A damning report on conditions of school life in Seine-Saint-Denis, one of France's most deprived departements, has prompted ministers to take emergency action.
In the first visit by an education minister for 20 years to the prefecture in north-east Paris, Claude Allegre, last week announced remedial measures for schools.
They follow an inquiry which found that Seine-Saint-Denis "concentrates and accumulates in an extreme manner the majority of social handicaps".
More than a third of pupils leave education without qualifications, four times the national average; and only 48 per cent pass the baccalaureat, compared with more than 60 per cent nationally.
Despite these crisis conditions, only 11 per cent of the 794 primary schools and 18 per cent of the 111 colleges are in educational priority zones - a government scheme to target help on deprived areas.
M Allegre's remedial plan combines emergency and longer-term measures to be carried out with the local authority.
From September 1998, these will include giving more colleges priority zone status, and creating the equivalent of 60 new teaching posts over two years, together with extra school doctors, nurses, social workers and other support staff. The number of school assistants will be doubled.