THE education and health ministries are joining forces for the first time to help the more than half a million children who have difficulty speaking and writing.
The measures announced by Jack Lang, education minister, and Dominique Gillot, state secretary of health responsible for the disabled, followed a report suggesting how services for pupils with dysphasia (speaking problems) and dyslexia could be improved.
Mr Lang said: "All children should feel at home with the French language, the backbone of learning."
The 600,000 children with speaking or writing difficulties represent 5 per cent of pupils, according to the report by education inspector Jean-Charles Ringard, who headed an investigation group of 32 education and health specialists.
It found that France was lagging behind other countries such as the United States and the Netherlands in helping these children.
The group blamed inadequate screening and diagnosis procedures to identify those affected; lack of proper assessment of treatments given to children; insufficient training for health workers and teachers; and lack of co ordination between health and educational professionals.
The report makes about 40 ecommendations to support seven basic objectives: Preventative action at nursery school: the report says it is essential for teachers to develop structured language activities.
Early screening: especially during the health assessment children are given at at five. Children should be tested younger if teachers believe they are at risk. Pupils should be monitored as they enter primary and secondary school.
Better diagnosis: each region should set up a network of specialists who can rapidly identify the conditions.
Supervision: methods for measuring and assessing the problem must be improved, and action must be taken according to its severity. While most pupils can attend ordinary schools with varying degrees of support, less than 1 per cent need to attend special classes.
Training: there must be better links between health and education professions, and more multi-disciplinary training.
Information: better information for parents seeking help, including specialist centres listed on the Internet.
Reinforce education and health ministries' partnership: ensure follow-up measures taken, organise regular conferences on language difficulties and encourage research programmes.