MONTREAL - The Quebec government is reacting favourably to a plan by a Montreal school board to ban any other language than French from its schoolyards.

Culture Minister Christine St-Pierre says the French-language Commission scolaire de Montreal would be making an important effort to promote Quebec's majority language.

"I think that children who attend school in French must obviously speak French among themselves," she told reporters at the provincial legislature on Wednesday.

"To say that it must be French in the schoolyard sends a clear message and that message is, 'Listen, you must learn French'."

However, commission chairwoman Diane de Courcy says there would be no sanctions against anyone speaking English, Arabic or Spanish, for example.

"There will be no language police," she said in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press.

"The institutional commitment that will be conveyed in schools is that French is being highlighted," she said. "But there will certainly be no spies. There will be no sanctions.

"Education works by persuasion and repetition. We don't work by punishment."

Under Quebec's French-language charter, most immigrants and francophones must send their children to French school. However, to date, students generally speak whatever language they want out in the schoolyard.

De Courcy says the commission wants to improve students' French and says parents have supported the effort.

A survey conducted by the school commission indicated that 70 per cent of the 811 respondents supported the effort to make students speak French in all school spaces.

With such backing, de Courcy said, "a teacher will feel comfortable telling a child, 'Listen, if you're talking to a friend, that's great, but we'd prefer you speak French'."

The commission chairwoman points out that many students come from different cultural communities and have French as their third language after their mother tongue and English.

That was backed up by St-Pierre.

"There are 76,000 students from cultural communities in Montreal," she said. "So it's important to send the message that elementary and secondary school happens in French."

The new effort is part of a broader plan started in September 2009 with the aim of cutting the dropout rate among Montreal students by 20 per cent.

Improving the quality of French and supporting special needs students are two of the priorities that have been targeted to achieve this.