France - Early Childhood Education - Pedagogy

Early Childhood Education



Early Childhood Education in France


In France, compulsory school begins at age 6. In this centralized country there are national guidelines aimed at insuring the equity of early childhood policies. Care and education are implemented separately, by local authorities (regions, departements, municipalities). Under the auspices of the Ministry of Education there is a strong public investment in the education sector, which provides one unique and universal provision: the 4cole maternelle. The care sector for children under 3 and for leisure time outside school is provided under the auspices of the Ministries of Social Affairs, Health, Youth and Sports. Various kinds of services are provided to these two age-groups.


The Ecole Maternelle for 2- to 6-Year-Olds

The first gcoles maternelles were charity institutions created during the nineteenth century to allow women to work in factories and to protect young children of these poor families. Their number increased quickly within the public system of education when the first laws of the French Republic defined, in 1881, ecole maternelle for the 2- to 6-year-olds as voluntary, free, and nonconfessional. The status and working conditions of the preschool teachers were aligned with those of elementary teachers in 1921. Since 1945, the increasing number of children from more advantaged backgrounds largely influenced the educational models, emphasizing progressively creativity and self-expression. During the 1970s, new national orientations included two main goals: socialization and learning, and, little by little, the 4cole maternelle came to be valued as the first step toward school success.

Main characteristics. Nowadays, almost 100 percent of the children over 3 years of age and about 35 percent of 2-year-olds attend gcoles maternelles. These free public institutions (12% are private) are organized like elementary schools: similar hours (8:30-11:30 am; 1:30-4:30 pm) and holidays, similar separation into groups of about twenty-five children by age, and located in the same group of buildings. Curriculum, teachers’ salaries, training, and evaluation are the responsibility of the National Ministry of Education, but buildings, furniture, materials and assistants’ salaries, training, and evaluation are the responsibility of local municipalities. At present the preschool teachers have the same training and job title, professeur des ecoles, whether they are working in ecoles maternelles or in elementary schools. Their salaries are the same as professeurs of secondary education. By contrast, teaching assistants are required to hold only a one-year certificate in early childhood, and their salaries are very low.


Current policy for Ecole maternelle. In 1989, the Law of Education specified that primary school must include both ecole maternelle and elementary school. Ecole maternelle constituted cycle 1 (cycle of “early learning”) for the 2- to 5-year- olds. Continuity with the elementary school was emphasized at the beginning of cycle 2 (cycle of “basic learning”) by having the last year of ecole maternelle linked with the two first grades of the elementary school. The Law defined the right of access for all 3-year-olds, and gave priority to 2-year-olds living in high- need education areas (ZEP). Parents were officially recognized as members of the education community. In 1995, a curriculum for the ecole maternelle was published, to be included in the curriculum for primary school, which reaffirming republican ideals emphasized early learning within five domains. In 2002 the new curriculum reaffirmed this focus, and an absolute priority was given to mastering the French language.


Implementation. With the exception of some fruitful local experiences, teachers have resisted this new pedagogical reform that requires particularly strong teamwork and the development of new practices. At the present time we are seeing an “elementarisation” of ecole maternelle. The parental participation remains relatively weak in the field, as well as the inclusion of handicapped children.

Although middle-class families express a strong desire for early schooling for their 2-year-olds, this is controversial: children are too young or the ecole maternelle is unsuited to caring for their emotional needs / supporting children’s early competencies. Emphasizing equality or calling for transformations of preschool practices to accommodate younger children is important. Studies indicate that participation by 2-year-olds results in some reduction, but not a complete removal of social inequalities. In high-priority zones (ZEP) 45 percent of 2-year-olds attend eecole maternelle. Better results at age 12 are observed in ZEP with the highest rate of early schooling (60% and more): early schooling is considered as one of the effective means developed in ZEP.


Child Care for the Under Threes

A very old practice of nonmaternal child rearing in the countryside explains the strong tradition of childminders in France. The first centers for very young children, called cr'ches, appeared in the middle of the nineteenth century, but unlike the gcoles maternelles, they remained without official recognition for many years. As a result, their number grew slowly, providing very inferior conditions of care to the poor children who attended them. In 1945, personnel from the hospital sector replaced the existing staffs in order to reduce child mortality. A negative view of the creche persisted until the late 1960s, when the arrival of both new professionals (early childhood educators and psychologists) and parents of the “1968 generation” led to a new outlook. Creches became more attractive to middle-class parents in a period when more mothers’ participation in the labor force was on the rise and while a growing concern for emotional security, autonomy, and creativity developed within the new staff training program.


Main characteristics. The French care policy is aiming the parent’s free choice between different settings. The Ministries of Social Affairs and Health develop the regulations and, with the national family allowance fund (CNAF), define the goals and resources of the regional family allowance funds (CAFs ) which carry out, in each departement, the policy decisions. Currently, care provision remains insufficient for children under age 3.

After the maternity leave (sixteen weeks paid and job protected) and the paternal leave (eleven days), half of the children under 3, and particularly those from modest backgrounds, stay at home. Some of these children, however, attend part-time provisions (haltes-garderies) or free centers for children and parents (accueils parents-enfants) run by municipalities or nonprofit associations. Most of these parents receive a parental leave allowance.

The remaining children are cared for in various settings that are heavily financed by public authorities. Parents have to contribute financially and are helped by allowances and tax reductions, including upper-class families who hire an inhome caregiver (1% of the under threes).

Many of the under threes (20%) are cared for by licensed childminders in the homes of those caregivers (three children authorized). The majority of them are employed by parents. These independent childminders may attend a network of childminders generally coordinated by an early childhood educator. Some others are employed by community family centers. Salaries are regulated by law at a rate of 2.25 times the national minimum wage per child per day.

Other children (10%) attend a creche (for infants and toddlers), run mostly by municipalities but also by nonprofit organizations, parent cooperatives, or public companies, and very recently by the private sector. These centers are open all day and operate year-round. The head is generally a pediatric nurse; the staff includes a majority of pediatric nurse assistants and some early childhood educators, plus part-time pediatricians (compulsory) and psychologists (not compulsory). Salaries vary greatly according to the different categories of professionals. The ratio in creches is one adult for every five babies, and one adult for every eight children who are able to walk.

About 10 percent of under threes, mainly from disadvantaged backgrounds, are cared for by grandparents or by nonlicensed childminders (illegal in France), without any public financial assistance.


Current policy. A comprehensive national policy was designed in the early 1980s to improve the quantity and quality of these programs, and to encourage decentralization. Thanks to early childhood contracts between the regional family allowance funds (CAF) and the municipalities, the number of creches doubled and of haltes-garderies tripled. In order to reduce the isolation of both mothers and childminders (and more recently in-home caregivers), innovative forms of care developed: first parent-child centers and then childminder networks, providing these adults with social support opportunities and children with group activities. During the 1990s “multicare” services (including several kinds of arrangements) developed as a response to parents’ increasing irregular work schedules and atypical working hours. The aim of these early childhood contracts is to increase quality by supporting in-service training, financing cultural projects, and recruiting municipal early childhood coordinators.

In 2000, a decree on collective care services updated and harmonized requirements: at least half of the personnel are required to have a diploma of pediatric nurse, early childhood educator, or pediatric nurse assistant; a quarter need to have qualifications related to health or social work; and a last quarter is exempted from any qualification. Paramedical professionals remain the majority but early childhood educators are now authorized to be heads of small creches (less than forty places).


Curriculum. There is no curriculum in this sector, but the 2000 decree recognizes the educational role of these services in terms of well-being and development. No concrete content about play and “awaking” activities are specified but a pedagogical plan is required, as well as individualized plans for handicapped children and a social plan, aimed at parental participation and support, as well as prevention of social exclusion.


Implementation. Despite France’s policy of neutrality toward the type of child care chosen by parents and a positive evolution of the early childhood education (ECE) system during these last decades, real choice is highly limited both by local provision and financial constraints, particularly for families of modest means and living in rural areas. Creches concentrate, in fact, in the Parisian area and big cities, and childminders remain too expensive for low-income families.

Except in the case of the cooperation between families and professionals existing within parents cooperatives, child-care staff are not involved in a real partnership with families, despite an important focus on welcoming parents and supporting parental competencies (“parentality”). These professionals are now calling for better training in how to work with parents, and particularly with those in social difficulties.


Leisure Time ServicesforAfter-School-Hours

The first leisure time services, called patronages, were created simultaneously with the republican school; nonprofit associations began to run these programs at the beginning of the twentieth century, and municipalities took over in the 1950s. This sector has been regulated since the 1970s.

Main characteristics. Preschool children generally eat at the ecole maternelle (between 11:30 am and 1:30 pm) and some of them also attend out-of-schooltime services (before 8:30 am or after 4:30pm). Lunch time and out-of-school-time services are run by municipalities or not-profit associations, staffed by animateurs (low salaried) and a director qualified in out-of-school activities.

These very inexpensive services are regulated by Ministries of Health, Social Affairs, Youth and Sports. They are attended by children from all backgrounds, and particularly by lower income and poor families.

Recent legislation stresses the educational dimension of these services, which are to be approved by the child and maternal health services and have to develop educational projects. Thanks to local educational contracts between municipalities and local partners, leisure time services now are developing various cultural and sports activities, particularly in disadvantaged zones. Research on leisure time services is very recent. Further documentation is needed.



Despite the separation between the education and care sectors within ECE, a number of innovative projects and experiments are striving to improve access, quality, and equity for parents and children, offering interesting perspectives for the future. Based on teamwork and partnerships with other professionals, they enrich the children’s experiences and increase the professionalism of early childhood personnel. Teachers transcend their didactic perspectives and become more aware of the children’s learning processes, and medical orientations decrease among care professionals as leisure time teams begin to reinforce educational perspectives. Examples include the following:

• cooperation between teachers, assistants, and early childhood educators in classes-passerelles (“bridge-classes”), which aim to connect families and schools by enrolling 2-year-olds cared for at home and particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds;

• cooperation between professionals from the health, social welfare, and school sectors in centers for children and their parents, which also aim to facilitate the transition to ecole maternelle (in addition to supporting parental competencies and social links in disadvantaged areas);

• cooperation between early childhood staffs and culture professionals (artists, librarians, etc.) within various cultural projects, sometimes linking the care and education sectors, and stimulated by the Ministry of Culture with the aim of democratizing French culture and preventing social exclusion.

But the development of a “common culture” of early childhood needs, in fact, a stronger policy in order to go beyond the traditional cleavage between the different sectors. Will the recent creation of departmental early childhood commissions (not yet implemented in all departments'), which include representatives of all sectors, contribute to this change?

Further Readings: Baudelot, O., S. Rayna, S. Mayer, and T. Musatti (2003). A comparative analysis of the function of coordination of early childhood education and care in France and Italy. Early years: An International Journal of Research and development 5, 32-48; Dajez, F. (1994). Les origines de l’ecole maternelle. Paris: PUF; Lebon, F. (2003). Une politique de l’enfance, du patronage au centre de loisirs. Education et societes (11), 135-152; Neuman, M., and S. Peers (2002). Equal from the start: Promoting educational opportunity for all preschool children. Learning from the French experience. New York: French-American Foundation; Rayna, S. (in press). Some issues and problems of France’s creches and ecole maternelle. In M. Takeuchi, M. Shigeru, and R. Scott, eds., New directions in early childhood education in the 21st century: The international perspectives. Waverly, IA: G & R Publishing.

Sylvie Rayna


Culture, Race, and Ethnicity

Issues of culture, race, and ethnicity are different in every country. The notions of diversity, immigration, citizenship, nation, and public services education are linked to one another and must be examined when considering the issue of multiculturalism. This discussion begins with a short history of the French context and values, followed by a description of the role played by early childhood settings in France’s strategy of integration. Next comes a presentation of some cultural projects and policies in early childhood, including their goals of democratization of culture throughout these early interventions. Also highlighted is the prevention of children’s school failure and reduction of social exclusion, including content and strategies, and effects on children, families, and professionals. The entry concludes with a discussion of other initiatives.


The French Context

The issue of immigration. As in other countries, early childhood services are partly for young children of parents who have come from other countries. For many families, these services are the first time in which they meet the public culture of their new country. Most immigrant children are born in France and become French citizens when they reach adulthood because the French laws of naturalization consider anyone born and living in France to be a French citizen.

Immigration has a long and important history in France. France’s immigration can be linked to its colonial past, with high rates during the 1970s and 1980s and a current flow of illegal immigrants (the borders are now officially closed). Following an older wave of immigrants from Italy, Poland, Spain, and Portugal, immigration shifted to North Africa and Black Africa, Turkey, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Immigrants represent about 11 percent of the French population (not including those born elsewhere but having French citizenship), and are overrepresented among disadvantaged families living in the neighborhoods of big cities.


The issue of ethnicity. In France one does not use the notion of ethnic minorities. Communities created around a common origin, religion, or culture are not officially recognized. The values of the French Republic (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) are supposed to transcend the particularities of individuals, and its laws are based on a strict separation between the religious and the political spheres. It is forbidden to distinguish people according to their national or cultural origins. Cultural, ethnic, and religious identities have meaning only in the private sphere. Avoiding the notion of communitarianism and multiculturalism, the goal of France’s policy of integration is to provide everyone a place within the nation. Within a context of increasing social problems and poverty, France is currently searching for a new model of integration, no longer referring to the former goal of assimilation.


