PARENTS who fail to ensure their children are educated to official standards could face up to six months' imprisonment or a fine of Pounds 5,000 if proposals to protect youngsters from the influence of extremist cults become law.
Two Bills were introduced last week to tighten up controls governing the education of children taught at home or in schools not recognised by the state.
Education ministry figures reveal about 6,000 children aged between six and 16 years are concerned. More than 1,000 are educated in families belonging to extremist sects, and about 3,600 attend schools suspected of having links with one. There are also hundreds taught by distance methods for "religious" reasons.
A report by the cultural affairs commission noted that while the problem was not widespread, it tended to develop in an "insidious and worrying manner". One Parisian school which has been investigated taught three-year-olds by methods inspired by the Church of Scientology.
The proposed legislation - supported by schools minister Segol ne Royal - would include annual inspections of the sectarian families and schools. In repeated cases where children's education was inadequate, authorities would have the power to prosecute.
r-solid = l Lycee pupils will have lighter workloads from September 1999 under reforms proposed by education minister Claude All gre which include cutting the amount of class time by about four hours a week.
r-indent = Lyceens will also be required to speak at least two foreign languages by the time they leave school.