Primary school education consists of five years of education. These five years are divided over two main 'cycles of learning'.
Accordingly, the first level of primary school education effectively starts in the final year (CP) of nursery school, as it is part of the first cycle of learning.
One of the primary purposes of the use of cycles of education is to ensure a degree of continuity between the different school levels.
The first two years (CP and CE1) are called the cycle apprendissages fondamentaux where the emphasis is on the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic.
There then follows three years (CE2, CM1 and CM2) called the cycle approndissements, which seek to reinforce the first two years and also lead pupils into investigation and working methods ability.
The basic curriculum for each cycle is shown below, which can be subject to only minor local variation.
Table: Cycle Fondamentaux
|Art/Music/History of Art||2.15|
|Discovering the World||2.15|
Table: Cycle Approndissements
|Art/Music/History of Art||2|
|Science & Technology||2.30|
As can be seen, the priority of all priorities is the French language, although it is of interest to note that teaching of a second modern language is part of the curriculum.
The cycles must include two hours a day of reading and writing, which can be taken within the subject areas.
History and geography are taken together as a single discipline.
There are also preliminary studies on information technology leading to a certification process at the end of primary school or in collège.
Pupils are required to be given an understanding of common risks they may encouter in life, accident prevention and the basic principles of emergency first aid treatment. The topic is taught within the main curriculum.
The school week is 24 hours, attended over 4 or 4.5 days a week, as determined by the school. Most schools have opted for 4 days, leaving Wednesday free. Since 2008, attendance at school on a Saturday morning, which used to be so much of a feature of schooling in France, has been abolished.
In recent years the government has banned the use of modern teaching methods of French in all primary schools, insisting on a return to more a more orthodox teaching of the language.
The decision has been taken because of concern about the number of pupils leaving primary school without an adequate grasp of the language or ability to read.
They claim approximately 20% of primary school children enter secondary education without a sufficient level of reading proficiency.
The ruling has caused outrage amongst teachers, and, whilst parents seem to have welcomed the change, some of the parent-teacher associations have expressed reservations.
The new guidance stipulates that language teaching should focus on a proper understanding of letters and sounds (called méthode syllabique), rather than learning through reading of text and phrases (called méthode globale).
The government argue that without a proper understanding of the rules and construction of the language, a pupil's ability to use the language is seriously impaired.
Teachers refute the sharp distinction that is being drawn between the two methods of learning and say that a strict implementation of one type of teaching method will be to the detriment of some pupils.
Others argue that the problem is not with the teaching method, but with the French language itself, which is considered to be too complex and contains too many irregularities.