The Role of Care and Education Settings

Early childhood services are key sites for enacting national goals for integration and the creation of new citizens.


Ecoles maternelles. In France, 3-year-old children, both citizens and immigrant children (about 8%), attend ecoles maternelles (see earlier). Play is seen as an important component of the ecoles maternelles because it provides an opportunity for children to share a common language and values. The ecoles maternelles and elementary schools are also known as “schools of the Republic,” a term used since the end of the nineteenth century and constructed in opposition to the power of Catholicism. Today, many believe that secular policy provides protection for minority religions by calling for the absence of religious signs in public life. This law has recently been an issue for Muslim families, related to their wish to have their girls wear veils.

However, the central objective of ecoles maternelles, as the primary place of integration, is to provide all young children with an equal opportunity and with an equal chance to succeed in school, through a focus on French language which is a priority in the preschool curriculum. At the end of this curriculum, there is an initiation to other cultures through traditional songs, but mother tongues other than French are not promoted. The role of parents is traditionally limited, but some innovations toward more inclusion have been developed, particularly in priority education areas (Zone d’education prioritaire [ZEP]) where immigrant populations concentrate, in the suburbs of some cities around Paris or in the provinces.


The care sector. A smaller number of immigrant children attend creches and other care services because a smaller number of these mothers work. However, this is changing as more women from these communities are entering the workforce. Efforts are made to encourage them to use part-time creches or parent and children centers, not as immigrants but as disadvantaged families. The goal is to introduce important early socialization to their young children and prepare them for entry into ecole maternelle, as well as to help the entire family integrate socially. When the young children of these families attend creches, some attention is paid to cultural diversity, based on psychological ideas encouraging enhancement of the continuity of care between families and centers. For instance, in a recent French- Japanese comparative study, it was observed that in French creches babies, mostly from immigrant families, who are rocked to sleep at home, are also rocked in the center, while generally the other babies are put to bed rapidly with their pacifiers. In-service training contains some introduction to the maternal practices of other cultures and includes discussion of the kinds of cultural projects described in more detail below.

More generally, including and supporting parents is one of the main issues. Although working with parents is important, analyses of institutional practices often reveal contradictions, infantilizing and stigmatizing parents while at the same time demanding too much from them. However, there are some fruitful innovations, empowering poor families (including immigrant families) in some cooperative creches that are working specifically on diversity issues. These initiatives are carried out by their national association of cooperative creches (Association des Collectifs Enfants, Parents, Professionnels—ACEPP)—within the European network called Diversity in Early Childhood Education and Training (DECET), where various modalities of parental participation are being tested.


New Partnerships between Early Childhood and Culture Professionals

In the early 1980s, two main associations initiated innovative projects based on new partnerships between early childhood and culture professionals, which led to an incentive policy launched by Ministry of Culture in 1989. The first of these, ACCES (Cultural Association against Exclusion and Segregation), was created by three children’s psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. These psychonalysts developed prevention projects, within a Winnicottian and Piagetian theoretical framework (see Jean Piaget), that were based on providing babies with books in the places where they are found: the waiting rooms of pediatric centers, places were childminders meet, etc. The second association, Infance et Musique (Childhood and Music), created by a pediatrician and a musician psychologist, developed musical projects, including multicultural projects, in creches and other places in disadvantaged areas.


A cultural policy of early childhood. With the aim to democratize culture, to improve quality in early childhood services, and to reduce social exclusion, The Ministry of Culture, in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Affairs, developed a new cultural policy toward young children and their families. Beginning in 1989, subsidies were given for cultural projects proposed by early childhood services, cultural or training associations, or municipalities for children under the age of 6. These projects, supported for two- or three-year periods, have to promote close cooperation among early childhood professionals, culture professionals (artists, librarians), and parents in order to ensure continuity between services and families.

However, continuation of these projects has also been sustained by other mechanisms of financing, such as early childhood contracts (contrat-enfance) between municipalities and Family Allowance Funds (CAFs). The goal of this financing was not only to increase the quantity of services but also their quality. These types of projects can also be initiated by schools and sustained by other types of contracts, for instance between schools and municipalities.


Implementation and effects of the cultural projects. Through the implementation of this policy, important subsidies were given for cultural projects linked to the work of the two pioneer associations and others created later. The most common projects involved books (particularly for creches), which were and are still largely developed in cities in the north, west, and southwest of France. Some other programs have led to interesting experiments, such as theatre projects for a young audience. The introduction of early childhood professionals to new cultural and artistic approaches (and the artists discovering new perspectives) have contributed much to the enrichment of play activities in care services as well as learning activities in ecoles maternelles, reducing some of the more questionable practices and improving the atmosphere of the settings. When culturally focussed training sessions included both preschool teachers and care professionals (center professionals as well as childminders) the results were particularly fruitful. Beyond the local transformations they produce, they contribute to the emergence of a common professional culture of early childhood (for children aged 0-6), which is dramatically missing in France.

Today, when cultural associations offer animations and training for all the children, the focus is on children from disadvantaged backgrounds, including immigrant families. For instance, in Paris, the association LAP (Lire a Paris: Reading in Paris) focuses its projects in waiting rooms of pediatric centers attended primarily by these populations, in social centers along with literacy classes for their parents or the mothers, and more recently in full-time centers where children, for social or health reasons, are waiting to be adopted or cared for in other families (if they cannot be returned to their parents). Books are read both from the French repertoire as well as from other cultures. There are no quantitative assessments of the effects of such projects on children and their families, but qualitative data (testimonies of teachers, etc.) converge to show significant impacts of strong and coherent projects, carried out in some cities. One example is a small city in the north where mothers from disadvantaged backgrounds tell stories to the children and are progressively involved in the project. There is a strong partnership in this city between an association and the ZEP.


Other Initiatives

Among other initiatives related to the issues addressed here are the classes and actions passerelles (bridging classes and projects), where the cultural projects described above often develop. These programs, based on institutional partnerships between municipalities and departmental administrations of education and health, and with cooperation between teachers and professionals of the care sector, aim to facilitate the transition to ecole maternelle of young children cared for at home, including many children from disadvantaged and immigrant families. Until recently these settings, which are also based on a mixed professional culture of care and education, were not receiving enough support at the national level. Despite a lack of studies showing how diversity is taken into account in these programs, several examples in some cities suggest the richness of such innovations.

Further Readings: Bonnafe, M. (1994). Les livres, c’est bon pour les bebes Paris: Calman-Levy; Caillard, M., and Ch. Attali-Marot (1999). Des pratiques culturelles et artistiques pour le jeune enfant et sa famille: quinze ans d’experience. In O. Baudelot and S. Rayna, eds., Les bebes et la culture: Petite enfance, eveil culturel et lutte contre les exclusions. Paris: INRP-L’Harmattan; Lorcerie, F. (2003). L’ecole et le defi ethnique. Education et integration. Paris: INRP-ESF; MRIE. (2003). Prevenir l’exclusion des l’enfance. Lyon; Ott, L. (2004). Travailler avec les familles. Parents-professionnels: un nouveau partage de la relation educative. Ramon St Ville: Eres; Rayna, S. (2004). Professional practices with under ones in French and Japanese day care centers. Early years 24(1), 35-48.

Sylvie Rayna


Family Involvement in France

This discussion of family involvement addresses relations with two types of centers: creches for children under 3 and dcoles maternelles for 2- to 6-year-old children. As described earlier, dcoles maternelles are free and open to every child, whether their parents are working or not. Creches are not free, and although the decree on care services (August 2000) no longer requires parents to work, in practice children attending creches have working parents. Due to the history of these institutions, parents are considered more as recipients of public and professional services than as real partners, except in the case of parent cooperatives (creches parentales) run by nonprofit associations. However, recent writings in both the care and education sectors recognize parents as the first educators of their children and coeducators with the centers, and tend to promote family participation.


The Background: Imposing Moral Values on Working-Class Families and Keeping Parents at a Distance

During the nineteenth century, creches and dcoles maternelles provided services for economically disadvantaged children. The relationships with parents were strongly influenced by the sociopolitical context: industrialization, child labor, poverty, infant mortality, political troubles, and religious conflicts. The first ecoles maternelles (1826) and creches (1845) emerged out of social utopian ideals and charitable policies. Since this time, the aim of social control and normalization of the working-class families has partly conditioned the relationships with parents. Different reasons led dcoles maternelles and creches to close their doors to parents: Republican principles and the fight to reduce infant mortality.


Republican principles. The Republicans set out to break loose from monarchical ideas and the power of Church. In 1881, the goal of uniting the French population within Republican values was implemented throughout the republican schools, which included dcole maternelle. When this integration took place within the public system, the principle of egalitarian treatment of all the children kept parents at a distance.


Combating infant mortality. Fighting infant mortality became the first goal of creches. Linked to Pasteur’s discoveries, the objective of creches shifted from charity toward health and medical aims. Maternal education became more and more influenced by hygienist prescriptions. In 1945, the child and maternal health centers (PMI) were created, from which the first the regulations for creches appeared, requiring medical personnel (child nurses and child nurse assistants) as staff. Due to fear of health contamination, parents’ presence was prohibited in the creches, and they were assigned inferior status relative to the professionals, who came from the hospital sector.


Opening the Doors to Parents: Rationale and Results

Two factors led creches and ecoles maternelles to open their doors to parents during the 1970s: the increasing attendance of children from middle- and upper-class families and the widespread dissemination of a psychological discourse about the importance of parent-child bonding. Starting around the events of the May 1968 student revolution, and due to the interest of “new parents” in a collective education for their children under the age of 3, the concern about the parent-professional connection resurfaced. These parents from middle- and then upper-class families expressed new expectations and made new claims (antiauthoritarian education, coeducation, etc.). Groups of students created the first parent cooperatives within university campuses. These cooperatives (which were officially recognized in 1980) brought to the forefront the value of parent involvement and cooperation with professionals.

Psychoanalytic studies on the effects of early separation and maternal deprivation disseminated beginning in the 1950s were also influential. I. Lezine, a pioneer who defended the idea of the complementary role of family and creche and who developed an early childhood psychopedagogy, trained the first psychologists employed in creches during the 1960s. Their critical approach gave support to the claims of the “new” parents, and contributed to the reopening of creches to parent involvement.

As a result, in 1975, an official government document again allowed parents to enter the rooms where their children lived in the centers. Home-to-center transition practices requiring mother’s presence were implemented, as well as the first conferences with parents. However, parents were still far from becoming partners. This document underlined simultaneously the importance of exchanges with mothers, during which a health education should take place. In 1983, another document instituted creche councils, which were to include parent delegates. These councils never developed because parents were generally not informed of their right to this involvement, due to worries about what might result from their actual participation.


The pressure of upper-class parents in ecole maternelle. In the 1970s, the increased number of children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds attending the ecole maternelle, which occurred earlier than in creche, led to the progressive transformation of the pedagogy from the prevailing productive model to an expressive one. Aiming at the development of the child’s personality through the implementation of expressive activities and a more liberal attitude of the teachers, this new model reflected the influence of a psychological perspective on the young child. In 1977, the official texts supported these values and recognized parental involvement. School councils were created and, unlike with creches, were developed successfully. Parents elected their representatives every year, and on the national level the voice of the two main federations of parents, which were concerned with the whole school system, became stronger. In 1986, a new text provided the parent delegates with the possibility of participating in educational issues, but the teachers resisted this sharing of the educational territory. In fact, parents’ involvements were generally focused on material issues, like supporting the local educational team’s requests to ministerial or local authorities for more resources. Among the delegated parents, lower class parents were (and are) rarely represented, and the opportunities organized by the schools to meet all the parents (formal parent-teachers conferences once a year, etc.) are not very attractive to them. The cultural and social distance between these parents and professionals increases misunderstanding and exclusion.


Toward a Partnership?

Today parental participation is officially encouraged both in ecoles maternelles and in creches, but practices change very slowly. The Law on Education (1989) reaffirmed parents’ involvement with their children’s school life. Parents were defined as “permanent partners of the school.” The main role of teachers was to inform parents about their ways of working and the children’s progress in order to increase parents’ involvement in their children’s early learning. However, parents’ involvement in school generally remains punctual and limited (taking the children to the swimming pool, organizing the annual fete, etc.), and mainly concerns elected parents. The parent-teacher relationship still consists of individual exchanges, varying according to the families’ social position. The new status of the teachers (“school professors”) tends to increase the cultural distance with disadvantaged families. Moreover, the current focus on early learning tends to limit the presence of the parents in the schools and the informal exchanges. However, the general use of life notebooks, making the children “messengers,” mediates the communication with the families, providing them an important support. These notebooks usually focus on a significant event in the daily life of the child. Some schools, however, develop interesting projects, which include strong parental participation, notably in priority education areas (ZEP) where the quality of the relationships with the families favors both children’s school integration and adults’ social inclusion.

