Special needs education within the education system - France

Special Needs Education within the Education System

In France, we do not have a dedicated term for the child population in need of specific measures adapted to their special educational needs. The current terminology (disabled children, unadapted children, school adaptation and integration, administrative or legal protection of youth, specialised education, adapted education, etc.) comes with particular references and connotations and is weighted with historical context. There is no expression in use today, which signifies that children or adolescents with special schooling and educational needs require particular care and monitoring in well-defined options, distinct from the ordinary educational 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 dense network.

This network includes four sectors: the public education system under the authority of the Ministry of Education, the medico-educational sector, under the authority of the Ministry of Health, Youth and Sports, the socio-educational sector, under the authority either of the Ministry of Labour, Social Relations and Solidarity or the Ministry of Justice, and the health sector.

The Public Education Sector

This sector of adapted schooling comprises the infrastructures and facilities provided by the Ministry of Education and were created together with the first special classes for mentally disabled children 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 disabled persons and was reinforced by framework Law no. 89-486 (10/071989) on education. The actions in favour of schooling of disabled children undertaken by the Ministry of Education were reinforced by the Law of February 11, 2005 on the equality of rights and opportunities, participation and citizenship of disabled people. The law affirms disabled children's right to education and the responsibility of the educational system to guarantee the continuity of individual schooling careers. This law, which took effect of January 1, 2006, institutes the obligation to:

- provide the student, whenever possible, with ordinary school access as close as possible to his home;

- closely associate parents in the decision process of orienting their child and in all phases of the definition of his personal schooling project (PPS);

- guarantee the continuity of the schooling career, adapted to the capacities and needs of the student;

- guarantee the equality of opportunities for disabled and other candidates, by ensuring a legal basis for the adjustment of examination conditions.

The Law of February 11, 2005 created a number of new authorities:

The Departmental House of Disabled Persons (MDPH): placed under the authority of the Chairman of the General Council, this is a one-stop office which improves efficiency of reception, information and assistance to disabled students and their families (see Decree no. 2005-1587 of December 19, 2005).

The Rights and Autonomy Commission (CDA, see Decree no. 2005-1589 of December 19, 2005): it decides on orientation in the fields of schooling and education and proposes conciliatory procedures in the event of disagreement. It closely associates the parents in the orientation decision process concerning their child and in all phases of defining his personal schooling project according to the permanent incapacity ratio attributed by this Commission, which sees the child regularly in order to monitor its development.

The adapted schooling sector can be divided into three large areas:

1- Prevention mechanisms for students with serious schooling difficulties

First degree

These specialised assistance networks (RASED) are exclusively for the primary level and were created by Circular no. 90-082 (09/04/1990) as a substitution of previously existing services. Their objective is to prevent schooling difficulties which may be encountered by certain students in ordinary educational establishments. Circular no. 2002-113 of April 30, 2002, defines the complementarity of the Rased and school integration class (CLIS) mechanisms, as well as the duties of educators involved.

Second degree

Adapted general and professional schooling programmes, defined in 1990 and implemented by Circulars no. 98-129 (19/06/1998) and no. 2006-139 (29/08/2006), are available to students with serious and persisting schooling difficulties. These programs, which are designed to provide professional qualifications, are implemented in two types of institution:

a) The adapted general and professional schooling sections (SEGPA), successors to the specialised education sections created by Circular no. IV-67-530 (27/12/1967). Integrated into ordinary colleges, the purpose of these sections was redefined after 1989, leading to significant reinforcement of schooling programmes.

b) The regional adapted schooling establishments (EREA) replace the national further education schools created by Law no. 51-1487 (31/12/1951). Circular no. 95-127 (17/05/1995) required the EREA to become adapted learning high schools (LEA), but was never implemented. Most of the EREA provide boarding and host adolescents who evidence serious learning and social difficulties. However, some establishments also provide tuition to sensory or motor disabled youths capable of following secondary level classes.

After finishing schooling, these students are entitled to training leading to level V qualifications (certificate of professional competence), which most of them will accomplish within the ordinary curriculum.

c) Relay classes were created by Circular no. 98-120 (12/06/1998) for intermediate students who have entered the school rejection cycle, some of whom are legally bound to accept educational assistance. The objective of this measure is to facilitate the students' re-socialisation and re-entry into the school system through temporary guidance. Under the authority of the Ministry of Education, these classes can be organised in partnership with the territorial authorities, departmental directorates of legal protection for youths and various specialised associations.

