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France - Special needs education within the education system

Developing inclusion

Children with disabilities who are not enrolled in mainstream schools may be accepted full-time or part-time at a medical-social centre while continuing their schooling.

Law 2005-102 strengthened the framework of this schooling in a specialised environment by developing strong ties to schooling in a mainstream setting through setting up teaching units within social and medical-social facilities (ESMS).

Pursuant to the law, Decree 2005-1752 of 30 December 2005 and the Decree of 2 April 2009 (related to the creation of teaching units) provide for keeping the learner with disabilities enrolled in a national education establishment (reference school), while their schooling may take place:

  • in a teaching unit within a medical-social centre;
  • part-time in this unit and part-time in the reference school;
  • part-time in this unit and part-time in a school located nearby with which the medical-social centre has an agreement.

Current provision


  • At the national level: the Office of School Career Personalisation and Schooling of Learners with Disabilities at the Ministry of National Education.
  • At the regional and academy level: the technical advisor for School Adaptation and Schooling of Learners with Disabilities (ASH) of the rector of the academy.
  • At the département level: the technical advisor of the Academic Director of National Education Services (DASEN), who is an inspector for National Education in charge of ASH whose duties were recently redefined by Circular No. 2010-135 of 6 September 2010.
  • At the local level: the reference school teacher (ERS), whose areas of intervention are defined by the Bylaw of 17 August 2006.

In France, there is no dedicated term for the child population in need of specific measures adapted to their SEN. There is no expression in use today that signifies that children or adolescents with special schooling and educational needs require particular care and monitoring under well-defined options, distinct from the mainstream education system.

The education of children and adolescents with serious difficulties, either through disability or illness, is based on an infrastructure, which has slowly grown into a very extensive network.

In 2013/2014, there were 78,217 children and adolescents identified as both taken into a medical-social or health establishment, and as pupils – 71,286 in medical-social centres and 7,931 in health centres. To these can be added at least 10,729 children with disabilities aged 3 to 16 years who are considered as not schooled (source: Joint report 2014-090 of the general inspectorates of social affairs, national education, the administration of national education and research: Les unités d’enseignement dans les établissements médico-sociaux et de santé. December 2014).

The public education sector

This sector of adapted schooling comprises the infrastructures and facilities provided by the Ministry of Education. They were created together with the first special classes for children with intellectual disabilities in 1909. The sector has evolved following the school integration policy laid down in framework Law No. 75-534 (30/06/1975) in favour of people with disabilities and was reinforced by framework Law No. 89-486 (10/071989) on education. The actions in favour of schooling of learners with disabilities undertaken by the Ministry of Education were reinforced by the Law of 11 February 2005 on the equal rights and opportunities, participation and citizenship of people with disabilities. The law asserts the right of learners with disabilities to education and the responsibility of the education system to guarantee the continuity of individual school careers. This law, which took effect on 1 January 2006, institutes the obligation to:

  • provide the learner, whenever possible, with mainstream school access as close as possible to their home;
  • closely involve parents in the decision-making process of orienting their child and in all phases of defining the child’s individual education plan (PPS);
  • guarantee the continuity of the school career, adapted to the learner’s capacities and needs;
  • guarantee equality of opportunities for candidates with disabilities and other candidates, by ensuring a legal basis for the adjustment of examination conditions.

Schooling for learners with disabilities

The learner’s schooling mainly takes place in a mainstream educational environment. Actual schooling can be supplemented by the specialist team with specialised education and home-care service (SESSAD), which can combine access to care and the right to schooling within the school environment, from primary to secondary level.

Individual schooling at primary and secondary levels

This consists of enrolling one or more learners with disabilities in a mainstream class. Individual schooling is the primary goal at all levels. Regardless of whether it is implemented on a part-time or full-time basis, hosting conditions must be adapted within the framework of the individual education plan.

