Country information for France - Legislation and policy
Fundamental principles of the French educational system
The state must define the training routes, national programmes, organisation and content of curricula. It must also manage and evaluate education policies to ensure overall consistency of the education system.
Free schooling is provided through public education institutions, in which 83% of all pupils are enrolled. The principle of freedom of education is a fundamental principle of the laws of the Republic and also allows for the existence of a number of private fee-paying institutions. Having signed contracts with the Ministry of Education, the vast majority of these institutions also support the national public education curriculum.
In the 2019–2020 school year, around 12,380,300 primary and secondary school pupils were enrolled. Of these, 10,233,400 were enrolled in publicly-owned establishments (Statistical Surveys no. 3 and 12, French Ministry of Education).
It is mandatory to provide education to all children aged 3 to 16 years in France. Law 2019‑791 Pour une école de la confiance of 26 July 2019 changed the mandatory starting age of education from six to three years old from September 2019. It reaffirmed the pedagogical importance of the nursery school in the French educational system. It also reinforced the role of pre-primary education in reducing inequalities from a very early age, particularly inequality with respect to language.
The law also introduced an obligation for all learners to receive training until they are 18 years old. This training could be in a higher education institution, an apprenticeship or vocational training, working or performing a civic service, or a social or professional placement.
In France, even though learners with special educational needs (SEN) can benefit from different kinds of additional supports, data on learners with an official decision of SEN only refers to the restrictive category of learners with a diagnosed disability (élève en situation de handicap – 2.9% of all learners for the 2019–2020 school year). This category encompasses specific learning disabilities (e.g. dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia), physical impairments (e.g. mobility, visual and hearing impairments) and mental health or neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. ADHD, autism, anxiety).
The Law 2005-102 of 11 February 2005 on the equal rights and opportunities, participation and citizenship of people with disabilities (transposed into the Education Code Articles L112‑1–5 legislation: the right to education and schooling in mainstream settings) provides the basis for school inclusion in France.
Decree No. 2005-1752 of 30 December 2005 determines the training plan for learners with disabilities. It presents the various modes of schooling for learners with disabilities, emphasising that the mainstream curriculum must always be the reference for building their school career.
- Like other children, children with disabilities under three years of age (prior to compulsory schooling age) can access mainstream structures set up to care for children under three (nurseries, day-care centres, child-minders, etc.). There is no legal obstacle to admitting a child with disabilities into early childhood collective settings. Refusal to do so can constitute discrimination or a breach of equality in the delivery of public services.
- If necessary, the admission of a young child with disabilities can be supported by a medical-educational service, the child and maternal protection service (PMI) or even by a hospital service. When a child’s health requires specific or serious medical care, it is also possible to admit them to a nursery offering medical services.
- Learners with disabilities are enrolled in mainstream educational settings as a priority. The settings may be public or private, depending on the parents’ choice. The law also provides for education options in specialised settings for a given time or for the whole education process, and various arrangements such as help from external support services.
School education evolutions regarding inclusion
Historically, learners with disabilities were cared for by specialised institutions and mainly depended on medical and health services. Over the years, the gap between the National Education mainstream settings and the medical-social and health sector has reduced. In 2019, 84% of learners with SEN studied in the national mainstream education system.
French legislation supports learners, whatever their needs, attending mainstream educational settings with the assistance of specific arrangements, if necessary.
Law 2005-102 of 11 February 2005 on the equal rights and opportunities, participation and citizenship of people with disabilities asserted the right of learners with disabilities to schooling in mainstream educational settings. The education system is responsible for guaranteeing the continuity of their individual schooling routes.
The 2005 law provided the basis for school integration: learners with disabilities were integrated to mainstream educational settings but often segregated within them. Quality education for all progressively became a key issue, with mainstream educational settings adapting to take into account each learner’s SEN. In 2019, inclusive education officially became a necessary priority in keeping with the Ministry’s new slogan: ‘pour une école de la confiance’ (for a school of trust). Law 2019-791 of 26 July 2019: Pour une école de la confiance (Title 1, Chapter IV) specifically reinforces inclusive education. It outlines a series of measures to better support learners with disabilities. Inclusive localised support structures are created in each department. Their main purpose is to co-ordinate human support resources.
For common lessons, an order of the ministers for national and higher education specifies the terms of reference for the care of children with disabilities in initial teacher training.
Each school and public educational institution’s own rules must maintain the principles of inclusive education and specify the main rights and duties attached to it.