2- Ways of schooling for disabled students

The student's schooling takes place mainly in an ordinary educational environment. Actual schooling can be complemented by the specialist team of a specialised education and home care service (SESSAD), which can combine access to care and the right to schooling within the school environment, from the primary to the secondary level.

In June 2006, 104,500 disabled students are integrated at the primary level, 45,000 at the secondary level.

a) Individual schooling at the primary and secondary levels

This consists of enrolling one or more disabled students in an ordinary class. Individual schooling is the primary goal at all levels. Regardless of whether it is implemented on a part-time or full-time bases, hosting conditions must be adapted within the framework of the personalised schooling project (integral part of the personalised compensation plan), thus accounting for the specific educational needs of each disabled child. 

The personal schooling project (PPS) provides the framework for the schooling of the disabled child. It ensures the coherence and the quality of accompanying measures and the necessary assistance, based on a global evaluation of the situation and the student's needs: therapeutic or re-educational accompaniment, assignment of a school carer or appropriate teaching materials, assistance to the teaching team via a school assistance post.

Each schooling career should be closely monitored, especially during the transitional phases between education levels: nursery school, elementary school, intermediate, high school and vocational training school. The same applies for baccalaureate access and preparing for higher education.

All disabled students are assigned a reference teacher who will follow the student's progress throughout his schooling 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 him.

Students can be accompanied by a school carer, one of the compensation tools provided for by the Rights and Autonomy Commission (Circular no. 2003-093 of June 11, 2003, on the accompaniment by a school carer for children or adolescents evidencing a disability or disabling health problem).

The number of students taking advantage of accompaniment by a school carer has increased from 18,589 in 2006 (15,132 at the primary level, 3457 at the secondary level), compared to 7400 at the end of the 2002–2003 school year.

During the 2006 school year, there were 6078 active school carers (AVS) in all schools. Of these, 4640 operated individually with more than 13,500 students.

b) Group schooling 

Group facilities were created for students (in general 10 to 12) who cannot follow – full-time – ordinary schooling.

Primary level

In elementary schools, the school integration classes (CLIS) created by Circular no. 91-304 (18/11/1991) regroup children with a mental, hearing, visual or motor disability who are not capable to follow – full-time – ordinary schooling and who can benefit from integration into an ordinary school environment. Students in the CLIS are dispensed adapted schooling and they share a number of activities with the other students. In 2005, the majority of CLIS students were able to participate in individual periods of integration in another class in the school.

There are different types of CLIS:

- CLIS 1: school integration classes for children with a mental disability,

- CLIS 2: school integration classes for children with a hearing disability

- CLIS 3: school integration classes for children with a visual disability,

- CLIS 4: school integration classes for children with a motor disability.

In 2005–2006, at the primary level, 64,994 out of 104,824 students were following full-time or part-time individual schooling, while 39,830 were in school integration classes (CLIS).

Secondary level

At the secondary level, when the demands of individual schooling become excessively taxing, disabled students can join the integrated learning units (UPI). This measure is designed for children aged 12 to 16, who although at the intermediate (lower secondary) level, cannot take advantage of ordinary intermediate schooling. With the assistance of a specialised teacher, they can however benefit from adapted schooling, harmonised with the objectives set by their personalised schooling project and including, whenever possible, shared time in class activities of their reference class, selected among the school's classes attended by children of the same age.

The UPI was created by Circular no. 95-125 (17/05/1995) for the inclusion of children with mental disabilities. Circular no. 2000-009 (13/01/2000) extended the competence of UPIs to all disabilities or illnesses. Circular no. 2001-035 of February 21, 2001 on schooling of disabled students in secondary schools and the development of UPIs, replaces previous circulars and defines the framework for schooling of disabled students with serious cognitive function disorders in secondary schools, extending inclusion in the programme to students with sensory or motor disabilities and advocating the development of UPIs at the secondary level, including vocational training schools.

At the beginning of the 2006 school year, 200 UPIs were created in intermediate and high schools. The implementation of these integration units was planned in such a manner as to cover the entire national territory and taking into consideration transportation constraints.

In 2005–2006, nearly 46,700 students attended the secondary level (38,914 in individual schooling and 7785 in the UPI group format. 

3- Distance learning

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

In 1997, a "Handicap Platform" was created in the centre of Toulouse in order to provide adapted solutions for children and adolescents whose disability or illness prevents them from attending ordinary school facilities.