Since 2000, all care services, including creches, are required to develop a “project of establishment.” These projects must include the definition of the families’ place in the program and of their participation. The interior regulation also needs to include examples of parents’ participation within the services. But there are no minimum requirements, or a clear definition of such participation. No evaluation is required. Therefore, changes in practices are very limited at the moment. Parents’ involvement is expected principally during morning and evening exchanges. Their presence at social events is appreciated, but except on rare occasions, their effective participation in creches is practically nonexistent. Nevertheless, parents seem generally satisfied, but the relationships with the professionals present a variety of configurations for several reasons. Qualifications and status vary greatly among professionals: some have no diploma, whereas others have a child nurse, assistant child nurse, or early childhood educator diploma. Professional values and representations of children’s needs differ among these different types of staff. Moreover, there is no national curriculum, so educational attitudes and projects can vary from one creche to another one. Parents belong to a range of socio-professional categories, and although they share some common expectations concerning the creche (children’s blossoming and preparation for the ecole maternelle), some of them are willing to totally delegate their educational role, whereas others refuse any kind of educational delegation. Typologies of parents and of their relationships with creches have been established (Bouve, 2001; Moisset, in press) but, in spite of a strong influence of the social background on these relationships, parents cannot be reduced strictly to their social standing: identical models of representation can be partly shared among individuals from different social backgrounds. In any case, it is the confrontation of educational and pedagogical practices between parents and institutions that underlies these relationships.


Supporting Parent’s Competences

In 1998, a new idea appeared in the political and professional discourse supporting parental competences, which, in fact, goes well beyond the field of early childhood and is implemented throughout networks aiming at supporting parental functions. These networks include various kind of services, such as centers for children and parents (play centers that children can attend with their parents in order to reduce the isolation of the families) or centers for parental mediation (in case of parental conflicts). Creches are considered to contribute to this effort, as are schools, where the necessity to “remobilise parents and to encourage families to exercise all their responsibilities” is officially mentioned (1998).

The articulation between parental support and parental involvement is ambiguous. Parental support may represent a modern version of the previous parental education within a framework with a background in social assistance and control, rather than promoting the emergence of new models. The notion of parental support is not explicitly linked with a notion of reciprocity, which is needed in order to bring equity and balance to relationships between parents and professionals. The question of the parental responsibility is often used to denigrate the supposed uninterested and uninvolved parents (and particularly those living in a precarious situation: single parents, immigrant families, etc). This raises the issue of the need to question the historical permanence of such suspicion about parents’ competences.

The current orientation of the association of parent cooperatives (ACEPP) is, however, important to underline. This association supports projects based on parental participation, including families from lower and intercultural backgrounds, and is carrying out an analysis of parental and professional competences within the European network DECET (Diversity in Early Childhood Education and Training), with the goal of promoting early childhood services “free of any kind of discrimination” and supporting the participation of service recipients “as active citizens.”

Finally, it is important to mention that a gender issue underlies the issue of parents-professional or family-institution relationships. These relationships refer essentially to relationships between mothers and female professionals. An important task is to encourage more significant father involvement both in their own children’s education and in early childhood services. Could such a change induce a different configuration within parent-professional relationships?

Further Readings: Bouve, C. (2001). Les creches collectives: usagers et representations sociales. Paris: LHarmattan; CRESAS (1984). Ouvertures: l’ecole, la creche, les familles. Paris, INRP-L’Harmattan; Francis, V. (2005). Le partenariat ecole—famille: le role de l’enfant messager. In S. Rayna and G. Brougere (coord.) Regards sur les relations entre parents etprofessionnels de la petite enfance. LYON: INRP; Moisset, P. (in press). La diversite des rapports parentaux a la creche et ses determinants. In S. Rayna & G. Brougere (coord.) Regards sur les relations entre parents et professionnels de la petite enfance. Paris: INRP; Plaisance, E. (1986). L’enfant, la maternelle, la societe, Paris, PUF.

Catherine Bouve


Early Childhood Education Pedagogy in France

The division that separates the child-care system from the education system in France is reflected clearly at the level of pedagogical orientations and practices. The term “pedagogy” is standard usage in ecole maternelle, because it is considered a school. But this term is sparingly used in child-care centers, where the terms “education” and sometimes “psychopedagogy” are preferred. The assumption seems to be that “pedagogy” refers to school learning and not to child development. However, pedagogical models do underlie the practices of the different care and education services, linked to their own traditions.


Pedagogical Models in the Care Sector

In the care sector, pedagogical models follow those that developed within creches and have then spread throughout the whole field. For about a century these models were based on the maternal models imposed by the dominant discourses. They were then replaced by professional models, based currently on dominant psychological orientations.


Maternal models. Since they were first established, creches have had a primariy social function (baby care and assistance to mothers from the working classes). The educational function, also present, was based on Rousseau’s educational philosophy, centered on gentleness and persuasion. This informal model was popularized by F. Marbeau, a magistrate and municipal councilor who set up the first cr'che in 1844 in Paris.

However, this model fell out of favor with the coming ofpuericulture (specialized infant care and nursing), when the battle against high infant mortality rates in creches was launched. But the hygienist principles popularized by doctors from the 1870s onward were accompanied by moral prescriptions (rocking babies in one’s arms was forbidden, and the child’s access to different kinds of objects was restricted). Such choices marked a new conception where early training of infant behavior was the priority. What had originally been an open pedagogical model in the creches turned rigid with the adoption of more and more rules.

The sharp drop in infant mortality in the 1950s marked a turning point coinciding more or less with the expansion and popularization of psychological studies and knowledge concerning child development from the 1960s.


Specific professional models. The rise of interest in the social and educational role of child-care institutions owes much to the work of I. Lezine (1964) who insisted on the doubly positive aspect of the creches, not only a “help to parents” but also an “educative setting for children,” and encouraged the entry of psychologists in these services. Studies conducted by psychoanalysts in nurseries also gradually relieved concerns about emotional deprivation among young children raised in a collective context.

After 1968, models of Education Nouvelle spread due to the influence of the new education movements. A significant voice heard in defense of the “cause of children” was that of F. Dolto, psychoanalyst and “educational doctor” who, in her writings and radio interviews, addressed professionals and parents, urging them to adopt an approach based on respect, attentive listening, and confidence in children. This conception was echoing the expectations of new parents’ (from more upper-class backgrounds) who were beginning to invest in creches at this time.

The introduction in France of the pioneering work conducted in Hungary at the Loczy nursery contributed to a new outlook on young children and important changes in practices (autonomy, continuity of relationships, etc.).

Gradually, with the introduction of training programs inspired by all these new orientations plus some innovative programs based on cultural activities (music, books, plastic art), creches achieved their own place and identity, by distinguishing themselves from the maternal model and maintaining a certain distance from the school model.

From the 1980s on, many initiatives developed, favoring relational stability and continuity (same-age or heterogeneous groups of children in the charge of adults acting as stable points of reference). The importance given to play and verbal and nonverbal communication in social and emotional development led to a diversity of proposals to enrich the children’s experience. Fieldwork showed the surprising social and cognitive capacities of the children as well as the creativity of the staffs.

Without supposing that all creches develop the same pedagogical approach (due to the decentralization of the care sector), one can assume that their past and present evolutions as well as their current official objectives (well-being and harmonious development of children) make their pedagogy very different from that of the ecole maternelle.


Pedagogical Models in Ecoles Maternelles

Historical overview. The pedagogical function of the salles d’asile, ancestor of the French ecoles maternelles, had been clearly asserted since its creation in 1826. Brought under the charge of the Ministry of Public Instruction in 1837, these centers provided assistance to children between the ages of 2 and 6, while teaching basic literacy. Archives mention the use of teaching material, like tables of letters and numbers, abacuses and other counting machines, linked to the curriculum (focused on reading and writing, arithmetic, science, history and geography, religious education, drawing, music, and gymnastics). The strictly controlled organization of these centers favored “mutual education.” This made possible the acceptance of a very large number of children. More than a hundred children were sometimes grouped together where some older children taught the younger ones.

These centers became ecoles maternelles in 1881. Interest in childhood and in the education of young children grew further. P. Kergomard marked a turning point in pedagogical options. From about 1875 onward this inspector denounced the regimental training of children. She insisted on the need to abandon the repetitive and rigid collective techniques, and progressively introduced play, in line with Rousseau’s ideas but also with Froebel’s German kindergartens. Two sections were set up, one for younger children between the ages of 2 and 4, and the other for those between 4 and 6. Numbers were limited to fifty per class. Although the curriculum mentioned the distinctiveness of the ecole maternelle, which is “not a school in the ordinary sense of the word,” it remained attached to the division of the school timetable according to subjects, though reduced at Kergomard’s initiative. The distribution of subjects over the school day was based on a pedagogical model alternating lessons with play situations.

The professional corps of female inspectors for ecoles maternelles, officially set up in 1910, played a decisive role in the spread of new pedagogical models thanks to the introduction of pedagogical lectures (in-service training). Their role was progressively strengthened by a professional association, the general association of preschool teachers, founded in 1921. The new pedagogical orientations advocated by the Education Nouvelle movement contributed to the growing interest in approaches centered on the activities of the child and the social life of the group. Contributions of the Italian Maria Montessori and of the Belgian O. Decroly contributed to the spread of a pedagogical model including planning of activities around “centers of interest” and stimulating learning materials adapted to children’s activities.

The dynamism of the general association of preschool teachers, its national congresses and regional meetings, grew during the 1960s, favoring reflection around a pedagogy of expressivity and creativity. “Children’s art,” encouraged by C. Freinet, came to be widely represented in teaching practices. The demand of families from the upper classes strengthened this “expressive model” based on the expression of the child’s personality, which became predominant in the late 1970s.


Current pedagogical options. Since the end of the 1980s, along with classroom furniture and materials for play and learning (including children’s literature, usually abundantly available in schools), work materials have been a concern among teachers. Widely published and distributed through professional journals and by a rapidly expanding sector of school publishing, photocopiable work sheets as well as workbooks are used as learning material for children’s individual work. Used in many classes of the middle or older group, sometimes even for the youngest children (2- and 3-year-olds), they suit the pedagogical specificities of a newly defined preelementary model. Introduced with the 1986 curriculum they include, nowadays, an evaluation of the learners’ skills.

The Bootes maternelles today are specifically attuned to the development of early skills defined in the curriculum, which is linked since 1995 with the elementary school curriculum. Simultaneously the same initial preparation is given for teachers in eooles maternelles and in elementary schools, and the separate corps of specialized inspectors has been done away with. While these measures aim to ensure easier transition between eooles maternelles and elementary schools, and despite the fact that the curriculum recommends maintaining a distinctive and separate pedagogy in the Eooles maternelles, the risk of an overly rigid approach cannot be ignored. However, debates around different pedagogical options are regularly triggered as each school is required periodically to reflect upon its own pedagogical project.

Classrooms are usually composed of several play areas, a space reserved for artistic activity, a library, and an area where all can gather as a group. A separate room is usually reserved for physical activity and a dormitory allows the youngest group a nap.

The distribution of activities is based on a timetable set at the beginning of the school year. Along with the activities corresponding to the five areas of learning, defined by the curriculum, time is devoted to receiving the children every morning, to meals and refreshments, recess and rest.

The school day usually opens with a morning ritual using a variety of pedagogical resources: calendars, timetables, class lists for marking attendance and tables for distributing tasks amongst children, weather information, etc. Some teachers choose to vary these resources over the year to keep up interest and involvement.

Practices are far from uniform, but a general pattern is established: on the one hand, individual activity alternates with small-group activity or whole-class activity, and on the other, activities chosen by children alternate with others structured by the teacher, sometimes in collaboration with his/her assistant (ATSEM). The idea that play, action, experimentation as well as structured activities ought to be integrated together into learning seems to lack acceptance in the classrooms, where, in fact, activities often seem to be split into distinct parts. The organization of activities in small groups itself is rarely used to stimulate cooperation among children.


Pedagogical Models in Leisure Time Centers

Regulated in the 1960s within a care perspective, the legal framework of the leisure time centers, which operate during out-of-school hours, now includes an educative role. The staff of animateurs base their approach on an educational project using leisure time activities. School holidays are most suitable to more ambitious projects carried out in partnership with local institutions like libraries, museums, play centers, sport associations, etc. Particularly in urban settings, the variety of activities offered to the children calls for the regular use of the culture and sports infrastructure. These options are also likely to familiarize their parents with these local resources. This obviously brings up the question of equitable access to such resources in different rural and urban settings.


Mutual Interactions to Be Strengthened in the Future

Despite their specific pedagogical characteristics, professionals of the different sectors point out the advantages of their mutual interactions when they are involved in some common local projects. Innovative experiments, developed in the cities within local educational contracts (CEL) and particularly important when carried out within deprived areas provided with additional resources (ZEP), tend to stimulate organizations toward practices more suitable to the needs of children and families. Pedagogical experiences such as transition classes (between families and school), where professionals from both education and care work together, have allowed the emergence of new blends in professional practice. But mandates from administrators concerned with security and with aligning practices with those of the elementary school limit the development of such evolutions in practice.

