France to make school obligatory from the age of three

The Local France
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France to make school obligatory from the age of three
Photo: AFP

Children in France will soon have to start school at the age of three, in a new measure announced by President Emmanuel Macron.


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School is currently compulsory for French children from the age of six, although since 1989 parents have had the legal right to a place in an école maternelle (pre-school) from age three.

This is a right most of them take up, in large part due to the fact the schools are free.

But in future they won't have a choice with President Emmanuel Macron announcing on Tuesday that from September 2019, the start of the new school year, the age of compulsory school attendance will be set at three. 

"This decision reflects the president's desire to make school the place of real equality and is recognition that the ecole maternelle should no longer be considered as just a form of day care or preparation for elementary school, but as a real school, focused on the acquisition of language and the development of the child," the Elysée Palace explained.

There are thought to be between 20,000 and 30,000 children in the country who don’t start until later. In the 2015/2016 school year, almost 98 percent of three-year-olds in France were at school. 

But the 98 percent are not evenly spread. Paris saw just 93 percent of three-year-olds in school, while the rate was 87 percent in Corsica and 70 percent in France’s overseas territories.

"I hope that with this obligation, from the start of the school year in 2019, we can... correct this unacceptable differential," Macron said on Tuesday, while at a conference organised to discuss pre-school education.

He promised that pre-school "is and will be more in the future a founding moment in the French education system".

Macron, who has named education one of the priorities of his term, has appointed neuropsychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik to help shape changes to the pre-school curriculum in conjunction with Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer.

The lowering of the school age is considered to be mostly a symbolic measure, seeming the majority of children in France already start schooling at three.

The new measure is expected to create around 800 jobs.

The fact so many pupils are in school aged three in France is seen as one of the strengths of France's primary education system although detractors claim the schools are too rigid for children of a young age.


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