School circular No. 2019-088 of 5 June 2019: Pour une École inclusive (For an inclusive education) complements the 26 July 2019 law and clarifies its implementation. It addresses academy rectors and inspectors, inspectors in charge of school adaptation and the education of learners with disabilities, directors of departmental services, heads of establishments and school directors. It reasserts the Ministry’s commitment to implementing an inclusive school system and focuses on seven specific actions:
- establishing departmental inclusive education offices;
- organising local inclusive support structures (pôle inclusif d’accompagnement localise – PIAL);
- welcoming parents better and providing better schooling for learners;
- recognising teachers’ work, supporting them and providing an accessible professional training offer;
- reinforcing the place of support assistants (accompagnant d’élèves en situation de handicap – AESH) in the education community. These staff offer individual or group help to learners with an official decision of SEN in mainstream education, where necessary;
- simplifying procedures for all;
- better monitoring of inclusive courses and assessing the quality of actions.
Participation of learners with disabilities in mainstream settings and specialised education
Article 19 of the 2005 law (Title IV – Accessibility, Chapter 1) provides that any learner with a disability or a disabling health disorder should be enrolled in the school, collège (lower-secondary school) or lycée (upper-secondary school) closest to home. This school is their reference institution. Thus, no learner with disabilities should necessarily be kept outside mainstream schooling for their school career. If it is subsequently necessary to enrol a learner with disabilities in a special school or special unit, they retain the right to be enrolled in mainstream educational settings.
Articles L112-1 to L112-5 of the Education Code specify the provisions designed for learners with SEN. Within mainstream educational settings, learners with disabilities can be enrolled in:
- Mainstream class in the local school. The learner’s schedule can be organised to comply with the number of hours decided by the Commission on the Rights and Autonomy of People with Disabilities (CDAPH) if it is not full time. Constraints related to the learner’s transport and any obligations arising from care provided outside the school can also be organised in the same way.
- Local Unit for Educational Inclusion (unité localisée pour l’inclusion scolaire – ULIS). ULIS are inclusive facilities located in some mainstream primary schools, collèges or lycée. They facilitate the schooling of a small group of learners with disabilities. Learners are oriented in ULIS when pedagogical adaptations and specific arrangements in mainstream classes no longer suffice and special education in a smaller group becomes necessary.
ULIS are co-ordinated by specialised teachers whose role is to adapt teaching to their pupils’ needs and capacities in accordance with national programmes. They are not a temporary remedial system but rather inclusive facilities which gradually include learners with disabilities in mainstream classes. Learners are encouraged to follow subject areas (e.g. physical education, mathematics, etc.) in their mainstream ‘reference class’ at their own pace and ability, allowing them to keep up with their peers’ learning rhythm.
ULIS organisation and functioning are specified in Circular no. 2015-129, 21 August 2015 on Local units for education inclusion (ULIS), facilities for learners with disabilities’ schooling in primary and secondary education.
In 2019–2020, 28% of learners with disabilities (i.e. 101,000 learners) attended mainstream school with the support of a ULIS (Statistical Surveys no. 3 and 12, French Ministry of Education). In the same year, there were 9,239 ULIS (5,021 in primary education and 4,218 in secondary education), compared to 5,974 in 2009 (4,122 in primary education and 1,852 in secondary education).
- Externalised teaching units (unité d’enseignement externalisée – UEE). Medical-social units are located in some mainstream schools, collèges or lycées and depend on the health sector. Externalised teaching units enable co-operation between education and health professionals within mainstream educational settings. According to learners’ needs, certain subject areas can be followed in a mainstream class.
Learners with autism spectrum disorders can attend externalised units specifically designed for them. Since 2018, the National Strategy for Autism within Neurodevelopmental Disorders has fostered the implementation of externalised autism teaching units in nursery and primary schools. So far, 160 units have been created and 200 more will be created before 2022. The units were created so that children with autism could benefit from early schooling and medical-social support (psycho-motor therapists, speech therapists, neuropsychologists, etc.) within mainstream educational settings.
If necessary, learners with disabilities who attend a mainstream class or special unit in a mainstream school can benefit from specific arrangements including human assistance, assistive technology or help from medical-social support services that can be external to the school system.
According to their needs, the learner’s schooling can also take place entirely outside mainstream educational settings:
- Teaching units (unité d’enseignement – UE) within medical-social or healthcare establishments. These provide learners with an adapted educational and health care;
- The learner can alternate between schooling in a mainstream school and a teaching unit in a medical-social or healthcare establishment. The time is divided to give priority to schooling in the mainstream reference school, even if this can only be achieved gradually. Attendance that is only occasional or limited to a few hours a week would be contrary to the very idea of the individual education plan.