A multidisciplinary team develops the PPS (individual education plan), based on the information gathered during the assessment, particularly from the educational team or the schooling monitoring team. Once the development phase is completed, the plan is submitted to the Commission on the Rights and Autonomy of People with Disabilities (CDAPH). The PPS is an aspect of the PPC (personalised compensation plan). The PPS ‘proposes methods for educational pursuit co-ordinated with measures to support it shown in the compensation plan’ (Article L 112-2 of the Education Code). It ‘defines how the schooling takes place, along with pedagogical, psychological, educational, social, medical, and paramedical actions to meet the special needs of learners with disabilities’ (Article D 351-5 of the Education Code).

The PPS provides the framework for the schooling of a learner with disabilities. It ensures the coherence and quality of support measures and necessary assistance based on an overall assessment of the situation and the learner’s needs: therapeutic or re-educational support, assignment of a classroom assistant or appropriate teaching materials, assistance to the teaching team via a school assistance position, etc.

Each school career should be closely monitored, especially during the transitional phases between education levels: nursery school, primary school, collège, lycée and vocational training school. The same applies for baccalaureate access and preparation for higher education.

All learners with disabilities are assigned a reference teacher who will follow their progress throughout their school career. All of those involved in the education process (parents, teachers, various other partners) must be able to clearly identify the reference teacher and be able to contact them.

Learners can be accompanied by a classroom assistant, which is one of the compensation tools provided for by the CDAPH (Circular No. 2003-093 of 11 June 2003, on accompaniment by a classroom assistant for children or adolescents with a disability or a disabling health problem).

Group schooling

Localised Units for School Inclusion (ULIS)

Since 1 September 2015, the schemes aimed at school inclusion for learners with disabilities are all called ‘localised units for school inclusion’ (ULIS).

These schemes aim to support the continuity of the school careers of learners with disabilities, to reinforce their inclusion within mainstream classes, and to accompany learners with disabilities toward better employability. ULIS for primary schools are distinguished from ULIS for collège and lycée (secondary school).

In theory, the number of learners in a primary school ULIS is limited to 12 and that of a secondary school ULIS should not exceed 10. Modulations are possible depending on the learners’ degree of autonomy.

Each ULIS has a co-ordinator. A special education teacher carries out the tasks. A collective classroom assistant can be assigned to the ULIS, but human support, individual or collective, during the entire schooling period is not envisaged.

The learners directed to ULIS are those who, in addition to teaching installations and adaptations and compensation measures taken by the education teams, require adapted teaching within the framework of regroupings. The ULIS gives them the possibility of continuing in inclusive education adapted to their potentialities and their needs, even when their acquired knowledge and skills are very limited.

The CDAPH are the only ones qualified to propose assigning a learner to a ULIS, provided that the legal persons in charge of the child agree.

There are seven types of ULIS. Each ULIS has the role of accepting learners and taking account of their needs and learning objectives, without aiming at absolute homogeneity:

  • TFC: cognitive or intellectual function disorders
  • TSLA: specific language and learning disorders
  • TED: pervasive developmental disorders (including autism)
  • TFM: motor function disorders (including dyspraxia)
  • TFA: hearing disorders
  • TFV: visual disorders
  • TMA: multiple associated disorders (multiple disability or invalidating disease).

The organisation of a ULIS is placed under the authority of the school principal in primary school, and under the authority of the head of the establishment in secondary school (principal, head teacher).

ULIS do not constitute specific classes that are distinct from the other classes: they are an arrangement, which occasionally join with other learners, according to their needs.

Learners attending a ULIS are fully-fledged pupils of the school establishment. Their reference class is the class or division roughly corresponding to their age group. These learners must take part in all the activities organised for all the learners, without exception, and in particular in the extra-curricular activities.

A ULIS co-ordinator has three main missions: teaching during times of regrouping the learners within the ULIS, co-ordination of the ULIS and relations with partners, and advising the educational community – especially non-specialised teachers – in their capacity as a resource person.

