Constitutional & Legal Foundations
Under the Constitution of the French Fifth Republic (1958), responsibility for nation-wide education lies with the government. That is with the office of the prime minister who in turn is responsible to the National Assembly and who forms a government composed of cabinet ministers, one of whom bears the title "Minister of National Education;" "Research and Technology" have spun off into ministries of their own. As it deems fit, the National Assembly passes laws relative to educational matters, and these laws are administered by the government which issues decrees of application. Thus, in July 1975, the Assembly passed a law known generally as the Loi Haby which established the present day system of single colleges (le collège unique), an institution occupying the intermediate space between the primary school and the more advanced secondary school known as the lycée. The aim of this law was to provide a secondary schooling context for all pupils of a given age cohort (roughly ages 11 to 12 to 14 to 15) so as to avoid both the social and the educational constraints of the former system's requirement that all pupils of that age group be irrevocably shunted as of age 11 or 12 into a specific educational directions. These choices have been set forward to a later date, when the pupil has completed the college curriculum, of about age 15 or 16. Over the quarter of a century or so since this reform was promulgated, various governments have introduced by decree a number of practices designed so as to make the reform work better. These decrees have ranged from major practical modifications to attempts at fine-tuning. No need has been felt to replace the Loi Haby by another comprehensive law, although it looks likely that such a major change lies soon in the offing.
It can be said that the considerable powers inherent in the national Ministry of Education of the Fifth Republic extend those enjoyed by the Ministry's counterparts under the Third and Fourth Republics (1944-1958). The Minister of Education and his delegates are in charge of all schooling in France, as well as in overseas territories and départements. He is assisted by a fair number of Secretaries of State and other political appointees, as well as by junior ministers and a huge bureaucracy. Although there do exist a substantial number of private and religious schools (primary, secondary, and university-level), they are very closely watched, indeed supervised, by the Ministry of Education as to programs of study and the qualifications of their teaching personnel.
Although the various regional, departmental, and municipal administrations in France contribute in various ways to defray local expenses relative to schools and universities, by far the majority of the educational budgetary burden is borne by the national Ministry. This includes teachers' and professors' salaries, administrative salaries and costs, equipment, and building and maintenance. Public education also constitutes the largest item by considerable measure of the French national budget.
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