11. Special Educational Needs in French Schools

If your child has special educational needs the French education system makes specific provision for children with particular difficulties to be given appropriate assistance.

The assistance may either be given on an individual or collective basis within mainstream schools, or within a specialist establishment.

Whichever route you take, you are likely to come across a bewildering number of acronyms, which is likely to leave you baffled, so we will try and try and keep them to a minimum on these pages.

As a result of recent legislation there is now a general policy of seeking to integrate those with special needs (including those with behavioural difficulties) into mainstream education, or within specific units with schools.

Where pupils attend a mainstream school a child may be provided with more personalised education provision through the use of speciality appointed staff (auxiliaire de vie scolaire) and the provision of appropriate equipment and facilities.

In practice, most schools suffer from a lack of suitably qualified staff to offer personalised assistance to all children who need it.

Where a child would benefit more from being taught at a collective level, then there are specialist classes within a certain schools.

Table: Specialist Classes

School Classes
Primary Classes d'intégration scolaire (CLIS)
Secondary Sections d'enseignements généraux et professionnels adaptés (SEGPA)/Unités Pédagogiques d'Intégration (UPI).

Clearly, these specialist classes or sections cannot be available in all schools, but you will find at least one or more in most areas.

Outside of the mainstream schools, there are special educational establishments, collectively called Etablissements Régionaux d'Enseignement Adapté - (EREA) but which are also more particularly called IME (Institute Médico-éducatif) IMPro (Institue médico-professional) or ITEP (Institute thérapeutique, educatif et pédagogique).

In terms of organisational structure for the assessment of the needs of the child, a more streamlined approach is being adopted, although the results of the reorganisation still leaves a complex structure in place.

At a national level, the government have created the Commission des droits et de l'autonomie (CDA).

At a county level, assessment teams are located in a newly created structure called the Maison Départementale des Personnes Handicapées (MDPH). It is their responsibility to determine how your child is to be taught.

You can contact your MDPH through your Conseil Regional, although in the first instance, far better to meet with the local mairie and school to discuss the needs of your child.

If your child is unable to use the normal means of transport, then full reimbursement of transport costs is made, even if the child needs to travel using a taxi. An assessment of the child’s needs is carried out by the Maison Départementale des Personnes Handicapées (MDPH), whose details you should be able to obtain from your local mairie.


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