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Education in France: Continuity and Change in the Mitterrand Years,
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EDUCATION in FRANCE, Part 2

 
 
           
 

State Control and Policies

France has a strong, centralized, republican tradition — having built and consolidated her identity through a school system tasked with educating her future citizens. Consequently, her education system is very largely the responsibility of the State.

 
 

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Central government thus retains fundamental powers when it comes to defining and implementing education policy and national education curricula. It is responsible for the recruitment, training and salaries of teachers, most of whom are civil servants trained at university-level schools of education, the Instituts universitaires de formation des maîtres (IUFM). Established in 1991, these train future primary and secondary school teachers, including those of the latter who are aggrégés (2), who, when fully trained, will all have completed five years of post-baccalauréat study.

Since 1808, the baccalauréat has been the symbolic national diploma, both crowning the successful completion of secondary education and providing a passport for entry into higher education. From the beginning of the twentieth century, France has also been developing State vocational education by "scholarizing apprenticeships", i.e. establishing vocational qualifications which can be attained at school: the CAP and the BEP (brevet d'enseignement professionnel, which sanctions the completion of adequate training within a range of technical skills required in a particular trade, industrial, commercial, administrative or social field).

The State continues to provide about two thirds of the total funding (FF 600 billion) for the education system, principally because it pays the teachers, but it also disburses various forms of financial assistance, such as scholarships, New School Year Allowances (3), etc.

Increased Regionalization

However, for over ten years now, France has been engaged in a process of decentralization. In the education sphere, this has brought greater diversity and more flexible organization to what was once a too uniform — or even monolithic — educational system.

Greater power is now given to regional and other local authorities placed under the authority of the National Education Minister. No longer are issues decided only in Paris or by ministerial private offices. Each year, the recteurs d'académie (cf. Chief Education Officers in UK or Commissioners of Education in the U.S.), responsible for schools in each of the 30 education areas (académies), receive from Paris a single sum of money for each item of expenditure, which they themselves allocate to the various educational establishments. Since 1999, decentralization of the management of teachers' careers has given the recteurs the new and important responsibility of assigning new teaching posts and promoting and moving teachers between schools within their académie.

At the local level, this has also given those on the ground — and particularly school head teachers — greater freedom and room to maneuver. Collèges and lycées, but not primary schools, have become local public education establishments (EPLE - établissements publics locaux d'enseignement) which are legal entities enjoying financial autonomy. They have also gradually acquired greater educational autonomy in that each school draws up an "establishment project" setting out how it is implementing the national objectives and curricula; this enables them to match their courses more closely to the children in their school and so better address their specific needs.

The 1982 and 1983 Decentralization Acts also significantly increased the role of the elected local authorities, i.e. regional, departmental and communal assemblies which have substantial budgets of their own. Today they fund about 20% of the total cost of education.

Each tier of local authority is responsible for one level of education. Communes are responsible for primary- and nursery-school building, equipment and maintenance, and paying the non-teaching staff. Departments are responsible for building, equipping and maintaining collèges, and financing the school transport system. The regions have these same responsibilities for the lycées and contribute to education planning (regional training plan, forward investment program).

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