Faced with devastating evidence that up to one in five 10-year-olds lacks basic reading skills, schools minister Segol ne Royal has launched a literacy and language campaign which stresses the need for remedial action to start as early as nursery school.
More than 1,000 teachers and educationists gathered at a national conference in Nantes this month to discuss the problem of illiteracy.
Last September between 15 and 20 per cent of pupils entering coll ge (lower secondary), usually at age 10 or 11, did not have basic competence in reading - the standard considered necessary to succeed at secondary school, the education ministry recently revealed.
Research shows that nearly a fifth of children moving on from nursery school were "at risk" and likely to face major difficulties later when learning to read.
At Nantes Mme Royal said she was seeking constructive solutions that would give all pupils the "power to speak, to read and to write". She announced measures to combat illiteracy which will be introduced from the next school year, many based on initiatives presented at the conference.
They included more structured work at nursery school, which, though not compulsory, is attended by all three-year-olds.
But while nursery laid the foundations for oral skills and progressive introduction to writing, Ms Royal stressed that marking and grading infants' work was premature and harmful.
Other measures included improved liaison between nursery and primary school and between primary and coll ge and use of new technology.