The medico-educational sector

When school attendance in the ordinary school environment is not possible, disabled students (generally between the ages of 6 and 20) are oriented toward medico-social facilities which offer balanced schooling, educational and therapeutic care.

This sector, which is under the authority of the Ministry of Labour, Social Relations and Solidarity, plays an important role in the specialised education network. It was largely developed in the period from 1950 to 1975, in order to respond to the urgent demands of disabled children's parents' associations.

Thanks to the initiative of non-profit associations and to a lesser extent of public authorities (10 %), an impressive tool was created. The schooling dispensed within this framework remains under the control of the Ministry of Education.

The sector is characterized by two types of facilities, ruled by modified Decree no. 56-284 (09/03/1956):

Care facilities

Care facilities, known as medico-educational centres, are regulated by appendix XXIV of the above decree and they are intended for children, adolescents and sometimes young adults, for whom attendance of an ordinary school is impossible or counter-indicated by the special education committee, authorise to recommend their orientation.

These facilities are generally organised around a particular disability:

- Medico-educational institutes (IME), regulated by Decree no. 56-284 (09/03/1956), modified by Decree no. 89-798 (27/10/1989), include the medico-pedagogic institutes (IMP) and the medico-professional institutes (IMPRO). They represent the vast majority of specialised educational facilities. They take care of children or adolescents with intellectual disabilities.

- Institutes for re-education (IR), regulated by appendix XXIV bis of Decree no. 56-284 (09/03/1956), modified by Decree no. 89-798 (27/10/1989), take care of children or adolescents who evidence behavioural disorders. Decree no. 2005-11 of January 6, 2005, defines the conditions for the technical organisation and operation of therapeutic, educational and pedagogic institutes (ITEP). The text defines the targeted clientele of these institutes, who are to replace the institutes for re-education: children, adolescents or young adults who evidence psychological difficulties, whose expression, 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 multi-disciplinary teams. The institutes for re-education have until September 1, 2008, to comply with these regulations.

- Establishments which 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 (IEM) and re-education institutes.

- Establishments which take care of poly-handicapped children or adolescents are regulated by appendix XXIV ter of Decree no. 56-284 (09/03/1956), modified by Decree no. 89-798 (27/10/1989).

- Establishments which take care of children 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 which take care of children or adolescents with serious visual disabilities or suffering from blindness, are regulated by appendix XXIV quater of Decree no. 56-284 (09/03/1956), modified by Decree no. 88-423 (22/04/1988).

The medico-social facilities currently care for 104,268 disabled youths. Of these, 70,249 attend school full-time, 1494 attend school part-time and 10,061 receive their schooling outside these institutions (data for 2006).

Prevention, treatment and home care services

- Specialised education and home care services, regulated by each section of appendix XXIV of modified Decree no. 56-284 (09/03/1956), are generally attached to the medico-educational establishments and target the same population as the latter. Their activities address the child's entire environment, namely the family, and in particular the school environment, in such a manner as to guide the schooling experience.

- Medico-psycho-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.

- Preventive medico-social action centres (CAMPS), 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 disabled children from birth to the age of six.

The socio-educational sector

This sector, which is mainly under the authority of the Ministry of Labour, Social Relations and Solidarity, has a two-fold responsibility:

- Social protection of the child, for the benefit of youths temporarily deprived of family support: this mission is performed by social services, in particular Social Assistance for the Child, under the authority of the chairman of the General council.

- Legal protection of youths, with regard to endangered or delinquent youths who have been sentenced to educational assistance measures: this mission is carried out by the Juvenile Court judge.

In order to respond to either of these missions, a comprehensive mechanism was implemented, which offers varied care solutions:

- Keeping the child in the family environment is the preferred solution; if necessary, it can be accompanied by educational assistance measures.

- In other cases, the institutions and services judged to be the most appropriate to respond to the youth's needs are solicited, regardless of the sector they belong to: socio-educational, medico-educational or institutions and services of the Ministry of Education.

The socio-educational sector offers two types of facilities: 

Care centres under the authority of the Ministry of Labour, Social Relations and Solidarity

Generally regulated by Law no. 75-535 (30/06/1975) concerning social and medico-social institutions, they can take care of children and adolescents by virtue of article 375 of the Civil Code and article 40 of the Family and Social Action Code.