Secondary schooling

Secondary school

The learner’s entry into a secondary school ULIS entails the development of an individual education plan (PPS), integrating a personalised orientation plan (PPO) and ensuring the coherence of the various support schemes based on an overall assessment of the learner’s needs (therapeutic or re-educational support, etc.).

Three situations can arise:

1.ULIS in collège:

  • the learners hold an individual skills booklet (LPC) in reference to the common base of knowledge and skills (SCCC);
  • they have the possibility of passing tests for the national Brevet school certificate as well as the general education certificate;
  • they enter, in an adjusted way, the introductory course for trades and training.

2.The ULIS in lycée and vocational schools:

  • the learners are supported to prepare their entry into higher education;
  • at the appropriate time, they will be placed in contact with the higher education ‘disability’ reference person.

3.ULIS in vocational schools:

  • learners have access to the vocational training provided in their lycée or in the lycées and schools that are part of the network;
  • assistant teachers organise the connection with the Cap emploi (a network of agencies that help people with disabilities to find work), the apprentice training centres (CFA), and other establishments offering technical education, in view of setting up internships for their future employability;
  • the LPC continues to be filled out. A certificate of skills is issued to each learner upon leaving the ULIS.

All learners with disabilities can be directed, if the CDAPH offers this measure, to an establishment section or a national education establishment offering adapted general and vocational education.

Schooling of learners with disabilities in adapted general education collèges and vocational sections and in regional adapted teaching establishments

When the learners are old enough to be schooled at the collège level, i.e. when they are at least 12, and serious learning difficulties persist, their situation is examined by the département commission of orientation to adapted learning (CDOEA), which can direct them, subject to their parents’ agreement, to a collège for adapted general education and vocational section (SEGPA) or to a regional adapted teaching establishment (EREA). Learners enrolled in a SEGPA or EREA are not necessarily learners with disabilities, but learners with disabilities can be schooled, full-time or part-time, in a SEGPA or EREA (as in any other collège or lycée class, if it proves to be beneficial). Some EREAs mainly have learners with disabilities (in particular, learners with a visual disability, a hearing disability or a motor disability).

Adapted general and vocational education is provided to learners who have so-called ‘serious and persistent’ school problems. Circular 2009-060 of 24 April 2009 specifies the teaching orientations of this adapted education. Circular 2015-176 of 28 October 2015 reaffirms the principle of the inclusion of SEGPA learners in the whole of the collège, and facilitates reorientations at the end of the first year of collège.

Adapted general and vocational education is offered in two types of structures:

  • Adapted general and vocational education sections (SEGPA), which follow up on the specialised education sections (ITS) that had been instituted by Circular No. IV-67-530 of 27/12/1967. Integrated into mainstream collèges, the missions of these sections were redefined in the direction of a clear reinforcement of the teaching contents in order to allow access to a curriculum leading to a certificate of professional capacities (CAP), the first professional diploma recognised in collective agreements and on the labour market. For the majority of learners, this qualifying education takes place in a mainstream training establishment (vocational school or apprentice training centre, mainly).
  • Regional adapted teaching establishments (EREA). Generally offering boarding facilities, the majority of EREAs take in learners with major school and social difficulties. Some establishments, however, receive young people with sensory or motor disabilities who can follow secondary-level general education.

Pedagogical organisation principles specific to the adapted teaching sector are a form of personalised schooling of learners, a process of dynamic teaching that depends on the learners’ particular characteristics, with follow-up, assessment and validation of each schooling route. In SEGPAs, thanks to a specific pedagogical organisation within the collège, the aim is to prepare learners to gain access to vocational training.

The adaptation per se of the teaching, under the above-mentioned legal texts, includes adjustments to the environment, the teaching materials and the pace of teaching, as well as adjustment of the pedagogical steps and didactic approaches.