In 2019–2020, 361,200 learners with disabilities were enrolled, representing 2.9% of all learners (the proportion is 2.9% in both primary and secondary education). The number of learners with disabilities increased by 6.9% compared to the previous year (4.8% in primary education, 9.5% in secondary education).
In the same year, 194,500 learners with disabilities were enrolled in primary education (27% of them in ULIS) and 166,700 learners with disabilities were enrolled in secondary education (29% of them in ULIS).
Collaboration between schools (e.g. mainstream/special) and between education and other services (e.g. health, social services)
Decree No. 2009-378 of 2 April 2009 relates to the schooling of learners with disabilities and co-operation between mainstream schools and medical-social establishments and services (special schools).
The decree is essentially intended to enable and facilitate the entry of non-teaching healthcare professionals in mainstream schools, collèges and lycées. It takes up and summarises legislative measures often mentioned in the preceding documents.
The Decree of 2 April 2009 specifies the procedures for setting up and organising teaching units in medical-social or healthcare establishments. These teaching units are strongly inclusive.
Such shared schooling ‘forces the various project partners to strengthen their consultations with a view to making necessary adjustments’. Circular 2006-126 of 17 August 2006, Article 1.3 B adds that ‘school attendance that is only occasional or limited to a few hours a week would be contrary to the very idea of the [individual education plan]’.
Provision of additional resources to learners with disabilities
There are several schemes that make it possible to meet learners’ specific needs within schools. Circular no. 2016-117 of 8 August 2016 on learners with SEN’s training programmes within mainstream educational settings specifies the use of four existing plans used in schools:
- the individual education plan for learners with disabilities. If learners with SEN are recognised as having a disability, their family approaches the département-based centres for people with disabilities (maison départementale des personnes handicapées (MDPH), one for each French département). These are intended to facilitate procedures for people with disabilities. The MDPH multidisciplinary assessment team generates an Individual Education Plan (projet personnalisé de scolarisation – PPS). The plan is conceived according to the learner’s needs and proficiency and their family’s opinion on implementing:
- Pedagogical adaptations (differentiation/adaptation of the curriculum)
- Assessment accommodations (e.g. extra time)
- Assistive technology
- Human help from a support assistant (accompagnant d'élèves en situation de handicap – AESH) who provides individual help to learners with an official decision of SEN in mainstream education.
If necessary, specific arrangements – including help from external support services – can be organised (e.g. speech therapists).
An implementation document is generated to summarise all adaptations (e.g. PPS implementation document for primary school learners).
- the personalised support scheme for learners with specific learning disabilities who are more autonomous and curriculum adaptations can be dealt with at the school level. Composed solely of educational measures, the Personalised Support Scheme (Plan d’accompagnement personnalisé – PAP) is aimed at learners whose academic difficulties result from learning disabilities (dyslexia, language disorders, etc.). The PAP only requires a school doctor’s notice and establishes assessment accommodations and pedagogical adaptations.
- the personalised educational success programme for learners experiencing temporary school difficulties. This scheme is less formal since it is established by the team teaching and the learner’s family. The personalised educational success programme (Programme personnalisé de réussite educative – PPRE) is put in place at the school level for six week cycles. It establishes pedagogical adaptations to help the learner build the skills and knowledge required.
- the individual support plan for learners with health disorders (Projet d’accueil individualisé – PAI) provides learners suffering from health disorders (e.g. allergy, asthma, diabetes, chronic illness) with a treatment protocol and assessment accommodations (if necessary).
The French Ministry of Education is developing an online application to combine and digitise all existing plans. This ‘inclusive school career booklet’ (Livret de parcours inclusif) will be adaptive and evolving. It aims to facilitate dialogue and procedures between the MDPH, school doctors, teaching team and families.
Added to these are other types of plans specific to medical-educational, social or health sectors. These are sometimes formulated in a co-operation framework including services or agents from several ministries. The schemes or plans being used within the medical-social framework are:
- the individual education plan;
- the individual support plan, for young people with disabilities;
- the personalised support plan, mainly for learners with behavioural disorders.
In primary and secondary education, teachers with a professional certificate in inclusive practices (Cappei) teach in specialised classes in public and private mainstream schools. Specialised teachers can also be assigned to specialised establishments of the medical-educational sector and the health sector.
The Framework and Planning Act on the Future of Education of 23 April 2005 established ‘the common base of knowledge and skills’ (Article 9) that ‘every pupil must know and have a good command of at the end of compulsory schooling’. It constitutes the entirety of knowledge, skills, values and attitudes needed for successful schooling, and the life of an individual and future citizen.