Acknowledgments: The contributor thanks very much Akshay Bakaya for supervision of the English version of this paper.

Further Readings: Breaute, M., and S. Rayna, eds. (1995). Jouer et connattre chez les tout-petits. Paris: INRP-Ville de Paris; Lezine, I. (1964). Psychopedagogie dupremier age. Paris: PUF; Luc, J.-N. (1997). L’invention du jeune enfant au XIXe siecle. De la salle d’asile a l’ecole maternelle. Paris: Belin; Plaisance, E. (1999). L’ecole maternelle frangaise entre accueil et apprentissages. In G. Brougere and S. Rayna, eds., Culture, Childhood and Preschool education. Paris: UNESCO-University Paris 13-INRP; Rollet, C. (1990). La politique a l’egard de la petite enfance sous la Troisieme Republique. Paris: PUF/INED.

Veronique Francis



The French system of the early childhood education and care is characterized by a significant contrast, from a curricular standpoint, between the domains of child care and early education. On the one hand, the ecole maternelle has a national curriculum that defines a set of school learnings. On the other hand, child-care services do not yet have precise official educational orientations.


The Curriculum of the Ecole Maternelle: A Brief Historical Overview

The Ccoles maternelles (and still earlier, the salles d’asile') curriculum was established from the beginning. Between 1855 and 1921 these programs were reproducing the curricula of elementary schools. With exception of the transmission of the republican values, the content of these encyclopedic curricula changed very little from 1881, when the Ccoles maternelles were integrated into the French system of education. Thanks to dynamic female inspectors of Ccoles maternelles such as Pauline Kergomard, who introduced new ideas about early education and play activities, a specific preschool education progressively emerged over time.

After 1921 this deep transformation went on for more than fifty years without any new official curriculum. The national association of preschool teachers, created in 1921, has played (and continues to play) an important role in the dissemination of this specific preschool culture. However, for half a century a “productive” pedagogical model was dominant. This model changed after World War II along with the changes in the social makeup of the Bootes maternelles, including the presence of more and more children from middle- and upper-class families. During the 1970s, the dominant model became an “expressive” one.

In 1986, national guidelines were established. Three main goals were defined for the ecoles maternelles as follows:

• “schooling” (the child must get used to this new environment)

• socializing (socialization is acculturation)

• learning and practising (developing abilities)

Physical activities, communication, oral and writing expression activities, artistic and aesthetic activities, technical and scientific activities are the main domains supporting these goals.

In 1989, the Law on Education integrated these orientations, placing the child “in the heart of the educational system,” and organized the primary school, including both the ecole maternelle and the elementary school. Three cycles of learning (three years each) were conceived in order to bridge the two schools:

• Cycle 1, the “cycle of early learning,” covers the first years of ecole maternelle (children from 2 to 5 years);

• Cycle 2, the “cycle of basic learning,” includes the last year of ecole maternelle and the first two years of elementary school (children from 5 to 8 years);

• Cycle 3, the “cycle of reinforcements,” concerns the last three years of elementary school (from 8 to 11 years).

In 1995, this primary school was granted a curriculum based on this new organization into cycles of learning. Currently, the curriculum for the ecole maternelle (including cycle 1 and the beginning of cycle 2) is the first part of the one designed for the primary school as a whole. This curriculum was reaffirmed in 2002.


The Current Curriculum for the Ecole Maternelle

The current curriculum is defined in terms of competencies within several domains of activities that children should have acquired by the end of the ecole maternelle. In this curriculum, republican values are reaffirmed with the challenge of offering equal opportunities from the very beginning of school, linked with an objective of excellence for all.

The following five domains of activities are presented in the 1995 national curriculum:

• Living together

• Learning to speak

• Acting and expressing emotions and thoughts with one’s body

• Discovering the world

• Imagining, feeling, and creating

Teachers are to develop their educational projects and organize the children’s activities within this framework. Teachers are encouraged to evaluate each child in order to guide their individualized support for the learning progress and validate a satisfactory level of competence for entering elementary school.

This curriculum, focused on learning, does not give much space for play. The only reference is to a limited amount of playtime in the courtyard (thirty minutes), in the morning and in the afternoon.

Mastering the French language became an absolute priority in the new curriculum published in 2002, under the title What Do We Learn in the Ecole Maternelle? Thus language, “at the heart of learning,” is now the first domain. The aim is to develop various language activities within effective communicative situations, providing each child with numerous opportunities to speak, and to learn and use language, not for evoking current events (previous, future, or imaginary events) but to be familiar with writing French and building the beginnings of a literary culture. When French is not the native language of the children, immersion is advocated. More opportunities to communicate are to be provided to these children. A first contact with a second language (foreign or regional language) is encouraged for the 5-year-olds. Competencies to be acquired in the language domain are the following:

• Communicative competencies

• Competencies related to description of action (language in situation)

• Competencies related to evocative language

• Competencies related to writing: writing functions, familiarization with literature and writing language, discovery of sounds, drawing activities and writing, discovering alphabetic principles

However, the curriculum mentions the necessity of a specific pedagogy for young children, as follows: “the child builds, following his own way, his acquisitions through play, action, autonomous research and sensory experience.”


The Implementation of the Curriculum

French teachers generally follow the main principles of this curriculum, although among older teachers there is some nostalgia for the 4cole maternelle of the 1970s, which was characterized by greater liberty and creativity. This was the preschool the younger teachers experienced as children.

The curriculum provides teachers with a range of references to guide their educational planning, including the following:

• the regular use of audio and video recording equipment, in a specific corner of the classroom and in every classroom of the school, will foster the development of listening, attention, and expression skills; or

• “from the very first paragraphs to a full text writing meaning,” a school project based on the enrichment of graphic activities, the discovery of a real sense of writing and the use of children’s’ cultural diversity; or

• the theme of the year, on water, for instance, designed in numerous activities inducing oral and written language.

The different parts of the day seem to be conceived according to the aims of the curriculum. Thus, the daily sequences of collective morning rituals are oriented by at least two domains of activity: “language” and “living together.” Children are supposed to

• acquire a sense of time by anticipating events,

• acquire the sensation of belonging in a social group,

• recognize each other as individuals,

• recognize their names and the name of a friend.

French children’s experience within the ecole maternelle is a student experience based on a wide range of exercises that are considered and referred to as “work.” Play (pretend play with dolls, constructive play with blocks, etc.) is possible, but only after having finished the different individual tasks linked to the curriculum, as proposed by the teachers, generally organized within small groups.


Creches: The Hidden Curricula of Care Services

There is no national curriculum for children under 3 years of age in the care sector. However, hidden curricula are underlying the practices of a wide range of professionals in these settings, who are not teachers but instead belong to the social and health sectors.


A brief historical overview. Creches, created in the middle of the nineteen century, had charitable missions (see earlier). During the twentieth century these settings were dominated by a strong health orientation. Until recently the educational nature of creches was not officially recognized.

Toys, and consequently play, were introduced into creches first by psychologists who began to work in these services in the mid-1960s. During this same period a new kind of professional, the early childhood educator, was integrated into the paramedical team. In the 1970s, under the influence of these newprofes- sionals, due to expanded research on early development, and through pressure by parents from more privileged backgrounds, the creches became attractive “places of life and education.”

In contrast with the ecoles maternelles’ orientation toward learning, creches are focused on development. Adults do not expect formal results, but guide children in the acquisition of autonomy. Starting in the late 1980s, cultural activities with very young children (books, music, etc.) developed, supported by the Ministry of Culture. While official texts concerning care services remained focused on sanitary dimensions (health and security), over the past twenty years most of the creches have developed a “life project” or an “educational project,” even though it may not be formalized or written down. Several psychological and pedagogical sources of ideas and information have informed the professional practices through the initial and in-service training of staff.


The new legislation (2000). In 2000, the new decree on care services recognized the educative nature of care services for the first time. One mission consists of taking care not only of health and security, but also of the development and wellbeing of the children. The decree requires that each care service must now write an “educational plan.” This plan defines the objectives and resources used to provide care, sustain the development, early learning, and well-being of children, ensure individualized relationships, and take into account the interdependence of the children’s physiological, psychological, and affective needs. A “pedagogical project” must translate this plan into the day-to-day practices of the center. A “social project” is also required, situating the service within the local political, economic, and social context.

In contrast with dcole maternelle teachers, who are provided with a national curriculum, no ministerial direction is given to professionals of the care sector regarding education in care services. The aim of the care sector, the “blossoming” of the children, is sometimes explicitly referenced in municipal or departmental regulations where, beyond play and learning, “awakening activities” are mentioned.


The implementation of the educational and pedagogical projects. So far, we do not know the extent to which creches have designed such plans according to the new regulation. There are difficulties in the field, linked to the lack of national guidance and to insufficient resources devoted to the educational dimension in the initial and in-service training of staff. Within this void dominant medical discourse, including current psychological and psychoanalytical notions, continues to shape professional practices.

The childrens’ experiences in creches are based on play: free play for the youngest, and more directed play for the older. Often initiated by the early childhood educators who now have a major role in the staff, this play aims at the development of the whole personality. Although the professionals in these settings share a common reluctance to speak in terms of learning (defined as the ecole maternelle’s school learning), despite the fact that they recognize the important social learning included in the process of socialization of the children, they tend to use the word “activity” more frequently than “play.”



Curriculum in French early childhood settings reflects two different universes: the “school learning” world of the eecole maternelle and the health and social service world of the creche. In the absence of greater national leadership these two universes will continue to exist, although there is some movement in the direction of greater emphasis on promoting child development for the youngest children.

Further Readings: Brougere, G. (1997). Jeu et objectifs pedagogiques: une approche comparative de l’education prescolaire. Revue Frangaise de Pedagogie (119), 47-56; MEN (2002). Qu’apprend-on a l’ecole maternelle? Paris: CNDP; Mozere, L. (1992). Le printemps des creches. Paris: L Harmattan; Plaisance, E. (1986). La maternelle, l’enfant, la societe. Paris: PUF; Rayna, S. (2003). Play, care and learning: Curriculum for early childhood education in France. Researching Early Childhood 5, 127-142.

Marie-Laure Vitali



In France there is a strong culture of evaluation, which has an older and more formal tradition within the education sector, but is now emerging within the care sector. On one level, ministries and public agencies regularly carry out studies contributing to the evaluation of the French early childhood system of care and education. They also regularly put out calls for research that is carried out by universities and research organizations. Researchers inform policymakers through their own research projects on the implementation and effectiveness of care and education policies. On another level, the staff and quality of early childhood education (ECE) services are assessed by inspectors and other professionals responsible for oversight. On a third level, children’s accomplishments are now supposed to be evaluated by teachers in ecoles maternelles. This is not expected in care services.


Assessment of Systems

The education sector. Evaluation is carried out through the general inspection of national education (IGEN), which publishes yearly thematic reports. Other services within the Ministry of Education also contribute to the evaluation of the evolution and characteristics of the educational system. Regular statistical surveys are thus carried out and published in various documents. Evaluation of primary school policies (including both ecole maternelle and elementary school) is also conducted by these ministerial services or by researchers (universities, National Institute of Pedagogical Research, etc.). Since the 1980s this assessment has addressed primarily those mechanisms and programs aimed at prevention of school failure.

Studies on the functioning and impacts of the priority education zones (ZEP), which receive supplementary resources, have shown the positive effects of this positive discrimination policy, implemented since 1981 in France, on students’ school results, class environment, and teaching conditions. Studies on the time management of children’s lives within school hours and leisure time (ARVE), a policy implemented during the 1890s in partnership with the Ministry of Youth and Sport, have shown an expansion of the interface between schools and local communities, despite a lower level of involvement of the ecoles maternelles than of elementary school. The implementation of the learning cycles, the pedagogical reform included within the Law on Education (1989) in order to improve continuity of learning (conceived in the frame of three-year cycles), has also been studied. These studies document the important practice changes required (including teacher cooperation related to each cycle) and difficulties encountered.

Some studies are specific to the ecole maternelle. Since the early 1980s most of these have focused on the schooling of children aged 2-3, and have examined the policy decision to give priority with funding to early schooling within the ZEPs. A recent study focused on the effectiveness of the ZEP has shown that those ZEPs in which high proportions of children receive eecole maternelle at age 2 (average 60%) have better long-term educational performance than those ZEPs with low ecole maternelle rates for their 2- to 3-year-olds (average 33%).

A report on classes passerelles (“bridging classes” including professionals from both the care and the education sectors) by both Ministry of Education and Ministry of Social Affairs, concluded that these interesting experiments need further evaluative studies before being expanded.


