Strengths and limitations of inclusion schemes in French preschools- Gilles Pétreault

The notion of inclusion has been promoted by UNESCO for thirty years. It is about “eliminating gender inequalities in education and ensuring equal access for vulnerable people, including people with disabilities, indigenous people and children in vulnerable situations”. Inclusive education is part of “a humanistic vision of education”, involving the whole of society to take “into account the diversity of learners and their needs”

The model aimed at is an education for all children in the same classes, with adapted support for pupils with special educational needs. According to Ainscow, three criteria can be considered: attendance, participation, learning.

The French preschool has several advantages for inclusion. Firstly, universal access, with a national system run by the state and free education for all. The generalisation of preschool has been progressive since the 1970s. Schooling at three years of age has been compulsory since 2019 to include the most vulnerable children.

The second asset is also related to the law, which states since 2013 that the public education service “shall ensure the inclusive schooling of all children, without any distinction”. The third asset is the existence of support strategies for inclusion, divided into three categories: pedagogical recommendations, additional professionals and specific structures. The fight against discrimination is based first and foremost on education. Schools must therefore promote gender diversity and equality between women and men and prevent sexist prejudices . The principles are set out in the curricula , but the resources on official websites are almost non-existent for kindergarten; this policy relies essentially on the initiatives of the teams. For allophone newcomers and children from itinerant and travelling families, ‘inclusion’ is the rule. Educational resources and advice from specialised trainers are sometimes offered. Teachers adapt their work to groups with uncertain length of stay and different needs. The quality of inclusion depends mainly on teachers’ practices.

The intervention of dedicated professionals can also promote inclusion. “Specialised support networks” are composed of a psychologist and one or two pedagogical specialists. They carry out informal interviews, psychological assessments and sometimes observation sessions to better individualise learning. This support for teachers is fundamentally inclusive.

Since 2005, a law has allowed a strong development of schooling for disabled pupils in ordinary classes. Individual assistants facilitate daily life, access to learning activities and relationships. Their help is valuable, but obstacles to inclusion exist. Firstly, in the relationship between teacher and support worker, ranging from the ‘transparency’ of the support worker to a complete delegation of educational adaptations. Difficulties may also arise in the direct relationship of the special needs pupil with his/her peers. Or with parents, when the assistant works with several children for better inclusion; some feel that he/she is an educator at the exclusive service of their child. This arrangement is very conducive to inclusion, but working methods and training need to be improved to enhance its quality. 

Inclusion has also been reflected in schemes. In kindergarten, they concern bilingual deaf children and children with autism spectrum disorders. These arrangements are based on a deep mistrust on the part of some families towards the therapeutic and educational options of medical-social institutes, as well as on a desire for inclusion. Pupils with disabilities “walk through the same door as the others”, can spend time in ordinary classes and projects involving all pupils are carried out. Designing adapted activities together with differentiated learning objectives and carefully monitoring children’s progress is necessary. Less directly inclusive than the recommended model, these arrangements represent nevertheless a great improvement for families. 

The criterion of pupil presence is structurally fulfilled in French preschool. Existing arrangements favour certain aspects of inclusion, but the challenge remains the quality of learning for pupils with special educational needs. This is essentially based on evolving professional skills and personal attitudes that need to be supported over the long term: leading a class as a whole while being able to respond individually to the needs of pupils, working with teams having different statuses and skills, and integrating relations with parents. This requires the preschool and its staff to constantly reinvent themselves. We must support them in this quest for ever more effective inclusion. 

1 See UNESCO, Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education, 

2  MDG4: 

3 UNESCO, Education 2030. Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action towards Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education and Lifelong Learning for All, 2016, 

4 Cf. Salamanca Statement: education systems should be designed and educational programmes implemented to take into account the wide diversity of these characteristics and needs,

those with special educational needs must have access to regular schools which should accommodate them within a child centred pedagogy capable of meeting these needs.

5  See Mel Ainscow, 2020: Promoting inclusion and equity in education: lessons from international experiences, 

“Focused on improving the presence, participation, and achievement of all students. Here, presence is concerned with where children are educated, and with how reliably and punctually they attend; participation relates to the quality of their experiences whilst they are there and thus must incorporate the views of the learners themselves; and achievement is about the outcomes of learning across the curriculum, not merely test or examination results

6  See Articles L121-1 and L312-17-1 of the Education Code. 

7  Cf. The nursery school builds the conditions for equality, particularly between girls and boys” In Programmes de l’école maternelle, 2022 

8  See,requires%20temporary%20accommodations%20and%20particular%20devices. 

9  See $

10   Law No. 2005-102 of 11 February 2005 for equal rights and opportunities, participation and citizenship of persons with disabilities 

Gilles Pétreault is currently vice-president of the OMEP-France, representative of the OMEP-World to UNESCO and Honorary National Education State Inspector. 

Previously he was Head of Departmental State Education Services and has experience as Head of an in-service training centre for teachers, as Education Inspector with various responsibilities and as schoolteacher, in several areas in France. 

Holder of a doctorate in French Literature, he worked in the field of French teaching and mastery of French language, Preschool Education and Elementary School in various subjects. He also engaged in studies in pupils’ academic careers and inclusion for children with special education needs. Other interest include school organization, teachers’ and education inspectors’ recruitment and training.

As an expert in Preschool Education, he both coordinated and participated in reports to the Minister of Education and contributed to the training of the Education inspectors. Representative of the Education Ministry to the OECD Early Childhood Education and Care Network for seven years, Gilles Pétreault was also involved in several international studies or projects (European Union programme for Improvement of Preschool Education in Serbia [IMPRES]; European Commission Workgroup; Eurydice Key data on early childhood and care; and the Unesco French National Commission).

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