Distance learning

The National Centre for Distance Learning (CNED) is a public institution that proposes school and vocational curricula for all learners who are not able to physically attend an educational establishment. The centre proposes school curricula adapted to part-time learning. Learners can register at any time of the year. Home-learning assistance by a CNED-employed teacher is part of the offer.

In 1997, a disability platform was set up in the centre of Toulouse in order to provide adapted solutions for children and adolescents whose disability or illness prevents them from attending mainstream school facilities.

The medical-educational sector

When school attendance in the mainstream school environment is not possible, learners with disabilities (generally between the ages of 6 and 20) are directed to medical-social facilities, which offer balanced schooling, and educational and therapeutic care. (The nomenclature of the medical-educational establishments and services, as well as their establishment on the French territory, is available on the Ministry of Health website.)

These facilities are generally organised around a particular disability:

  • Medical-educational institutes (IMEs), regulated by Decree No. 56-284 (09/03/1956), modified by Decree No. 89-798 (27/10/1989), include the former medical-pedagogic institutes (IMPs) and the medical-vocational institutes (IMPROs), which became orientation and initial vocational training departments (SIFPRO). IMEs form the vast majority of specialised educational facilities. They take in children or adolescents with intellectual disabilities.

There were 1,256 IMEs in October 2015.

  • Therapeutic, educational and pedagogical institutes (ITEPs, formerly institutes for re-education), regulated by Decree No. 2005-11 of 6 January 2005. The text defines the targets of these institutes, which are to replace institutes for re-education: children, adolescents or young adults with psychological difficulties, the expression of which, namely the intensity of behavioural disorders, seriously impedes their socialisation and access to training and/or apprenticeship. This text lays out the duties of these institutes in detail, their organisation and operation, as well as the composition of their multidisciplinary teams.

There were 442 ITEPs in September 2015.

  • Establishments that take care of children or adolescents with a motor disability, regulated by appendix XXIV bis of Decree No. 56-284 (09/03/1956), modified by Decree No. 89-798 (27/10/1989), are divided into motor education institutes (IEMs: 144) and re-education institutes.
  • 207 establishments that take care of children or adolescents with multiple disabilities are regulated by Appendix XXIV ter of Decree No. 56-284 (09/03/1956), modified by Decree No. 89-798 (27/10/1989).
  • 80 establishments that take care of children or adolescents with a serious hearing disability are regulated by Appendix XXIV quater of Decree No. 56-284 (09/03/1956), modified by Decree No. 88-423 (22/04/1988).
  • Establishments that take care of children or adolescents with serious visual disabilities or suffering from blindness, are regulated by Appendix XXIV of Decree No. 56-284 (09/03/1956), modified by Decree No. 88-423 (22/04/1988): 31 establishments in 2015, plus 15 establishments for young people with both a visual disability and a hearing disability.

Prevention, treatment, and home-care services

  • Specialised education and home-care services (SESSADs), regulated by each section of Appendix XXIV of modified Decree No. 56-284 (09/03/1956), are generally attached to the medical-educational establishments and target the same population as the latter. Their activities address the learner’s entire environment, namely the family and in particular the school environment, in such a way as to guide the schooling experience. The number of SESSADs has been increasing for more than 20 years. There were 1,622 of them in October 2015.
  • Medical-psychological-pedagogic centres (CMPP), regulated by Decree No. 56-284 (09/03/1956), added to Decree No. 63-146 (18/02/1963), ensure diagnosis and treatment of children with neuro-psychic or behavioural disorders. There were 480 CMPPs in October 2015.
  • Preventive medical-social action centres (CAMSPs), regulated by Appendix XXIV bis of Decree No. 56-284 (09/03/1956), added to Decree No. 76-389 (15/04/1976), handle testing, day therapy and re-education of learners with disabilities from birth to age six. There were 324 CAMSPs in France in October 2015.

The number of places in medical-social establishments and services for learners with disabilities evolved between 2006 and 2014, with a clear increase in places in services that assist school inclusion, and a small reduction in places in specialised establishments.

