School segregation in Europe 'form of discrimination'

The open-air classroom in northeast Paris for migrants waiting for a decision by the French government on their asylum claim (AFP Photo/Jacques DEMARTHON) (AFP/File)

Strasbourg (France) (AFP) - School segregation in Europe is "one of the worst forms of discrimination", the region's top rights watchdog said in a report published Tuesday.

Many European countries continue to exclude disabled children, Roma children and migrants or refugees from mainstream schools, according to the report by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.

"School segregation harms children's learning opportunities and is a clear injustice against minority and other vulnerable groups of people, which also perpetuates their marginalisation," said Nils Muiznieks.

Countries have an obligation to combat segregation in schools, but the reality is very different, the report said.

Political leaders and education authorities can sometimes be reluctant to bring about changes that alter the existing privilege in education, it added.

The report made a series of recommendations aimed at the leaders of the 47 Council of Europe member states, including strengthening the law.

"The legislation should be comprehensive and explicit enough to address situations in which tradition, freedom of choice, parental consent or urban segregation serve to legitimise discrimination and high concentrations of Roma children, children of migrant background or children with disabilities in specific schools," the report said.

A move towards more inclusive education systems will also require a change in attitude.

Parents of the majority population often prefer to send their children to schools without minority and migrant groups.

The report also called for a ban on the use of tests as a selection tool and suggests assigning the best teachers to the most difficult schools.