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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Special education needs provision within mainstream education


12.Educational support and guidance

12.1Special education needs provision within mainstream education

Last update: 29 March 2024

In accordance with article L. 111-1 of the French Code of Education, the issue of equality and social justice are central to the priorities of the French education system, with the ambition that all pupils benefit from the conditions that will enable them to succeed in a fully inclusive society.

Definition of the target group(s)

Among the different groups concerned by specific educational needs, because of their physical or mental condition, the following ones should continue the mainstream education as far as possible:

  • Disabled students;
  • Students with language and learning difficulties;
  • Students with long term educational difficulties;
  • Gifted students.

Circular letter no. 2016-117 of August 8th, 2016 reminds different mechanisms that allow such students to follow a normal education.

Specific measures for disabled students

Article L351-1 of the French Code of Education and the law no.2005-102 of February 11th, 2005 state the principle of the priority given to mainstream education for disabled students.

Common law responses

There are a number of ways in order to meet the special educational needs of pupils that do not require recourse to the ‘Departmental House for the Disabled People’ (MDPH). The first line of response is that of the teacher in the classroom, who may call on the network of specialist help for pupils in difficulty (Rased) if necessary.

The personalised educational success programme (PPRE – "programme personnalisé de réussite éducative") defined in article D. 311-12 of the Education Code concerns pupils who are at risk of not mastering certain knowledge and skills expected at the end of a teaching cycle. It is a coordinated plan of action designed to meet the pupil's needs, ranging from differentiated teaching support in class to specialised or additional assistance. It is drawn up by the teaching team, discussed with the parents and presented to the pupil.

The  individual reception project (PAI - "projet d'accueil individualisé"), defined in circular no. 2003-135 of 8 September 2003, makes it possible to specify the necessary adaptations (timetable adjustments, organisation of care, etc.) for children and adolescents whose state of health makes it necessary to administer medical treatments or protocols so that they can continue their schooling under conditions that are as ordinary as possible. It is drawn up in consultation with the national education doctor, who ensures that medical confidentiality is respected.

The personalised support plan (PAP – "plan d'accompagnement personnalisé") defined in circular no. 2015-016 of 22 January 2015 enables any pupil with long-term difficulties at school due to a learning disability to benefit from educational adjustments and adaptations. It is drawn up on the basis of a national model and is revised every year to take stock of the teaching arrangements and adaptations already in place and to develop them further. The PAP may be proposed by the teaching team or the family and requires the opinion of the national education doctor. It is governed by ordinary law and does not give entitlement to compensatory measures (adapted teaching materials, continued attendance at nursery school, etc.) or exemption from teaching. Where applicable, it replaces a PPRE and gives way to a personalised schooling plan (PPS) if one is put in place.

Responses requiring recourse to the MDPH and CDAPH

The "Maison départementale des personnes handicapées" (MDPH) provides a desk to inform and support disabled individuals and their families. As defined in article D351-5 of the French Code of Education, a team of experts (doctors, therapists, psychologists, social assistants…) evaluates the needs of the disable student and proposes a Personalized Schooling Project (PPS). The family of the student is tightly associated with the development of the PPS. Based on the PPS, the "Commission des droits et de l’autonomie des personnes handicapées" (CDAPH – Commission of rights and autonomy of disabled individuals), which is under the MDPH’s authority, takes measures in order to make the project of a normal education possible. These may be schooling in normal classes or in ULIS (see below), the assignment of a School life auxiliary or adapted devices (see below), and even streaming decisions.

Personalized Schooling Project (PPS – "projet personnalisé de scolarisation") defines and coordinates methods corresponding to education, psychology, social, medical needs of the disabled student. The project is regularly revised (at least once a year) by the dedicated team of experts and the student’s parents. A specialised teacher is assigned as the referent teacher. He/She gathers the experts within the following teams and is the first contact for each partner in these students’ education.

Mechanisms of schooling in mainstream education

Individual schooling: takes place in normal classes. It may be provided without any specific support or with some arrangements according to the need of the student. These arrangements often take the form of an individual school life auxiliary (AESH) and specific educational devices. Teachers can benefit from training in special needs education (circular letter no. 2018-068 of June 18th, 2018).

Collective schooling: when the requirements for an individual schooling of a student are too important, the disabled student may be schooled in "unites localisées pour l’inclusion scolaire" (ULIS – local units for school inclusion) that are opened in primary, lower secondary or upper secondary schools. They receive an appropriate education that applies the objectives given in the PPS. ULIS are lead by a specialized teacher. Decree no. 2017-169 of February 10th, 2017 implements a new certification that is shared for primary and secondary education teachers: the "Certificat d’Aptitude Professionnelle aux Pratiques de l’Éducation Inclusive" (CAPPEI - Professional Aptitude Certificate to Inclusive Education Practices). Collective school life auxiliary (AESH) support the teacher. ULIS classes, which were established by the circular letter no. 2005-129 of August 21st, 2015, replace School integration classes (CLIS). ULIS students also frequent whenever possible the normal classes.

Schooling life auxiliaries (AESH) are a specific type of personnel who have are to support schooling for disabled or ill students. Their activities and missions are defined by the circular letter no. 2017-084 of May 3rd, 2017 and their recruitment conditions are defined in the decree no. 2018-666 of July 27th, 2018. Two types of AESH exist: individual or shared assistance.