Care sectors. Numerous studies have been carried out to see whether and how the current objectives of care policies are being met: policies offering parents free choice of an individual or collective care; those favoring children’s health, safety, development, and blossoming; those preventing exclusion and inequality. The Ministry of Social Affairs conducts statistical surveys on the care services and routinely issues calls for research projects. The National Family Allowance Fund (CNAF) also conducts studies and launches calls for research projects. In the late 1990s, CNAF prioritized analyses of the quality and effects of the different kinds of care services on child development (including, for the 2-year-olds, comparison with gcole maternelle). Despite the methodological difficulties encountered, these studies, based on various criteria and tools, converge to show the positive role of nonfamilial care and education provision on the social and cognitive development of the children. Although not favoring one type of setting over another, the studies show that creches play a compensatory and preventive role for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Some studies have shown the importance of policies contributing to improving the quality, equity, and coherence within the care sector, for instance those concerning coordination mechanisms implemented at the municipal level, or in partnerships supported by the Ministry of Culture within an early childhood policy framework.

In 2002, the Directorate of Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics (DRESS), within the Ministry of Social affairs, together with the CNAF and with the Council on Employment, Incomes and Social Cohesion (CERC) conducted a large survey of child care in order to provide a precise picture of the different solutions adopted by parents. Five studies focused on the rationale for and process of choosing child care have been selected for a secondary analysis of the data. Within this general framework on reconciliation of work and family responsibilities, several other studies are currently focused on local innovative care solutions, taking into account the evolution of the parental needs (e.g., atypical hours of work, etc.), particularly those of lone-parent families, of families with precarious jobs, and of poor families.

Further studies on leisure time services for children attending gcoles maternelles are to be carried out, due to the high use of these services by children of disadvantaged backgrounds.


Assessment of Personnel and Services

Education sector. Education offices at the departmental (regional) level are in charge of the management of primary school teachers (promotions, transfers, etc.). The pedagogical oversight of these teachers is assigned to inspectors (IEN), who are no longer specific to the ecoles maternelles, but rather are in charge of both the ecoles maternelles and the primary schools. In France, directors of schools have no position in the evaluation hierarchy and do not participate in the teachers’ evaluation.

The aim of the inspections is to assess the quality and conformity of the teaching practices related to the national goals and curriculum as well with the goals of the school. Official texts summarize these objectives, as well as the methods and criteria of the inspection. Teachers are first inspected during their second year of teaching, and then every four years, on the average. Generally, this assessment is based on direct observations of the pedagogical practices, and discussions with the teachers. Despite a negative perception of this kind of control by the trade unions, inspection sometimes provides some teachers with opportunities to demonstrate the value of their work and to receive support and guidance. However, the integration of the inspectorate for the ecoles maternelles with that of the elementary schools is often conceived as contributing to the loss of the specific professional identity of teachers working with children under 6 years.

An informal evaluation is made by pedagogical counsellors and teacher trainers (IMF) who regularly meet and observe novice teachers. Assistants (ATSEM), who are municipal employees, are assessed by municipalities. Due to their proximity within the school, some directors of schools would like to participate in their evaluation.


Care sector. The care sector is monitored, on a departmental level, by child and maternal health services (PMI), which is responsible for licensing and monitoring care and leisure time services. Within PMI, doctors, nurses, psychologists, early childhood educators, and social workers are in charge of the monitoring of these services and of the training of the licensed childminders. The PMI’s technical advice, required for all services before opening, and then later assessments, aims at insuring conformity with the national regulations (2000) concerning ratios, personal qualifications, etc. Despite the diversity observed from one department to another, controls are generally made on three levels: hygiene and safety, protection of childhood, and quality of care. Some documentation is currently required (pedagogical and social projects, internal evaluation, quality charter, communication tools with families).

Within the care services, evaluation of the professionals is part of the work of the directors (pediatric nurses or early childhood educators), who also have to coordinate the program of service and evaluate it in cooperation with the staff. On the municipal level, evaluation is one of the early childhood coordinator’s missions, often conceived as a professional accompaniment.


Assessment of Children

Education sector. Linked to its main objective of preparation for school, assessment of children is to be done in eecoles maternelles. Most of the required competencies, according to the goals of the national curriculum, are evaluated by direct observations of child behaviors (for example, concerning the youngest children: speak spontaneously; feel comfortable in elementary actions such as running, jumping, climbing; autonomous during moving, dressing, or in the bathroom). The Ministry of Education has provided teachers with evaluation tools, but the practices of child evaluation vary from one school to another. Teachers often construct grids, more or less inspired by these official documents. The aim of assessment is to get a precise appreciation of each child’s progress and use this to shape the teacher’s actions. The results are used for information to families and during the cycle councils (teachers meetings within cycle 1, involving all the teachers of the ecole maternelle, and within cycle 2 including teachers in charge of the 5-year-olds and teachers of the two first grades of the elementary school). From 1990, a school report book is required for each primary school student. Although many teachers are convinced of the necessity of regular, but flexible, evaluations of child learning, many also fear negative effects and risks of an early stigmatization of school failure.

Detection of serious difficulties leads to intervention by the networks of specialists (psychologists, etc.) linked to each school. Oversight of children’s health in ecoles maternelles is the responsibility of PMI.


Care sector. There is no curriculum and no assessment of children in the care sector. A detection and prevention role is nevertheless assigned to PMI and to the professionals who are sharing the everyday life of the children.



Evaluative researches and practices can be considered as efforts to highlight and support the main current social and political issues. They are profoundly shaped by French values (republican values) and traditions of care and education sectors (health vs instruction), as well as of disciplines (psychology, sociology, etc.).

Evaluation is generally conducted separately within each sector. In order to reduce territorial disparities, however, early childhood departmental commissions were created in 2002, mixing representatives of the different sectors. They are just beginning to develop. Their missions include the evaluation of the needs of care and education within each department.

Further Readings: David, T. ed. Researching early childhood: European Perspectives. London: Paul Chapman; Florin, A. (2000). La scolarisation a 2 ans et autres modes d’accueil. Paris: INRP; Paquay, L. (2004). L’evaluation des enseignants. Tensions et enjeux. Paris: L Harmattan; Plaisance, E., and S. Rayna (1999). Early childhood education research in France. In Sauvage, O. (in press). Intervention within the panel: Debat contradictoire. In SRED, Scolariser la petite enfance? Geneva: University of Geneva; Thelot, C. (1993). Evaluation du systeme educatif. Paris: Nathan.

Alexandra Moreau and Sylvie Rayna


Infant and Early Childhood Education

French Traditional Norms and Values

Working mothers with young children are now the norm in France. Women’s work and the care of very young children outside the family are generally accepted, despite the fact that half of the under threes continue to be cared for at home. Creches have been very popular during the past twenty years, despite the fact that parents are more likely to employ a childminder (assistante maternelle) than use a creche for their child-care needs. Nevertheless, traditional values remain perceptible on different levels, leading to a number of contradictions and paradoxes.


Gender issues and professionalization. Currently there is some tension in French society between the care of young children on the one hand and gender equality on the other. Although the new norm of parenthood, based on the sharing of children’s care, contributes to reduce the gap between the traditional roles of fathers and mothers, and to propose new definitions of fatherhood, the traditional cultural notion of motherhood is not fundamentally questioned.

In child-care settings, a paradoxical “sacred worship” of the maternal role is still visible. Men, whose knowledge in this field is not linked to any maternal competencies but is acquired, are very rare in creches. They appear to threaten female professionals, whose status and salaries are generally low compared to teachers in ecoles maternelles (partly explaining the current recruitment difficulties). Within the hierarchical organization of the French creches, the pediatric nurse’s assistants (auxiliaires de puericulture) who are working under the direction of a pediatric nurse and often under one or two educators, receive strong (often contradictory) demands. Psychologically oriented demands, having replaced the previous medically based ones, inhibit the expression of their own voices. Despite this, these caregivers can still develop effective professional competencies. For this to happen the context must favor agency and serendipity. Unfortunately these caregivers are often required simply to execute the prescriptions of the dominant discourse, due to their low positions in the status hierarchy.

At the same time, despite the important evolution (since the mid-seventies) of the institutionalization of the status of the childminders, which has regulated the market, the process of professionalization of these practitioners seems to be limited by a tacit maintenance on the status quo among childminders, those services in charge of licensing them, and parents. This is due to the belief that their work is a kind of extension of their role as mothers. Childminders, who have historically been the traditional carers in France, currently remain the dominant care arrangement. Nowadays, parents tend to choose childminders for practical reasons—they offer more flexible hours than creches. However, some parents, mostly from advantaged backgrounds, prefer creches for educational reasons, and others choose them for their natural dispositions and experience with young children, with this legitimacy being more based on their reputation than on a professional certification.


Parents as first educators. Another tension exists between the myth of an ideal family as the best carer of the young child, and the caring institution’s attitudes toward parents as inadequate. If parents are officially recognized as their children’s first educators, the relationships between the child-care professionals is often paradoxical. And if a number of settings develop fruitful projects based on a positive outlook toward parental competencies, including those living in poverty, this new task of supporting parenthood (linked to the increase of social difficulties) is being asked of early childhood professionals whose training does not prepare them for these two contrasting roles (child-care expert and supporter of parenting competence).


Neonates and Infant Care

Concerning neonates and infants, if they are not cared for by their parents (usually, by their mothers), they are cared for by other carers (either individual arrangements or creches that accept 3-month-old infants ). Parents who need to find care for an infant often use various solutions (holidays, assistance of family members, etc.) delaying for some weeks or months the beginning of the external care of the baby (sometimes waiting until September when a majority of children leave the creche or the childminder and enter the ecole maternelle, at 2 or 3 years of age).


Maternal and Paternal Leave

In general, French people think that maternal leave is too short (sixteen weeks allowed for the first two children, then twenty-six weeks for the third child and more in case of twins). However, most appreciate the recent paternal leave that lasts for two weeks. The subsidized parental leave (an allowance allowing mothers to stay out of the workforce for up to three years) is not an option for all families, rather it is often “chosen” by a majority of relatively uneducated mothers. Among the reasons explaining this are the relatively low allowance paid for this leave, the relatively high cost of a childminder (for families with modest incomes), and the lack of creches. Additionally, these mothers have more difficulty rejoining the workforce. To facilitate the transition back to employment, they can now receive both their allowance (parental leave) and an income during the last six months of the leave.

Studies show that the reduced work week in France (thirty-five hours per week) and the two most frequent modalities for this reduction (regular days or half days) have contributed to a reconciliation of family life with professional life (most women with young children using this time to care for them). However, many families would argue that these modified working hours have not shifted enough for families with infants and young children. Under economic pressures, many families piece together several care arrangements, despite the fact that creches are generally opened eleven or twelve hours per day. Often parents who work far from their homes employ an additional babysitter and may use the adaptations of the care services supported by the public policies described below.


Policies: Recent Trends and Experiments

Diversification of child care. Beginning in the 1980s policies of diversification of care services, which assigned an important role to numerous decentralized service systems and providers, were implemented with the aim of increasing the choices available to families. These policies were also implemented to serve the families’ diversified needs, which were linked to changing work conditions (flexibility, atypical working hours) and family forms (single parents). As a result, the number of part-time and full-time creches and individual settings (childminders) increased. Innovative services developed, with nonprofit associations (including parental cooperatives) playing an important role in the creation of these flexible and proximity arrangements. Such services were facilitated by providing standard funding for care regardless of parental employment status and the number of hours the child attends.

Multi-accueils (multicare settings), more likely than traditional creches to be located in small cities (half of the cities with more than 30,000 residents in the provinces have developed this type of setting compared to a third in the Parisian region), combine different collective and individual arrangements (including extended hours and occasional care). Today about 70 percent of parent cooperatives offer multicare.

Itinerant services have developed in rural areas, allowing early socialization of the children and provided time for their parents. Thus, minibuses with play and care material travel each day from one municipal building to another, according to a regular schedule. The cost of the equipment, functioning, and staff is shared between several villages. Financial help is also provided by CAFs (Family Allowance Funds—see financing entry) and sometimes by foundations and private sponsors.

Following French psychoanalyst, F. Dolto’s experiments, parent-child centers, mostly run by associations and financially supported by municipalities and CAFs, aim to support parent-child relationships, strengthen social links, foster children’s autonomy, reduce parent isolation, and prevent child neglect. Many centers created in disadvantaged areas combine psychology and social work. Networks, for childminders (Relais Assistantes Maternelles—RAM) and more recently for in home care providers, have been created to provide children and adults in these individual types of care arrangements with socialization opportunities.

However, local policies are often not coordinated enough (due to the different traditions and aims of a number of the decentralized authorities) to face the new challenge of social cohesion. Despite the presence of significant institutions and financing in the care sector, as well as efforts made in cities that are financially supported by contacts (contrat enfance') with regional family allowance funds (Caisses d’allocations familiales, CAFs) social cohesion is still missing. The choice, for many parents, remains limited by the geographical disparities of the care provision and, for the poorest of them, by the costs.


Atypical Hours Arrangements

Within this context, recent national policies focused on parents who cannot use the traditional official settings and thus turn without any public help to several types of informal arrangements (unlicensed childminders, family, friends) are encouraging the development of local initiatives welcoming children during atypical hours. Since 2000, recognition of these innovative settings is included in the official care regulations, and subsidies are provided toward more flexible functioning of individual and collective settings (opening earlier and closing later). Some services are open twenty-four hours, including creches (although rare) and services employing childminders. Experiments with new care arrangements are supported by the interministerial services of cities’ affairs and women’s rights. These experiments, initiated by associations, often complement the traditional settings, with some professionals working both in a creche and in a parent’s home, for instance. The development of creches provided by private companies, which were not numerous in the past, is now also being promoted.

