President Jacques Chirac has criticised his country's long summer school holidays, which last up to 11 weeks for some pupils, and called for a redesign of the school day.
He wants reform of the "weak link" in the French system - the lower secondary school, or college, which is normally attended by 11 to 15-year-olds.
The long summer holidays, dating from when children were needed to help with the harvest, intensify work pressures during term-time.
President Chirac said he believed the rhythm of the school day needed to be altered. He is believed to favour academic classes in the morning which would leave the afternoons free for sport, art and culture. It is a model which has already been tested in some areas where Saturday morning classes have been abolished.
The president said that the college unique, introduced in 1975 to replace the -then selective system, had become unsuitable. "A great mistake was made with the college unique," he said, "because all children are not equal."
He said that educational reform was inevitable, but would require time.