun stuff, such as helping prepare the end of school year celebration (if your school has one).
If there are issues at the school, the associations de parents d'élèves can really help. The commitment when joining an association can range from very light (a few hours a year) to more heavy (such as the head of the association who may commit to typically an hour a week or more in crisis time).
Which association to join?
One distinction is whether the association is linked to a national one, or if it is an independent one, only dealing with this particular school / a group of local schools. In France, the two main national associations de parents d'élèves are the FCPE and PEEP.
Both deny supporting any political side, but FCPE is widely thought as more left-leaning, and the PEEP more right-leaning. The national associations lobby for global improvements of the French school system. Depending on whether you agree with their propositions, you may see it as a good or a bad thing to be associated to them.
An advantage of the national associations is that are represented at various levels, and can be more efficient for instance to fight against class closures. At the local level however, the efficiency of an association depends mostly on the parents who constitute them. This is an important criterion in the decision of which association to join (though at most schools, the different associations collaborate). You can also start your own association if you are motivated to do so, and unhappy with the existing ones.
My personal experience:
We moved a couple of days before the first day of school of our oldest child. It was through the association de parents d'élèves of the school that I got some of the useful practical information. I then joined, and that helped me to get to know other parents. I continued to join at each new school my kids went to. At one of the schools, the association helped unite several parents who had had bad experiences with one of the teachers, and this pushed the school to eventually take action.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2022 edition of the Message magazine, which is mailed to all members who live in France.
About the author:
Researcher, Claude Loverdo has lived in several countries, among them the US where her oldest was born. She is now happily settled in La Défense. Her kids are 7 and 10, her step-kids are 5 and 7. For Message, she is the coordinator of the Working Parents and Step-Parents Groups.
All images by Wix unless otherwise noted. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of Message.