Studies show that single-parent families are interested in centers that provide atypical hours and that cover a variety of configurations of work: variable, regular, or irregular hours as well as scheduled and unscheduled hours. Some experiments seem to contribute to a certain stabilization of the care of the children of these families, but these new arrangements remain flimsy at the moment. They affect the conditions of work and the work itself of the care professionals (childminders as well as, in creches, pediatric nurses, assistants, and educators). The strategy of complementarity contributes to opening the frontiers between collective and familial settings, and the extension of the recruitment to other types of professionals (such as psychologists or social workers), linked to the specific projects of these innovative arrangements, contributes to reducing the segmentation of the social and health fields. Contrasts in the points of view of these different sectors are nevertheless noticed. Although a number of professionals working in creches, where hours are atypical but regular, may be relatively satisfied, childminders working on irregular atypical hours feel more difficulties. Despite the satisfaction linked to the innovative aspects of these arrangements, and to the training and the additional supports that often accompany them, their views vary according to their own personal family situations.

Further Readings: Abalea, F. (2005). La professionalisation inachevee des assistantes maternelles. Recherches et Previsions 80, 55-65; Eme, B., and L. Fraisse (2005). La gouvernance locale de la diversification des modes d’accueil: un nouvel enjeu de “cohesion” sociale. Recherches et Previsions 80, 7-21; Eydoux, A. (2005). les metiers de la petite enfance a l’epreuve des horaires atypiques. Recherches et Previsions 80, 41-53; Fagnani, J. (1999). Parental leave in France. In P. Moss and F. Deven, eds., Parental leave: Progress or pitfall? Research and policy issues in Europe. Bruxelles: NIDI/CBGS Publications; Le Bihan, B., and C. Martin (2004). Atypical working hours: Consequences for childcare arrangements. Social Policies and Administration 8(6), 12-28; Murcier, N. (2005). Le loup dans la bergerie. Prime education et rapports sociaux de sexes. Recherches er Previsions 80, 67-75.

Sylvie Rayna


Special Educational Needs and Inclusion in France


Currently in France, as in most European countries, there is a move toward increasing the participation of children identified as having special educational needs in mainstream education. This marks a change in direction, following a period in which a large network of special education establishments were developed, and raises issues regarding the coexistence of the two educational systems (ordinary and special) and the need for the transformation of educational practices.

The notion of special educational needs has only recently been introduced in France and refers to children whose development has been affected by an emotional or physical difficulty or impairment. It also refers to children whose development has been impacted as a result of some other cause that is not necessarily apparent. The term special educational needs is not used, as in some other countries, to refer to children whose problems arise as a result of socioeconomic conditions, and terms such as “handicap” and “impairment” continue to dominate when referring to disabled children.

In the following sections we will begin with an overview of French legislation and then analyze the barriers to integration for young children in reception and education services (Bootes maternelles or nursery school for children from 3 to 6 years of age, and day-care centers for the under threes). We will conclude with some key perspectives.


Legislation and the Organization of the Education System

There has been a gradual introduction and implementation of legislation supporting the educational development of children with special educational needs in mainstream settings. This legislation defines the principles and conditions governing such integration in legal terms.

The 1975 law regarding people with disabilities declared that children with special educational needs have the right to the medical care they require and, like other children, the right to education. Preferably, this education should be provided in a mainstream environment. If this does not seem possible, owing in particular to the seriousness of the impairment, education should be provided in special education establishments. When this situation arises, children are placed in special institutions based on impairment type. These special institutions will provide medical care and education, and most will accept children from the age of 6.

For children under the age of 3, the law envisages the creation of early intervention services, whose purpose is to prevent and detect difficulties related to sensory, physical, and mental impairment. These services incorporate various professionals (speech therapists, physiotherapists, specialized teachers) who intervene to support the children and sometimes visit them in their homes. These children may also attend day-care centers (creches and haltes garderies) on a full- or part-time basis. One of the missions of the care services, as summarized in the recent regulations, (2000) is to “contribute to the social integration of children with special needs or with chronic illness.”

For school-aged children (i.e., those who attend goole maternelle and elementary school), special education committees have been created to examine each child with special educational needs and determine the nature of his or her difficulties. These committees are able to arrange the payment of benefits to the family and recommend placement in an appropriate special education settng. When the children are admitted to mainstream schools, they may attend school on a full-time or part-time basis.

However, integration in regular schools does not depend solely on the children’s ability, but also on the educational conditions available. To facilitate the education of disabled children, numerous legislative guidelines have been introduced to improve professional practice, educational structures, and organization. Examples of those guidelines include the following:

• The legislation takes into account the importance of coordinating therapeutic and educational work. It also encourages the implementation of individual education plans based on consultation with all the partners including specialized professionals, teachers, and parents (1982 and 1983 laws).

• The integration mission falls within the general organization of both special and mainstream settings. The 1989 Education Act recommended the development of pedagogical approaches able to respond to pupil diversity, individual interests, and differences in family background. The law emphasizes the belief that such approaches facilitate the participation of children with special educational needs. In the same year, new regulations gave special education establishments a mission to provide pupils with support for their education in regular schools. In theory, schools must accept children with special educational needs if they live in their catchment area. However, this is only possible if the establishments themselves consider that they have adequate provision in terms of teaching resources and the necessary staff.


Expansion of Resources

An expansion in human resources is planned in order to provide therapeutic and pedagogical support to children with special educational needs, and information and support for the teachers. These human resources include the following:

• Professionals in medical care and special education who provide pupils with special educational needs and support in school.

• Learning support assistants who provide the child with support under the guidance of the teacher. These assistants do not have a professional qualification and are paid by parents’ associations or, at present, more often by the Ministry of Education.


Evaluating Education Policies

It is difficult to evaluate the effects of policies on integration in early years of education. Data provided by the different ministries (Social Affairs, Education) are not collected on the basis of common criteria. In general, the population of children from birth to six years of age is not treated separately from the whole population of children.

For a long time, evidence from numerous studies concerning the effects of integration policies in schools reflected the minimal impact of these efforts. For the school year 1989-1990, only 7 percent of the disabled children between 2 and 11 years old (i.e., children attending ecole maternelle and elementary school) benefited from education in a regular class. Many parents of disabled children were dissatisfied with these results and felt that they are being poorly represented by traditional associations. As a result, these parents have developed their own organizations and are demanding additional resources in support of integration.

During the ten years following the 1989 legislation, there was a steady increase in integration. Ministry of Education’s statistics for 1999-2000 showed that 12 percent of disabled children aged 2-11 attended mainstream schools on a full- or part-time basis.

Evaluations have examined the nature of the difficulties encountered and found that these arose principally owing to a lack of resources, too few specialized professionals and learning assistants, as well as a reluctance on the part of professionals. Other results of the evaluations include the following:

• Teachers of regular classes feel unprepared to take care of children with special educational needs. They fear becoming isolated and being expected to solely solve the problems associated with pupils with special educational needs.

• Professionals working in specialized settings fear losing their jobs or are concerned about the possibility of having to take care of only the most seriously disabled children.

• Collaboration between regular schools and special schools remains difficult. Historically, the two educational systems have developed along two distinct pathways in which different professional cultures have evolved. In most cases, contact between the two sectors is rare.


Creches and Children with Special Educational Needs

It is generally considered that creches and haltes garderies are more open to children with special educational needs than are schools. Listed below are the two reasons for this:

• The younger the children, the more tolerant the establishments.

• In creches, a high proportion of the staff have some medical training; therefore, there is less reluctance than in schools to take the medical aspects of care into account and cooperate with specialists.

In general, the main problem is that there is a serious lack of care and educational provision for all young children compared with what is required.

The education of children with special educational needs in the mainstream environment is still insufficient in terms of responding to demand. Despite numerous legislative measures, the government has not succeeded in bringing about the necessary transformation in educational practice necessary for the successful integration of children with special educational needs. There is an urgent need, therefore, to develop a new direction in educational policy making.


Integration Philosophy and the Way Forward for Improving Practices

For a long time in France, the notion of integration has been linked to the notion of normalization. According to this notion, integration consists of providing the individual child with special educational needs with all the support he or she needs in order to benefit from the education provided in regular schools for other children of the same age. However, education policies are now beginning to take into account the concept of inclusion, which involves the transformation of the whole social and educational environment in education, so that schools become more open to diversity. Inclusion presupposes an acceptance and consideration of all pupils as they are, as well as a commitment to supporting their progress through participation in a shared culture. One of the aims of educating children with special educational needs in a mainstream environment is to foster social understanding for all children based on nondiscrimination and the acceptance of everybody. From an inclusive perspective, partnership between the mainstream and special education sector is essential, as is collaboration between the professionals of these sectors.

Concerning the future, the state has confirmed that it is ready to provide greater financial support to mainstream schools, particularly by increasing the number of learning support assistants. However, legislation advances slowly. The new law regarding disabled people (2005) emphasizes the right of children with special educational needs to attend the school nearest to their home. However, special educational committees have the power to decide whether education in a mainstream school suits a child’s individual needs.


Teacher Preparation

As in most countries, professional training is considered to be one of the essential factors in the development of inclusive education. It is necessary, however, to define the aims, the content, and conditions of an appropriate training. It seems particularly important that professionals in mainstream schools develop skills in terms of their educational practices to take into account pupil diversity. These professionals also need information so they can understand the nature of the difficulties experienced by children with special educational needs. It is often through discussion with professionals in the special education sector that the necessary supportive approaches are developed. Therefore, it is necessary to train all professionals to collaborate so that the specific skills developed in the special education sector can become a resource for the mainstream sector. In order to encourage understanding between the different professional cultures, training sessions providing opportunities to work collaboratively and share teaching practices between professionals from the different sectors could be organized.

Acknowledgments: The contributors thank Felicity Armstrong and Morgane Prevost for supervising the English version of this entry.

Further Readings: Armstrong, F., B. Belmont, and A. Verilon (2000). Vive la difference? Exploring context, policy and change in special education in France: developing crosscultural collaboration. In F. Armstrong, D. Armstrong, and L. Barton Inclusive education: Policy, contexts and comparative perspectives. London: David Fulton Publishers; Belmont, B., and A. Verillon (2004). Relier les territoires par la collaboration des acteurs. In. D. Poisat, (coord.) Education et handicap. D’unepensee territoire a unepensee monde. Ramonville St Agne: Eres; Lessain-Delabarre, J. M. (2000). L’adaptation et l’integration scolaires: innovations et resistances institutionnelles. Paris: ESF; Plaisance, E. (2005). Petite enfance et handicap. La prise en charge des enfants handicapes dans les equipements collectifs de la Petite Enfance (Dossiers d etudes n66). Paris: CNAF; Verillon, A., and B. Belmont (1999). Integration of disabled children in French schools. European Journal of Special Needs Education 14(1), 1-11.

Aliette Verillon and Brigitte Belmont


Current Trends in Early Childhood Care and Education Policies

France is well known for the longevity and the strength of its family and education policies, as promoted and implemented by the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education. These take several forms: (1) tax measures to reduce the fiscal pressure on families, based on the number of children in the family; (2) a whole range of financial aids and allowances to the parents of young children, both to help them vis-'-vis the burden caused by their children (family allowances) and to allow them to care for their children themselves or to have them looked after by another person (while they work outside the home); (3) a publicly financed range of services to care for the young children and educate them—cr'ches, halte-garderies (see earlier), and especially the dcole maternelle (which is free and open to children as soon as they reach 2, “provided that they are physically and psychologically ready to attend it,” in the words of the Ministry of Education).

Today France understands the importance of this effort as it supports a key demographic indicator—one of the strongest birthrates in Europe. But there is also awareness of the persistent insufficiency of ECE provision (for the under threes). For these reasons the French government continues to intensify its efforts in this arena, which is coupled today with an increased search for coherence and clarity in the mechanisms of parental assistance and of childhood care and education.


The Intensification and Simplification of Subs i dies to Families: The PAJE

This intensification of support for early childhood and the effort to simplify the system can be seen in the establishment of the PAJE (Prestation d’Accueil du Jeune Enfant) which replaces various preexisting allowances. The PAJE is composed of a basic financial allowance intended for all the families on arrival of a new child. To it can be added the following:

• A “supplement for free choice of the young child’s care” for those parents wishing to resort to external care. To a certain extent this supplement increases the financial aid available for the use of an assistante maternelle (licensed childminder) particularly for the families of the lower and middle classes, who would not otherwise be able financially to reach this mode of care.

• A “supplement for free choice of activity” for the parents wishing to stop working for a while in order to look after their children. This supplement increases the financial aids granted previously to these parents. What is new is the fact that it is available directly with the first child, for parents who have held a job previously and for a period of six months.

This increased financial support for the parents on arrival of a child is coupled with an effort to promote and adapt the collective services and individual arrangements to make real the concept of “free choice” for the families.