In 2014, there were 47,785 places in IMEs (29,235 in 2006), 7,597 in establishments for young people with a sensory disability (2006: 8,623 places), 7,121 places in motor-education establishments, 14,960 places in ITEPs, and 5,585 places in establishments for young persons with multiple disabilities.

Health sector and the schooling of learners suffering from health disorders or who are hospitalised

Organisation of the plan of individualised admission of learners with health disorders

In the event of disease or if the schooling of a learner with an invalidating disability or health disorder does not require recourse to the provisions provided for in a PPS, a plan of individualised admission (PAI) is worked out by the head of the establishment with the assistance of a national education physician, at the family’s request and with its participation. Aside from the arrangements provided for in the PAI, the learner’s schooling proceeds under ordinary conditions.

The PAI applies to children with specific needs (reported disease, chronic pathology, dyslexia, etc.). It consists of a protocol drawn up by the parents, the school (head of establishment, physician, welfare officer, psychological orientation adviser, education team, teacher, main education adviser, nurse, etc.) and external partners, in order to allow admission to a collège, lycée or primary school for a child suffering from a temporary disability or disease.

The PAI is signed by the different partners convened as a preliminary step by the head of the establishment. An emergency protocol can be drawn up and circulated to the school community. On the basis of a PAI, an additional third of time can be granted for exams at the learner’s request, if they are of age, or at their parents’ request, subject to the agreement of the appropriate medical authorities.

Valid for one school year, the PAI is circulated within the educational community and to all the partners involved.

Home schooling assistance services (SAPAD)

Home schooling is addressed to any learner whose schooling is stopped or interrupted for medical reasons for a period exceeding two consecutive weeks. This schooling takes into account the requirements of the learner’s medical treatment and their state of health. It aims to maintain continuity of the provided teaching as well as the link with the school usually attended by the learner, in order to prepare their smooth return to class.

At the département level, a steering committee, chaired by the academy inspector, defines the missions of the service and the agreements allowing its operation, and ensures follow-up and oversight of the actions implemented. A network of volunteer teachers is constituted. They are remunerated and their travel expenses are covered. A co-ordinator is systematically appointed, usually a specialised teacher.

A medical certificate from the child’s attending practitioner specifies whether the child’s health requires a SAPAD intervention. In this case, on decision of the proper authority, home schooling assistance is ensured, as the case may be, by the learner’s usual teacher or teachers.

Schooling of hospitalised learners

If at some point in their life, a learner’s health does not allow their schooling, teaching can be provided to them under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education within the structures of the medical sector.

Article D.351-17 of the Education Code offers the possibility of setting up a teaching unit in a health establishment in order to ensure the schooling and the continuity of training courses for children and adolescents with an invalidating health disorder that requires a stay in such an establishment.

The teaching unit’s teachers work out the educational plan on the basis of the learners’ schooling needs, according to each of their schooling plans.

When a health establishment admits learners, the educational plan pays particular attention to the care plan.

Medical sector specialised establishments and services

Health establishments admit sick children and adolescents. Health establishments and children’s health centres (MECSAn) are publicly- or privately-owned establishments that are placed under the supervision of the ministry in charge of health. Admission is based on medical prescription. The health sector organises the admission of children who are sick or suffering from health disorders. Schooling in the mainstream structures is preferred. Each establishment is usually specialised in the treatment of a type of mental or physical pathology.

There are the following distinct services:

  • Paediatric hospital wards
  • Day hospitals that cover the care and education of patients who remain in their usual living environment
  • Children’s health centres (MECSAn), which take in children or adolescents who require constant medical attention as boarders.

Very young children, who are not subjected to compulsory education, can be admitted to a nursery that offers medical services, when their health requires this.

There are other health establishments which children or adolescents can be allowed to attend, usually while they remain a pupil of a school establishment. These include medical-psychological centres (CMPs) and part-time therapeutic centres (CATTPs). These services are part of the child psychiatry cross-sector.


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