“Equal opportunities” and “success for all” are the fundamental objectives of France’s education policy, and are legally recognised principles (law no.89-486 of 10 July 1989 and law no.2005-380 of 23 April 2005, law no.2013-595 of 8 July 2013).
A variety of schemes exist to ensure greater equality of opportunities among young people, some of which have been designed for schoolchildren with special educational needs due to major difficulties likely to compromise their access to the public education service: disabled pupils, pupils newly arrived in France, children of non-sedentary families (or “travelling children”) and imprisoned juveniles. Intellectually precocious children also come into this category. Taken together, such children only account for a small percentage of the overall school population, and each group is the subject of highly specific measures.
Other schemes of a different nature have been implemented to provide support for all pupils from disadvantaged socioeconomic milieus. They account for around 20% of the total school population and, since the 1980s, have been the subject of a specially designed support policy: the “priority education policy”. New mesures have been annonced in January 2014 aiming at renforcing the "priority education policy" - please refer to section 12.3.
Below is a brief glimpse at the main educational support policies, along with legislative and regulatory references.
Schoolchildren/students recognised as having special educational needs
Disabled pupils/students. The law of 11 February 2005 bearing on equal rights and opportunities, participation and citizenship of the disabled sets out the legal framework for provision of educational support to the disabled (schoolchildren, students and adults). At primary and secondary levels, disabled children/teenagers can either be educated in the usual school environment, under specially adapted conditions, or in a collective system (CLIS and UPI). Under the supervision of their teachers, they work towards the objectives provided for in their “personalised schooling projects” (PPS – projet personnalisé de scolarisation) drawn up by a team of professionals (physicians, psychologists, trainers, etc.) and taking account of the needs, hopes and wishes of the children/teenagers concerned and their parents. In cases where schooling in the usual environment is not possible, medico-social structures take overall responsibility for pupils. Disabled schoolchildren who wish to continue on to higher education can go on benefiting from an individual project, under the same conditions as in their secondary schooling. All universities implement specific actions designed to foster intake of disabled students (accessibility of premises, pedagogical aids, sign-language interpreters, etc.) and to set the scene for their professional integration upon completion of their education.
Law no. 2013-595 of 8 July 2013 asserts the principle of school inclusion for all children, with no distinction. The enrolment of disabled pupils in ordinary school settings is progressing and must be encouraged. To put into practice the principle of school inclusion in classrooms, the Government has planned to increase human resources: 1,500 auxiliaire de vie scolaire individuel (AVS-i: special needs assistant providing individual help) jobs with education assistant status had already been created at the start of the 2012/2013 school year. In 2013, 350 new AVS-i have been recruited, along with 8,000 additional contrats aidés (assisted contracts). Moreover, the Department for National Education will suggest that those AVS contracts employed with education assistant status having completed six years of work and acquired skills during training be turned into permanent contracts. Potentially, 28,000 people will therefore be concerned over the years to come. This measure will put an end to insecure professional situations and to intermittent support for disabled pupils – a cause for concern for these children and their parents alike.
Intellectually precocious children. Article 27 of the guidance and planning law for the future of school of 23 April 2005 reaffirms the necessity of meeting the special needs of intellectually precocious children. Such children are educated in the usual school environment; when they begin to show signs of behavioural or learning difficulties, a personalised programme for educational success (PPRE – programme personnalisé de réussite éducative) can be put into action in collaboration with the family.
Pupils newly arrived in France and travelling children. In the 1970s, special measures were taken to integrate and educate children newly arrived in France and for whom insufficient mastery of the French language or of subjects taught prevented their benefiting from attending classes teaching the normal curriculum. Law no. 2013-595 of 8 July 2013 asserts the principle of school inclusion for all children, with no distinction.
Such pupils are temporarily schooled in special classes (CLIN, CRI, CLA-NSA and CLA) where they receive instruction in French as a second language and in the basic knowledge covered by the scholastic level they are in. Ministerial Circular no.2002-100 of 25 April 2002 specifies the ways in which this category of pupils is to be enrolled and schooled. As with all other children aged between 6 and 16, the children of non-sedentary parents are subject to compulsory education between six and sixteen years of age. They have the right to schooling, whatever the duration or conditions of their stay in one place, and in compliance with the same rules – regular attendance in particular. Two circulars were published on 11 October 2012: one on organising the schooling of newly arrived non-French-speaking children, and the other on organising academic centres for the schooling of newly arrived non-French-speaking children and children from Traveller families (Casnav).
These circulars set the principles intended to:
- crack down on discrimination;
- harmonise welcome procedures;
- guarantee that the Common Base of Knowledge, Skills and Culture is acquired;
- take into consideration the multilingual wealth of these children.
Imprisoned juveniles. The Department of Education and the Department of Justice and Liberties work in partnership to ensure that imprisoned juveniles have access to education. In particular, such partnerships are formalised by contract under the agreement signed on 29 March 2002, which defines the educational needs of the prison population, the goals of courses taught, and the administrative organisation of the educational system. This latter is largely the responsibility of National Education teachers on loan to prison authorities and is carried out at closed educational centres (CEF – centres éducatifs fermés) where a watch is kept over the minors concerned.
Pupils from disadvantaged socioeconomic milieus (priority education)
Since the 1980s, such pupils have been the subject of a priority education policy, which relies on positive discrimination in the use of public means at the service of equal opportunities. Institutions with a high concentration of social and school attendance problems to deal with are organised into networks – ÉCLAIR networks (écoles, collèges et lycées pour l’ambition, l’innovation et la réussite: primary schools, lycées and collèges for ambition, innovation and success) and RRS networks (réseaux de réussite scolaire: networks for scholastic success) – and base their actions around a shared pedagogical project in agreement with the academic authorities.
the studies conducted by the Department for Education (Depp) reveal that the pupils enrolled in the schools targeted by this policy are those who continue to suffer from the greatest learning difficulties (Depp, Note d’information n° 13.07, mai 2013). Moreover, international comparative surveys have found that the gap between the academic performance of these pupils and those of the more advantaged pupils is particularly profound in France. PISA 2012 results illustrate France is the OECD country in which a pupil’s socio-economic background is most likely to determine their academic performance and that this situation has deteriorated since 2003. In light of this situation, and following a consultation with the relevant stakeholders, the Minister of Education decided to reform the manner in which the “priority education policy”, is implemented (eligibility criteria, responsibilities, funding ...). The new mesures, annonced by the Minister in January 2014, are presented in section 12.3.
The French education system also provides for guidance schemes operating throughout the schooling period, which play their part in contributing to the educational objective of “success for all”. Providing guidance is one of the essential responsibilities incumbent upon schools. With the 2005 guidance and planning law for the future of schools, it has become explicitly linked to compulsory schooling through the common core’s “Autonomy and Initiative” skill: learning to be autonomous is seen as an essential part of scholastic success – the capacity for adapting to social and professional change and the imperatives of lifelong education.
With regard to higher education, law no.2007-1199 of 10 August 2007 entrusts institutions with the task of guiding their students towards professional integration, and ensuring their entry into the world of work. The law no.2013-660 of 22 July 2013 fixed the conditions to improve the guidance system from school to higher education - please refer to section 14.3.