Specific education services and home care (SESSAD): These services are provided by teams of professionals whose aim is to support disabled children and adolescents that are in mainstream education. They take action on every location of the student’s life. Their name differ according to their speciality and the children’s age:

  • SAFEP: for 0-3 year olds with hearing or visual impairments;
  • SSEFIS: for children beyond 3 years old with hearing impairment;
  • SAAAIS: for children beyond 3 years old with visual impairment;
  • SSAD: home care for children with several disabilities.

Children in ULIS classes may also be the target of such mechanisms. The care may be of multiple forms (physical therapy, speech therapy, etc.).

Appropriate educational devices (braille keyboards, specific softwares, etc.): While belonging to the State, individual-use devices may be provided to the student in the framework of a lending convention. The student keeps the device during his/her whole school career, even if he/she changes the school or home department.

Arrangements for exam conditions: Law no. 2005-102 of February 11th, 2005 allows disabled students to take part in exams and competitive examination that are organised by the Ministry of National Education under specific conditions (a helper, a longer timeframe, specific material).

Scholarships based on social criteria: Since the start of the 2023 academic year, students with disabilities, and students caring for a parent with a disability,  benefit from a supplement of 4 load points to facilitate their access to grants based on social criteria.

Dedicated doctoral funding: Each year, the Ministry of Higher Education and Research organises a Doctorat handicap campaign to fund contracts for students having a PhD project and who have been recognised as meeting the employment obligation.

Measures to promote the professional integration of disabled students : An agreement has been signed in 2023, between France Universités and the "Fonds pour l'insertion des personnes handicapées dans la fonction publique" (FIPHFP), to provide higher education institutions with better support in integrating and retaining disabled people in employment.

Additional measures 

The measures taken at the National Conference on Disability in 2023 reinforce the government's commitment to a school for all, namely : 

  • allocating an INE number to all children as a major step towards ensuring that all pupils are enrolled in school and follow the same educational and training pathway;
  • the involvement of health professionals within the school walls, the development of additional ‘Mobile Medical and Social Support Teams’ (EMAS) for the schooling of Children with disabilities and the deployment of 100 ‘Medical and Educational Institutes’ (IME) within the school, all of which underpin the strengthening of cooperation between the national education system and the medical and social sector;
  • changes to the employment framework for ‘assistants for pupils with disabilities’ (AESH), the creation of ‘assistants for educational success’ (ARE ) and the move from ‘localised inclusive support centres’ (PIAL) to ‘schooling support centres’ (PAS) are evidence of the desire to implement common law for all and the concern to support the career paths of all pupils.
  • Schooling support centres are deployed in pilot areas from the start of the 2023-2024 school year.

Specific measures for students with language and learning difficulties

Article L321-4 of the French Code of Education states that specific arrangements and support mechanisms are to be implemented for students with specific difficulties of language (oral or written) such as dyslexics, dysphasic, etc. Families of such students can require help from the MDPH to set up a PPS.

Moreover, these students may benefit from a Personalised support plan (PAP), established by the circular letter no. 2015-016 of January 22nd, 2015, which does not require the consultation of the MDPH. A ‘PAP’ is set up upon a proposal from the council of teachers/class council or, at any point during the school career of the student, upon his/her either request or the family’s request depending on the student’s age. A national education doctor ascertains the type of difficulty of the student. The doctor provides an opinion on the relevance of a PAP. Afterwards, the teaching staff along with the student’s parents and medical professionals develop the PAP and implement it. In secondary education, a main teacher can play a role of coordination.

Specific measures for students with long term educational difficulties

These students can benefit from the Personalized program for successful schooling (PPRE). It is defined by the articles L311-3-1 and D311-12 of the French Code of Education. It concerns students that are at risk of not mastering certain knowledge and skills required at the end of a cycle. It takes the form of a coordinated action plan that aims at responding to the needs of the student, going from differentiated educational support in the classroom to specific additional support. The implementation is decided by the school head, and implemented by the teaching staff in collaboration with the parents.

Moreover, student with severe and long-term learning difficulties can be enrolled in "Sections d’enseignement général et professionnel adapté" (SEGPA – adapted general and vocational education sections) in lower secondary education, in "Établissement régionaux d’enseignement adapté" (EREA – regional adapted education institutions) and in "Lycées d’enseignement adapté" (LEA – adapted education highschools) in upper secondary education.

Specific measures for students with chronic diseases, food intolerance and allergies

The Individualised accommodation project (PAI), defined by the circular letter no. 2003-135 of September 8th, 2003 allows specific accommodations (schedule arrangement, organisation of care, etc.) for students whose health needs specific treatments or medical protocols in order to follow a normal education as much as possible. It is established with the doctor from the National Education.

Specific measures for gifted students

According to article L321-4 of the French Code of Education, gifted children or students that manifest specific abilities should benefit from arrangements in their education in order to develop their potential. They can skip classes according to their own learning rhythm.

Moreover, measures may be decided when the gifted pupil shows behavioural or learning difficulties. These measures are developed by the teaching and the non-teaching staff (teachers, psychologists, doctors, inspectors and school heads) along with the family. The circular letter no. 2009-168 of November 12th, 2009 provides examples of measures:

  • Development of the curricula;
  • Reinforcing the student’s autonomy by working on research situations,
  • Making presentations, giving the student a role of tutoring with classmates, etc.
  • Putting the pupil in an upper class for specific subjects.