- Childhood Centres, created a long time ago, answer directly to the Social Assistance Service for Children and ensure emergency care at the departmental level as well as observation and orientation of children and adolescents under protective measures. In principle, the length of stay is limited. These centres can be managed directly by the department or they can function as autonomous institutions.

- Children's social houses (MECSO), which succeeded the former orphanages, ensure lodging and educational care for youths. They are generally managed by non-profit associations.

- Foster homes, more precisely care offered at the home of a child-minder, whose status has been reinforced by Law no. 92-642 (12/07/1992).

Establishments and services under the authority of the Ministry of Justice

If legal measures are taken concerning delinquent or endangered youths, facilities under the control of the directorate for Legal Youth Protection (PJJ), defined by Ordinance no. 45-174 (02/02/1945), can be requested to respond:

Court educational services (SEAT) were created by the Order of July 30, 1987 and organised by the Circular no. ES K387-65 (28/09/1987). Their mission is to evaluate the situation of the incarcerated minor, to propose alternative solutions to incarceration, to monitor the incarcerated minor and prepare is exit from the institution, to ensure on probation measures and legal control.

Educational action centres perform educational activities for delinquent or endangered youths who are taken into boarding. Sometimes they also have a day centre, whose purpose is to monitor professional training or insertion of these youths, following varying modalities.

Open educational action centres (AEMO) perform observation and educational orientation duties as well as carrying out educational activities directed at delinquent or endangered minors who stay with their families. AEMO services are organised by Decree no. 85-936 of August 23, 1985. Measures implemented can be either administrative (under the competence of youth social prevention services) or legal (youth legal prevention).

The educational consultation, orientation and action services (COAE), created by Decree no. 90-166 of February 21, 1990, have been implemented in all departments.

The reinforced educational facilities implemented by Circular no. NOR JUS9950035C (24/02/1999) have supplanted the reinforced educational counselling units (UEER), organised by Circular no. NOR JUS9650047C (07/06/1996). Their purpose is to care for delinquent or seriously endangered minors for whom the traditional care facilities have proven to be inadequate (in this case six educators monitor a group of eight youths at a maximum for a limited period of time).

Education of children and adolescents in the socio-educational sector remains under the authority of the Ministry of Education. Certain youths who are subjected to educational assistance measures, may be accepted in relay classes created by the Ministry of Education and organised in partnership with territorial authorities and the departmental directorates for legal protection of youths.

Closed educational centers

The law n° 2002-1138 of September 9, 2002 has created closed educational centers (CEF). These centers are defined in Article 22 of this law as institutions in which minors are placed in application of judicial control, a suspended sentence with probation, or release on probation. Inside these centers minors are subjected to measures of supervision and control ensuring a strengthened educational and pedagogical monitoring adapted to their personality. The duration of the stay in these centers is fixed at six months, a period renewable once for another six months. Each CEF simultaneously accommodates 10 to 12 young persons. Their arrivals are spread over the entire year.

In the framework of a decision to place a young person in a center of this type, the obligation to provide education for young people under the age of 16 must be abided by scrupulously. The Code of Education also provides for access to professional skills to young people over 16 who have no such skills. Whatever their age, the young people placed in these centers must be put into a situation in which they can acquire knowledge and know-how allowing personal development and further training.

The objective for young people under the age of 16 is to return to a school, and for the older people in this group to begin vocational training, unless the pursuit of studies in a general or technical lycée (higher secondary school) can be considered.

Institutions for minors

Institutions for minors (EPM) were created by the General Policy and Program Law for the judicial organisation of September 9, 2002. The objective of these institutions is to give priority to the reintegration of young persons in custody between the ages of 13 and 18 outside the adult prison system. These mixed institutions accommodate a maximum of 60 inmates. Each of them benefits from a personalised educative project based on a possibility of 27 hours of teaching every week, in the hope that this schooling will encourage their reintegration. A large number of personnel participate in this project, personnel in the Penitentiary Administration and the Judicial Protection of Youth service for the Ministry of Justice, specialised primary and secondary school teachers for the Ministry of National Education. Other minors can also be held in custody in sections for minors inside penitentiary centers for adults, the main reason being to avoid isolation from families: only 7 EPMs will be opened this year in all of France.

The health sector

According to Circular no. 99-181 (10/11/1999), which organises the care for children or adolescent in ordinary school facilities, schooling is a priority. 

However, if the child's health does not allow this solution, schooling may be dispensed in a health sector facility under the control of the Ministry of Education.

Last modified Mar 26, 2010


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