France's Brigitte Macron backs uniforms for schools

Brigitte Macron, France's first lady, has said she believes making school uniforms mandatory could tackle social inequality among French students.

She said students would also save time in getting dressed and money, which would not be spent on branded clothing.

Her comments come as France's National Assembly debates a bill that, if passed, would make uniforms mandatory in public schools.

Education minister Pap Ndiaye said he would not support the legislation.

Ms Macron was previously a teacher at a school in northern France.

The MP behind the bill, Roger Chudeau, is a member of France's far-right National Rally who wants all state schools to have uniforms in their own colours.

His proposal suggests a uniform could remove social barriers between students that can be perpetuated through clothing. But it also says a universal uniform could prevent religious or ethnic clothing from being introduced in schools.

Mr Chudeau claimed that France's secular education system was increasingly under attack and he thanked Ms Macron for her support for his school uniforms bill in a tweet: "Let's hope MPs will vote in favour of this measure approved by two-thirds of French people."

Left-wing MPs criticised the first lady for supporting the far-right's "backward-looking proposal".

But the education minister said he did not believe uniforms should be mandated by law. Instead, he said individual schools could require uniforms to be worn if they wanted.

"I warn those who think wearing a uniform will magically fix problems, whether they are problems involving brands of accessories or Airpods... Uniforms aren't going to fix the problem." Mr Ndiaye told BFMTV.

State schools in France are free and accessible to all students, while private schools are fee-paying and often selective and can require their pupils to wear uniforms.

Until the 1960s smocks were generally worn at school to protect children's clothes from ink stains. They were phased out with the introduction of ballpoint pens.

However, uniforms remain standard in schools in the French Caribbean territories of Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana as well as a handful of military high schools.

Ms Macron has been vocal about the need to find solutions to stop cyberbullying and bullying online, with one of her videos calling for urgent action on the matter opening a Unesco meeting in 2021.