Presentation of the French Education System > The Main Principles
The French Education System is based on important principles, some of which were inspired by the French Revolution in 1789, from laws voted between 1881 and 1889 under the 4th and 5th Republics, as well as the Constitution of the 4th October 1958 entitled "The organisation of free secular compulsory public education at all levels is a state obligation."
Freedom of teaching
In France, public education coexists with private organisation, is under the control of the state and eligible for state grants – in return for a contract made with the state. The freedom of organising and delivering education is a demonstration of the freedom of expression. However, the state is the only body authorised to deliver certificates and university grades: qualifications delivered by private schools are not officially recognised unless they are authorised by the state. Exam regulations are set on a national level.
The principle of free public education at a primary school level was introduced at the end of the 19th century with the law of 16th June 1881. Free education was extended to secondary level with the law of 31st May 1933. Education delivered in schools and public institutions is free of charge. School books are provided for free up until troisième class (Year 9), along with classroom equipment and stationery for use in class. At upper secondary level, textbooks are usually paid for by families.
* These principles of free education are available only for the public education system on the French territory.
Public education is neutral: teachers and students are bound by philosophical and political neutrality.
The principal of secularism has been the foundation of the French education system since the end of the 19th Century. Public education has been secular since the laws of 28th March 1882 and 30th October 1886. These laws introduced the obligation of education and the secularity of personnel and curricula. The importance of secularism in republican school values was further highlighted by the law of 9th December 1905 which introduced a secular state. Respecting the beliefs of students and their parents implies: absence of religious education in the curriculum, secular personnel, and a ban on proselytism.
Religious freedom led to introducing a free day per week thus leaving time for religious teaching outside of school.
Since the law Jules Ferry of 28th March 1882, education has been compulsory. This obligation applies from 6 years of age, for all French children or foreigners residing in France. Education is compulsory up to the age of 16.
Families have two possibilities: either they home school their children (after taking responsibility for their education) or they place their children in a public or private school.