The Promotion of the Provision Guaranteeing Free Choice

Adapting and developing collective services: the FIPE and the PSU. Since 2000, with the establishment of the FIPE (Fonds d’Investissement Petite Enfance), the effort to expand collective services has intensified. This fund, renewed in 2001, made it possible to plan the addition of 20,000 new places between 2001 and 2005. At the time of the Conference on the Family in 2003, a fund was again mobilized, aiming for 20,000 additional places. Within this effort to create additional places, company creches are supported and, in a new development, provision is opened to the private sector.

But it’s not only a question of creating new places; it is also necessary that they meet the present needs of parents. Also, beyond the emphasis on flexible and innovative efforts to create new places using the FIPE, measures have tended for several years to adapt the collective provision to the new needs of parents resulting from the greater flexibility in working hours and the new legal length of the workweek (thirty-five hours): the increased need for part-time services, for shifted or changing schedules, etc. Thus, the CAFs (Caisses d’Allocations Familiales) set up the PSU (Prestation de Service Unique) at the beginning of 2002. This new and unique financing measure prioritizes the public financing of services according to the importance of their operational innovations.

1. The acceptance of the parents’ needs, including those that are not determined by professional activity and may be part-time;

2. The development of emergency services (for instance, to help unemployed parents to attend training courses);

3. Payment based on actual use of the services (by the hour and no longer by the day). This measure encourages program managers to understand and meet precisely the real time needs of the parents by establishing contracts with them. But it encounters difficulties in its implementation precisely because of the challenge of defining with the parents the hours their children will be present in the setting.


Promoting the provision of individual arrangements. Thanks to the PAJE, the use of licensed childminders (assistante maternelle) is accessible to a greater number of families. Therefore the question of the development of this kind of arrangement (which has already doubled since 1992) and of the increasing attractiveness of the childminder’s occupation arises today with growing strength. To address it, a law was adopted at the beginning of 2005. Progress was made on several significant elements, including the following:

• a preoccupation with the improvement of the quality, through the installation of a preservice training course and the reinforcement of this training once the childminder is employed

• an improvement of the statute, increasing access to professional rights and protections

• a better legal framework for the relationships between childminders and parent-employers

This promotion of individual arrangements has the advantage of rebalancing the provision at the national level. Indeed, the geography of these arrangements is relatively complementary to that of collective services, with childminders popular in the countryside, balancing the center-based services in urban areas.


The Early Schooling

Since the late 1980s the ecole maternelle has been regarded as a tool to struggle against school inequalities. Centered on an academic approach to the young child, the most recent reforms keep going in the direction of a “scholarization” of this institution. The “fundamental missions” of the ecole maternelle are reaffirmed with a particular stress laid on the learning of the French language.

Today, the question of early school for 2-year-olds is still bitterly discussed. After a series of reports underlining its advantages, particularly in those geographic areas with high poverty, high concentrations of immigrants and school failure (ZEPs), other reports have called into question its real effectiveness in the child’s school performance.

In fact, the treatment of the 2-year-old children in this educational institution is completely at odds with the other care services, where the adult-child ratio is very small and the focus is more on child development than on school learning. With little exaggeration one can say that the ecole maternelle, protected by the strength of the academic institution, acts with young children from the age of 2 with great independence regarding the primary questions that stimulate the field of early childhood in France. The Children’s Defender (defenseur des enfants), Claire Brisset, even called in her 2003 annual report for a halt in the development of schooling for 2-year-olds and the setting up of an in-depth reflection on how to promote better conditions for 2- to 3-year-old children. (The Children’s Defender is an independent authority charged, since 2000, with defending and promoting the rights of the child).


Toward More Coherence: The Departmental Early Childhood Commissions

Vis-a-vis the multiplicity of stakeholders in the field of early childhood (communes, departments, CAF, nonprofit associations, etc.), in 2002 the government decided to set up departmental (regional) early childhood commissions. The aim of these commissions, “reflection, council, proposal, support and follow-up,” is to support the development and the coherence of provision at the departmental level. A new element deserves mention: ecole maternelle and school-age leisure time services are integrated in this effort toward more coherence. These commissions must also disseminate information to the families, promote equal access for every child, and insure the quality of the provision within the department. After some initial difficulties these commissions have made great strides, and by 2004 were functioning in half of the departments in France. It is, however, still too early to know the extent to which this measure will bear fruit.


Supporting Parental Competencies

An interdepartmental policy since 1997 has aimed at supporting parents with and through the care and the education of their children. This very fuzzy concept conveys, in political speech, uncertainties born both of changes in living conditions of families (precariousness, modification of working conditions) and of internal modifications within family relationships (increasing individualization resulting in an increase in divorces, blended families, and new kinds of relationships with children). There is concern that these transformations generate or encourage the weakening of parental authority and explain the increasing incivility of young people. This new tendency toward concern for parental competence seems to induce a change in the child-centered definition of the early childhood professional occupations, leading them to integrate into their competencies and their concerns another character: the parent.


Difficulties and Questions

The Slow development of the collective services. In spite of the current efforts, the development of collective services remains too slow to meet the needs. There are several reasons for this. Departments and municipalities are encouraged and supported financially, but currently are not required to participate. Moreover, the operational costs of these services often make them falter. In addition, the occupations associated with these services suffer from great difficulties in recruitment. Even when the means are there to open these services, it may be very difficult to recruit adequate staff. A number of the puericultrices who are heads of creches are retiring and these professionals, who are trained to work in creches or in hospitals, often prefer this latter sector. There is a growing shortage of early childhood educators, who are more and more likely to become the heads of new services such as networks for childminders, and the auxiliaires de puericultures are also in short supply, due to unappealing salaries and professional development.


The question of “free choice.” Beyond the efforts carried out to ensure—through a sufficient provision—a true free choice for families among the various options, this policy raises a question in itself. Indeed it puts forward a number of alarming social tendencies. The incentive toward in-home care (with the increased support for parents making this choice) causes a drop in economic activity among women with two children (including one under 3), and especially for relatively young and uneducated mothers. This fact brings an overall slowdown in the equalization of positions between men and women and leads more particularly to the maintenance of lower class families within a traditional model of parental roles, with only the families of the middle and upper classes finding a means for greater male/female equality. Confronted with this situation, the policies designed to help women return to employment still remain too weak.

This disadvantage in the policy of free choice could find a partial solution by devising a formula for a shorter and better paid parental leave (one year), which would keep women out of the labor market for a shorter time period and thus have less of an impact on their professional careers.

Further Readings: Caille, J. P. (2001). Scolarisation a deux ans et reussite de la carriere scolaire au debut de l’ecole elementaire. Education et Formation 60, 7-18; Fagnani, J. (1998). Helping mothers to combine paid and unpaid work or fighting unemployment. The ambiguities of French family policy. Community, Work and Family 1(3), 297-312; Neyrand, G. (1999). Savoirs et normes sociales de la petite enfance. Recherhces et Previsions 57-58, 3-16; Plaisance, E. (1999). Lecole maternelle en France: normes educatives et socialisation apres la seconde guerre mondiale. Recherches et Previsions 31-43, 57-58.

Pierre Moisset



There is a strong system for financing early childhood education and care in France. National and local actors contribute to this financing, which is largely a public system. The main actors are three Ministries (Education, Social Affairs, and Youth), the National Family Allowance Fund—CNAF—(at the head of 125 Family Allowance Funds—CAFs supervised by the French state), departments, municipalities, and parents. The contributions of these different players vary by sector (care or education) and within one of them (the care sector), while the costs vary according to the different kinds of setting.


How Much Does Early Childhood Care and Education Cost?

The costs are higher in the education section than in the care sector.


Ecoles maternelles. In ecoles maternelles (see earlier entries) the current average annual cost of a child is almost the same as for an elementary school pupil, that is about 4,000 Euros. There are no parental fees, so this high cost, partly due to the salaries of the teachers, is supported by a very strong public investment. Since 1981, within a positive discrimination policy, more money was provided to ecoles maternelles (as well as elementary schools) situated in priority education areas—the Zones dEducation Prioritaire (ZEP).


Care services. Concerning out of school activities for school-aged children, the cost varies by municipality or by the nonprofit associations that organize them. Access is generally not free but the fees are low and are adjusted to parental incomes, guaranteeing access for disadvantaged families. As an example, in Paris the cost of the two hours after school in 2005 was between 0.40 and 1 euro per day.

Concerning the other care provisions (full time), the costs are lower than those of ecoles maternelles, but parents assume an important portion of them. For creches, attended by the under threes, the average annual cost for a child (full time) is estimated at about 1,200 Euros. For a childminder (assistante maternelle), it varies between 700 and 900 Euros. For in-home care, it is estimated at 1,700 Euros. In the care sector, these costs are shared by numerous actors (differently according to each kind of provision).


Who Pays for Early Education?

Two actors are sharing the costs of public ecoles maternelles while the source of financing is more complex in the care sector.


Ecoles maternelles. The cost of public ecoles maternelles is shared between the Ministry of Education and municipalities, even the few private ecoles maternelles (12%) are heavily financed by public funds. The Ministry of Education supports the main cost (teachers’ and inspectors’ salaries), while municipalities pay for buildings, furniture, pedagogical materials, and teacher assistants’ salaries.


Care services. The Ministry of Social Affairs, which defines the CNAF program, partly finances the initial training of the professionals (pediatric nurses, assistants, and early childhood educators) while the Ministry of Youth finances the training of the personnel for leisure time centers.

CNAF supports the development of the care sector with funds covered by social contributions and taxes (9.6 billion Euros). Beginning in 2000, two types of additional grants, an Early Childhood Investment Fund (Fonds d’Investissement Exceptionnel pour la Petite Enfance—FIPE) and a Special Investment Support (Aide Exceptionnelle a l’Investissement—AEI) were funded annually (about 200 million Euros each). These allowed an increase in the number of places for children in collective settings.

CAFs also partly finance the functioning of care centers (which contract with the municipalities for the rest of their funding). This support was recently redesigned so that municipalities and nonprofit associations are not penalized by serving children from low-income families. This introduction of a single benefit sustains the development of halte-garderies (part-time centers) and multi- accueils (centers including various kinds of provision and flexible functioning) in order to meet the new needs of families stemming from recent constraints of the labor market.

Municipalities play a central role in the care sector. They partly finance fulltime and part-time creches and leisure time services (about a billion Euros). In the absence of requirements, they develop local early childhood policies that vary considerably in strength. Contracts with CAFs (contrat-enfance), created by the CNAF in 1988, provide financial incentives to increase both the quantity and the quality of care services. The CAFs subsidies cover up to 50-70% of new planned expenses for traditional care and leisure time provision, as well as for innovative settings. These contracts also help to coordinate the different settings, disseminate information to families, and train professionals. The number of such contracts continues to increase at the present time, involving more municipalities.

Departments (regional entities) are in charge of financing the childminders’ training. They can also expand local policies in order to promote the development of early childhood services by financing the creation or the functioning of services and particularly networks of childminders or services for parents and children. Recently, CNAF experimented with contracts to departments with the aim of improving individual care (childminders), local coordination, information to families, and innovations.

Private companies are also involved with care arrangements. Some of them provide or finance places for their staff’s children. They have recently been allowed to create services.

Parents have to pay for care, but if they use an official provision (i. e. not an unlicensed childminder), they receive subsidies to offset the costs of their care arrangements and also benefit from tax reductions. They pay the salary of the childminder or the in-home caregiver they employ, but if they use a creche (run by municipalities as well as nonprofit associations which follow the same parental fee scale), they pay according to family income and size (one does not know what happens today for private creches, recently created). On the average, parents pay 27 percent of the cost of creches (municipalities and departments: 43% and CAFs: 30%). However, the range in family expenditures is large, from less than 1,000 Euros (40% of families) to more than 5,000 Euros (10% of families). For low-income families the public subsidies are inadequate, although they make an important contribution.


Subsidies to Families and Tax Benefits

Subsidies. The current national aim is to encourage the free choice of parents, who are facing not only a disparity of provision from one municipality to another but also the different costs from one care setting to another. Subsidies are offered to them by CAFs in order to offset these differences and to support the choice between a childminder, an in-home caregiver, or a creche, as well as to help those (generally the mother) who choose to care for their own young children at home.

Until 2003, parents were provided with several types of subsidies, according to their choices, including an allowance for young children (Allocation pour Jeune Enfant—APJE), which was received by about 80 percent of families from the fifth month of pregnancy until the child’s third birthday (159 Euros per month).

A parental education allowance (Allocation Parentale d’Education—APE) helped parents, who were not working (or in part-time employment) and with at least two children, until the child’s third birthday (485 Euros per month).

Parents who employed a licensed childminder were helped for this employment (Aide a la Famille pour l’Emploi d’une Assistante Maternelle—AFEAMA). This allowance covered social contributions to the state plus an additional amount to offset the cost, based on family income (203 Euros for those with annual incomes under 12,912 Euros, 160 Euros for incomes between 12,912 and 17,754 Euros, and 133 Euros for those with incomes over 17,754 Euros).

Parents who employed somebody in their homes received an allowance for an in-home caregiver (Allocation de Garde dEnfant a Domicile—AGED), which varied according to family income (up to 1,548 Euros per trimester when the family income is less than 34,744 Euros).

