Chirac's model citizens
French schools will be required to follow a compulsory core curriculum for the first time.
The new curriculum goes beyond merely ensuring pupils reach minimum standards in mainstream subjects. Schools will be compelled to introduce pupils to a set of common values and cultural knowledge, teaching pupils about European culture and history, diversity, social skills, human rights and globalisation.
All pupils will be expected to master a "common foundation of knowledge and skills" by the age of 16. Education minister Gilles de Robien last week unveiled the foundation's requirements, with publication of the draft decree calling for the introduction of the changes in primary schools from September.
Mr de Robien said the foundation constituted a "restructuring act". For the first time since Jules Ferry's 1882 education laws introducing compulsory, secular, free state schooling, France would "clearly specify the essential content of compulsory education".
He said the foundation would specify the minimum that all pupils up to age 16 should accomplish, including those who chose to take new vocational training courses from age 14.
The reform, which should be fully operational from 2008, lays down the standards pupils must achieve in key subjects - French, maths, science and technology, a foreign language and mastery of "everyday information and communication techniques".
To this it adds what the decree calls "humanistic culture". Aimed at providing pupils with common cultural benchmarks, this subject will draw on literature, history and geography, and emphasise European culture and the EU. It will also introduce topics such as diversity of civilisations and religions, human rights, globalisation and sustainable development.
Mr de Robien stressed that other school activities, such as PE and sport, music and art, would also make important contributions - reassuring teachers worried about being marginalised.
The minister also plans to add two other subjects: "social and civic skills" will tell pupils about the rules for living in a community, such as values, behaviour and recognition of the rights of other people; "autonomy and initiative" will teach children such skills as thinking for themselves, carrying out projects, taking decisions and calculating risks.
Pupil assessments will take place at age six to seven, at the end of primary school and at 16.
The reform originated in 2002 as a re-election campaign promise by President Chirac to launch a nationwide debate on what kind of education system France needed for the next 15 years and to introduce a new law taking into account the findings. The resulting law is due for endorsement by the Conseil Superieur de l'Education in June.
New on the French timetable
* European culture and EU
* diversity of civilisations and religions
* human rights
* sustainable development
Autonomy and initiative
* thinking for yourself
* carrying out projects
* establishing priorities
* taking decisions
* calculating risk
* Values, behaviour, others' rights