Lower secondary school - long branded as the weak link in France's education system - is under pressure to change.
While the coll ge will remain fully comprehensive, its critics want the curriculum to become more flexible to suit all pupils.
Jack Lang, education minister, announced the long-awaited reforms last week. Coll ges, which are perceived as too academic for less-able children, have aroused heated debate among both teachers and the public.
They have also provoked public disagreement between Lang and Jean-Luc Melenchon, his junior minister for vocational education.
Melenchon was among those calling for the return of vocational streams. This was opposed by supporters of comprehensive secondary education who regard the "Republican" ideal of equal treatment for everybody as paramount.
Lang said his reforms would "build a college for all, which will also be a college for each one".
The comprehensive principle will remain, but the curriculum will be adapted to suit the wide-ranging abilities of pupils - mainly aged 11 to 15 - and to fight school failure. Options will introduce a vocational element. The changes for the 3.2 million coll ge pupils, to be introduced progrssively from the autumn, include:
* better integration procedures for pupils arriving from primary school.
* multidisciplinary studies for the two middle years around the themes of nature and the human body, arts and humanities, languages and civilisations, design and technical studies.
* final-year pupils to be offered vocationally-oriented options complementary to the core curriculum.
* formal assessments every year, and the end-of-college exam and certificate to be given greater value.
The comprehensive system was introduced into colleges in 1975, abolishing streaming, selection and the dispatch of less academic pupils to vocational or technical classes.
Pupils of all abilities follow a common programme designed to lead them on to the lycee which is now attended by 80 per cent of young people. However, 50,000 teenagers leave school every year with no qualifications.
Although teachers' unions still support comprehensive education in principle, many young staff, who tend to be posted to schools with the worst problems, say the objectives are unachievable.
A recent poll showed that for 50 per cent of French people the comprehensive system remained a fundamental principle, but two-thirds thought the system should be more flexible.