Studies of the use of these different subsidies (Bonnet and Labbe, 1999; Guillot, 2002) found that family income and the mother’s employment status (plus the type and amount of the local provision of care) continue greatly to determine parents’ “choice” and thus the type of subsidy they receive. Important differences were noticed between households receiving AGED (very high-income families), AFEAMA (middle- and high-income families), and APE (mainly unqualified mothers). For low-income families creches are the less expensive setting, but creches are concentrated in the Paris region and in other big cities. Some working parents, mainly from disadvantaged backgrounds, use no official provision and thus receive no financial help to care for their children (this includes about 10% of the under threes).

At the present time, in order both to reduce inequities and to simplify the system of family allowance, a unique family subsidy (Prestation d’accueil pour jeune enfant—PAJE) has replaced all the previous subsidies. It is determined by the number of children and family type, varies according to household income, and includes specific help for the employment of an in-home carer or a childminder (the financial help for the employment of a childminder is upgraded) or for caring his/her own child (also upgraded).


Tax deductions. In addition, parents can benefit from tax reductions for care expenses. The maximum tax reduction is 575 Euros per year, except for the employment of an in-home carer (the maximum tax reduction is 3,450 per year). About 545 million Euros is the total fiscal benefit related to early childhood care, provided through tax reductions.


Future Needs

We agree with other authors who have urged the continuation of family policy efforts that would make it easier to provide access to care services for all families. Efforts should also be made to increase the recruitment of professionals by upgrading their status and training, thus reducing the salary differences between these caregivers and the teachers in the ecoles maternelles.

Further Readings: Bonnet, C., and M. Labbe (1999). Lactivite des femmes apres la naissance de leur deuxieme enfant Recherches etprevisions 59, 18-25; Guillot, O. (2002). Une analyse du recours aux services de garde d’enfants. Economie et statistique 352-353, 213-230; Legendre, F., R. Lorgnet, and F. Thibault (2004). Les aides publiques a la garde des jeunes enfants. Recherches et Previsions 75, 5-20; Leprince, F. (2003). L’accueil des jeunes enfants en France: Etat des lieux et pistes d’amElioration. Rapport Haut Con- seil de la Population et de la famille; Perier, L. (1999). Le contrat-enfance. Recherche et Previsions 57-58, 91-92.

Sylvie Rayna


Teacher Preparation in France


In France, early childhood education is partitioned into two separate areas, with distinct provision for each sector. The creches (centers) and childminders (home-based) provide care services for children under age 3, and leisure time activities for children attending from two years of age. The ecoles maternelles are preschools for children over age 2. This distinction by sector is found, too, in the status and training of personnel in early childhood. The differences between these two sectors are numerous, especially with regard to the level and the length of the training, and the program orientation. There is also considerable diversity in preparation within each sector.


The Education Sector

Several kinds of personnel are working in the ecoles maternelles. University-trained teachers, called professeurs des ecoles, are national civil servants qualified to teach 2- to 11-year-olds in ecoles maternelles or in elementary schools. In ecoles maternelles, they are assisted by staff who are municipal workers.


Training of professeurs des ecoles. Until the early 1990s, teachers were trained in the Ecole Normale (teacher training college), which included specialized training in early childhood education for working in ecoles maternelles. At the end of the 1980s, a crisis in the vocations and an increase in teaching requirements drove the authorities to upgrade the image of the teaching occupation. This was accomplished by significantly raising the wages of the teachers and increasing their level of qualification by providing them with a university level of training.

University Institutes for Teacher Training (IUFM; Institut Universitaire de formation des maitres) have now replaced Ecole Normale, providing within the same institution training for both primary education (eecole maternelle and elementary school) and secondary education (Robert and Terral, 2000).There is no longer a separate preparation for preschool teachers, but instead a common training for primary education.

A national exam is required in order to graduate from the IUFM. Candidates first have to pursue a licence (a three-year college degree) at the university (maths, biology, literature, science of education, or any other subject). They can then prepare for the national exam during one year in IUFM or independently. The exam includes written papers in French, math, science and art, a practical exam in physical education, and an oral exam on workplace experiences. Those who pass the exam then complete one year of professional training in IUFM (about 450 hours). This component includes eight to twelve weeks of supervised work placements in schools, where the novice is responsible for the class and teaches.

The teacher education curriculum, approved by the Ministry of Education, is focused on broad education-related courses, such as psychology, sociology, history of education, philosophy, and studies in education. Subject-based courses are also included, such as French, math, music, art, etc. Despite a high level of qualification, there is an obvious lack of specialization in early years education within the current teachers’ training program (Oberhuemer and Ulich, 1997). This is also visible in practice; for example, inspectors may not specialize in ecoles maternelles, but must control and provide professional development sessions to all primary school teachers.

During their careers, teachers are entitled to thirty-six weeks of in-service training, which is organized on a departmental level. Unfortunately, the sessions concerning early years and the available places are not numerous enough to meet teachers’ needs. Fortunately, there is a well-established professional association for preschool teachers that organizes an annual conference and other forms of training and support for its members. After gaining some work experience, teachers can pursue further training to become a specialized teacher, educational psychologist, trainer, principal, or inspector.


Assistant teacher training (agent territorial specialise des ecoles maternelles). These municipal employees assist the teachers in the ecoles maternelles, particularly those in charge of the youngest children. Their functions vary from city to city and even from school to school. Officially they belong to the educational team, but their role is focused on care (hygiene, meal, nap) and is often limited to domestic tasks, including the cleanliness of the classroom and preparation of the material needed by the teacher.

Until 1992, these assistants were regarded as custodial workers. Since then the status of the assistants has risen, due to the introduction of a mandatory training called CAP Petit Enfance that takes place over a period of twelve to eighteen months and leads to a certificate in early childhood. However, this preservice (in a professional school after the age of 16) or in-service training is focused on children’s care and classroom hygiene. Assistants also have limited access to in-service training and career mobility. Yet in practice, when cooperation with teachers exists, training takes place throughout the preparation and sharing of activities carried out with the children.


The Care Sector

The care sector includes both home-based and center-based caregiving and teaching. Childminders provide care in their own homes, and in-home caregivers work in the child’s home. Centers are staffed by pediatric nurses, early childhood educators, and assistant pediatric nurses.


Home-based caregivers. There are several different types of home-based caregivers.

Childminders (assistantes maternelles). Childminders need licensing approval to care for children in their own homes. This approval is granted by departmental authorities after assessment of the quality of the home environment and the health, mental health, and moral character of the applicant. The license is authorized for a five-year period, and is renewable on the condition that the childminder participate in a sixty-hour in-service training, including twenty hours during the first two years. This training, financed and organized by mother and child health centers (PMI), includes general notions on child development, individual rhythms, and needs; educational aspects of childcare; relationships with parents; and institutional and social frameworks. In addition, PMI provides in-service support by children’s nurses and social workers. Training opportunities are available when childminders are employed in a creche familiale, generally directed by a pediatric nurse (puericultrice:see below) or participate in a network of independent childminders, generally directed by an early childhood educator (relais assistantes maternelles: see below). But childminders often complain about the lack of recognition (Blosse-Platiere and al, 1995). A reevaluation of their status and prestige are presently at the center of a national debate.

In-home caregivers. No training is required for in-home caregivers employed directly by the parents. However, some municipalities offer in-home caregivers some training opportunities. This occurs, for instance, via childminder networks (relais assistantes maternelles). In those settings an early childhood educator can provide childminders and in-home caregivers with educational opportunities, both for them as well as for the children they care for. When parents recruit in-home caregivers through private organizations, some training may be provided by these organizations prior to recruitment.


Center-based services. In center-based services, which consist of full-time or part-time centers for children and part-time centers for parents and children (pouponni'res, creches, halte-garderies, accueils parents-enfants), two kinds of professionals have tertiary-level professional qualifications. Pediatric nurses (puericultrices) are the heads of these services. Early childhood educators (educateurs de jeunes enfants) can be heads of part-time services and are allowed (since the year 2000) to be heads of small creches (less than forty children). The training programs for these two kinds of professionals differ from that of other professionals with lower qualifications.

In this sector, initial training is provided by public or private colleges and in-service training by various centers. A national center and several associations are responsible for the in-service training of the municipal and departmental employees.

Pediatric nurses (puericultrices). Pediatric nurses may work in hospitals or in mother and child health services (PMI) or in creches. After gaining at least five years of professional experience as an assistant, a pediatric nurse may assume a leadership position within a creche.

Initial training for these nurses is provided by public or private colleges approved by the Ministry of Health. After three years (general training to become a nurse), the training for working with children takes place over a period of twelve months (1,500 hours), with a nationally defined curriculum. The program includes 650 hours of theoretical and practical work centered on the knowledge of the child (physiology, psychology, psychopedagogy, diet and nutrition, child pathology, care), its environment (health policy, sociology), and the profession (roles and functions, administrative, social organization, management); 710 hours of field placement; and 140 hours of directed study and evaluation.

Experienced pediatric nurses can become early childhood coordinators on a municipal or departmental level. No mandatory training exists for this relatively new professional role, except for some in-service training sessions proposed by several universities and public training centers.

Early childhood educators (educateurs de jeunes enfants). Early childhood educators work with groups of children or direct staff. Created in 1973, this profession has evolved over time (Verba, 2001). Early childhood educators, formerly called kindergarten educators (jardinieres d’enfants), were once viewed as welfare workers with an educative function for young children. Currently, they receive training over the course of twenty-seven months in centers approved by the Ministry of Social Affairs.

The curriculum for the early childhood educator program is defined at a national level. The 1,200 hours of both theoretical and technical training are composed of seven units: pedagogy and human relationships (160 hours); pedagogy of the expression and educational techniques (160 hours); knowledge of young children from birth to seven years of age (240 hours); group life (160 hours); health, health education and medical-social protection (160 hours); law, economics, and society (180 hours); professional culture, methodology, and technique (140 hours). The initial training includes nine months of fieldwork. Early childhood educators may work toward a higher diploma in social work. They can also become early childhood coordinators.

Assistant pediatric nurses (Auxiliaires de puericulture). In center-based services the bulk of the staff is assistant pediatric nurses. These caregivers have completed a one-year vocational training in public or private schools, approved by the regional authorities and open to candidates who are at least 17 years old. The training includes ten months of field placements. Since 1994, part of the training has been carried out together with that of assistant nursing staff. It is composed of six modules focusing on hygiene, care, relationships, communication, ergonomics, and public health; and four field placements in hospital, medical, and maternity wards. The other part of the training is more specific to early childhood education (ECE), and includes modules (nine weeks) on the child and his environment: the prenatal period and birth, the development of the healthy child, the sick child, the handicapped child, and palliative care. This second phase of training also includes six field placements (seventeen weeks) carried out in different sectors of health (pediatrics, maternity ward, child psychiatry, bottle-feeding, diet), and day-care settings. In all, this training lasts 1,575 hours (including 630 hours of theoretical work and 845 hours of practical fieldwork). Career opportunities for these professionals remain very restricted.


The Leisure Time Sector

This sector, organized by municipalities and associations, is a part of the care sector devoted to children during after-school hours, on Wednesdays, and during holidays. These services may be located within or outside of the school buildings. The leisure time staff are not necessarily qualified. Nevertheless, most hold a diploma, the BAFA (Brevet d’aptitude aux fonctions d’animateur), which consists of twenty-eight days of training related to out-of-school activities and is administered by the Ministry of Youth and Sports. This certificate qualifies a person to work in the leisure-time sector. The diploma required in order to become a director of a leisure-time center is the BAFD (Brevet d’aptitude aux fonctions de directeur). Provision of and participation in in-service training is voluntary. Cooperation with teachers within global school projects provides these staff members with training opportunities.



Although in general considerable heterogeneity and separation characterize teacher and caregiver initial training in early childhood care and education, inservice training sessions can be offered in some cities to professionals of both the care and the education sectors, based on a partnership between the different institutions in charge of early childhood. For example, training sessions on cultural activities toward young children and their families (books, music, etc.) are being offered simultaneously to preschool teachers and creche staff. These efforts, which need further development and expansion, open interesting perspectives by providing trainees with opportunities to know each other, to confront their own views on young children and education, to develop a mutual respect, and to take the first step toward a common culture of early childhood (Rayna and Dajez, 1997).

Further Readings: Blosse-Platiere, S., A. Dethier, C. Fleury, and N. Loutre due Pasquier (1995). Accueillir le jeune enfant: quelle professionnalisation? Paris: CNFPT-Eres; Ober-huemer, P., and M. Ulich (1997). Working with young children in Europe. Provision and staff training. London: Paul Chapman; Rayna, S., and F. Dajez (1997). Formation, petite enfance etpartenariat. Paris: L Harmattan; Robert, A., and H. Terral (2000). Les IUFM et la formation des enseignants aujourd’hui Paris: Presses Universitaires de France; Verba, D. (2001). Le metier d’educateur de jeunes enfants. Paris: Editions La Decouverte et Syros.

Alexandra Moreau