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The French Constitution enshrines the right to education for all in France.  The provision that does so is found in the Preamble of the Constitution of 1946, which was incorporated by reference into the Preamble of the current French Constitution.[1]  This provision declares that “the Nation guarantees equal access for children and adults to instruction,[[2]] vocational training and culture.  The provision of free, public and secular education at all levels is a duty of the State.”[3]

While the universal right to education did not become a constitutional provision until 1946, it has been widely accepted as a legal principle since much earlier.  In 1833, the French government adopted a law requiring every town in France to open a public primary school for boys.[4]  In 1850, towns were required to provide public primary schools for girls as well.[5]  The most significant and famous advances, however, occurred in 1881 and 1882, when the government adopted a series of measures called the lois Jules Ferry (Jules Ferry Laws), named after the Minister of Education who pushed them through.[16  The most important of those laws was the Law of 28 March 1882, which introduced compulsory schooling for all boys and girls between the ages of six and thirteen.[7]  This Law provided that compulsory schooling could be provided by public or private schools, by the children’s father, or by a private tutor.[8]  Children who were homeschooled or taught by a private tutor were subject to regular exams to verify that they were in fact being educated to the legally-required standards.[9]  The Law also provided that special measures would be taken to ensure that children who were blind or deaf would also have access to education.[10]  The age limit for compulsory education was raised to fourteen in 1936, and sixteen in 1959.[11]  In 2005, the French government reinforced the right to education by adopting a law that prohibits the parents of unemancipated children from opposing their children’s pursuit of further education after the age of sixteen.[12]

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Prepared by Nicolas Boring
Foreign Law Specialist
May 2016


[2] In this context, the term “instruction” refers to education.

[3] Préambule de la Constitution du 27 octobre 1946 [Preamble to the Constitution of 27 October 1946], § 13, https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/Droit-francais/Constitution/Preambule-de-la-Constitution-du-27-octobre-1946, archived at https://perma.cc/2RKE-2GV9, English translation available at http://www.conseil-constitutionnel.fr/ conseil-constitutionnel/root/bank_mm/anglais/cst3.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/4285-DQ66.

[4] Loi du 28 juin 1833 [Law of 28 June 1833]; Tous les citoyens ont-ils droit à une education? [Do All Citizens Have a Right to an Education?], Vie Publique (website of the French Administration) (Oct. 9, 2013), http://www.vie-publique.fr/decouverte-institutions/citoyen/citoyennete/definition/droits/tous-citoyens-ont-ils-droit-education.html, archived at https://perma.cc/FTZ5-2MJ7.

[5] Vie Publique, supra note 4.

[6] Id.

[7] Loi du 28 mars 1882 sur l’enseignement primaire obligatoire [Law of 28 March 1882 on Compulsory Primary Schooling], http://classes.bnf.fr/laicite/references/loi_28_mars_1882.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/K76E-GP7L.

[8] Id. art. 4.

[9] Id. art. 16.

[10] Id.

[11] Vie Publique, supra note 4.

[12] Loi n° 2005-380 du 23 avril 2005 d’orientation et de programme pour l’avenir de l’école (1) [Law No. 2005-380 of 23 April 2005 on the Orientation and Program for the Future of School (1)], art. 10, https://www.legifrance.gouv. fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000000259787&dateTexte=&categorieLien=id, archived at https://perma. cc/4QAN-SH47.