For the third consecutive year, French Catholic schools have been forced to turn away more than 20,000 potential pupils because their classrooms are already overcrowded. Nevertheless 3,000 new enrolments have been accepted this year, according to provisional figures released by the education minister.

Families generally send their children to a private school in the hope that they will receive more individual attention. However in recent times classrooms in private Catholic schools have become just as crowded as those in public schools.

Schools in big cities like Paris, Toulon, Montpellier, Perpignan and Grenoble have all turned away students this year, but realistic figures are difficult to obtain as parents often enrol their offspring in anything up to 3 or 4 different schools before making a final choice.

In Paris the most popular establishments this year are high schools and colleges like Fnelon, Saint-Michel-de-Picpus, Notre-Dame-de-Sion, les Francs-Bourgeois and Saint-Thomas-d'Aquin, where classes of 34 or 35 students have become the norm.

The shift from public to private education is mainly due to parents perception of the kind of environment Catholic schools can offer in terms of transmitting moral values. 67 per cent of parents interviewed in a survey carried out by Crdoc in 2004 indicated respect for authority, but also the teaching of values like openness, sharing and tolerance as principal reasons for choosing a Catholic education for their children.