The 8 July 2013 Framework Act on the Reform of the Schools of the Republic, which is currently in force, provides for the establishment of a new common base of knowledge, skills and culture (Article 13). It is organised into five domains:
- Languages for thinking and communicating
- Methods and tools for learning
- Training of persons and citizens
- Observation and understanding of the world
- Representations of the world and human activity.
A single school booklet (Livret scolaire unique – LSU) allows parents to follow pupils’ learning progress in primary school and collège (lower-secondary school).
In primary school and collège, learners who experience difficulties in acquiring the common base will be offered personalised help. If a learner has serious difficulties with regard to knowledge, skills or attitudes, they can benefit from a personalised educational success programme (PPRE) at any point in their schooling.
All learners in primary school with learning difficulties can benefit from hours of personalised assistance, provided within the school framework.
In addition, there are particular prevention schemes in cases of major school difficulties. They consist of assistance networks specialising in learners in difficulty (RASED), specific to primary schools, set up by Circular 90-082 of 9 April 1990. Circular 2014-107 of 18 August 2014 specifies the missions of these networks and the qualifications of the staff within them. Within each district, a resource hub gathers all the staff that the national education inspector can call upon to respond to the requests of a teacher or a school, in order to help learners and teachers to deal with educational difficulties.
Learners with disabilities who are experiencing great difficulties are the subject of particular provisions. The knowledge and skills not validated at the end of primary school are re‑evaluated in the collège. If necessary, the LSU continues to be filled out. Skills are validated by teachers in the lycée, within a teaching unit, in the orientation and initial vocational training department (SIFPRO), or by trainers in apprentice training centres. Specific provisions comprising an arrangement of the evaluation situation, and possibly of the assistance given to the learner, are explicitly provided for.
The RASED (special assistance networks for learners in difficulty in primary school), which were set up in 1990, were initially systems to help learners with difficulties in school and not learners with disabilities. This changed with Circular 2002-113 of 30 April 2002, which authorised RASED teaching personnel to provide special assistance to learners with disabilities. Circular 2014-107 of 18 August 2014 relates to the operation and staffing of specialised networks to support learners in difficulty. It consolidates the missions of specialised teachers and of school psychologists within RASED. The school psychologists and RASED specialised teachers contribute to the development and the implementation of personalised support schemes and monitor the individual education plans. They are a resource and support for the teaching team in their relations and discussions with the families of learners in difficulty or with disabilities.
Since 2012 (Decree No. 2012-903 of 23 July 2012 on individual assistance and collective assistance to learners with disabilities), the status of support assistants for learners with disabilities has evolved. Circular 2017-084 of 5 May 2017 specified the activities of staff in charge of providing human assistance to learners with disabilities. It reiterates the different statuses of these assistants, their assignments and activities, especially regarding the setting in which learners with disabilities participate.
Support assistants for learners with disabilities (Accompagnant d’élèves en situation de handicap – AESH) are hired by the state under a fixed-term contract for a maximum of three years, renewable for a maximum period of six years. At the end of six continuous years, support assistants can benefit from a permanent work contract.
Support assistants foster the learner’s growth and autonomy, while providing a sense of confidence through individualised support. They assist with everyday life activities, relationship and social activities and with access to learning (educational, cultural, sports, arts or professional activities). Human assistance can be provided at any point in school, including internships, school visits or school trips. Support assistants can be assigned for:
- Individual assistance (i.e. offering an individual human assistance to a learner with disabilities within a mainstream class or special unit)
- Mutual assistance (i.e. offering assistance to a group of learners with disabilities within the same classroom)
Collective support (i.e. offering collective assistance to learners in a Local Unit for Educational Inclusion).
The need for individual or mutual assistance is determined by the MDPH multidisciplinary assessment team. A specific hourly volume of individual assistance per week is defined.
Since the beginning of the 2019 school year, inclusive localised support poles have been developed to better co-ordinate and manage human support (support assistants and educational and health support). These systems are designed to better consider the special educational needs of learners with disabilities in order to develop their autonomy. The system focuses on educational organisation rather than compensation. It fosters teachers’ collective engagement to identify special educational needs and implement the appropriate support at class and school level.
In the 2019–2020 school year, 186,000 learners received human assistance. In primary education, 62% of enrolled learners with disabilities received human assistance. In secondary education, it is 39%. Human assistance prescriptions from the CDAPH within the département-based centres for people with disabilities (Decree No. 2005-1752 of 30 December 2005) are constantly increasing. Since 2014, there has been an 11% increase in human assistance per annum. The share of individual human assistance is still predominant, but prescriptions for mutual human assistance are increasing. In primary education, 54% of human assistance is mutual and in secondary education it is 65% (Statistical Surveys no. 3 and 12, French Ministry of Education).
Last updated 28/04/2020