State schools and private schools that have a contract with the state coexist within the state system. In exchange for signing a public contract, private schools benefit from state support but are subject to regulation and must respect the national curriculum. The state alone awards diplomas. Exams are set at the national level. 83% of pupils are schooled in the state system and 17% in private schools. A small number of pupils are taught in private schools that have not signed a public contract.
Provision of schooling at level 1 (premier degré: nursery and elementary schools), level 2 (second degré: lower secondary/collèges and upper secondary general, technological and vocational lycées) is free in state schools. Building, equipment and running costs are divided between the various local authorities. At primary level, local authorities (municipalities/les communes) provide school supplies and - in many cases - textbooks. The State also provides free textbooks in collèges (lower secondary). Theoretically in lycées (upper secondary) parents are responsible for buying textbooks but in practice the conseils régionaux (regional authorities) may make the decision to provide them free of charge. Teachers at different levels of the school system are paid by the State, according to their qualifications, diplomas and experience.
The curriculum and content of teaching have to respect the principle of neutrality. Teachers and pupils are required to show philosophical and political neutrality.
The French school system has been based on the principle of secularism since the end of the 19th century. State schooling has been secular since the Jules Ferry Education Act of 28 March 1882. The respect for the beliefs of pupils and their parents means the absence of religious teaching in the syllabus - which does not prevent the teaching about religion - and the banning of proselytism. The principle of religious freedom led to the introduction of one day off every week to allow for religious teaching outside school.
The School Secularism Charter has been developed for staff, pupils and the broader school community. It sets out the meaning and implications of the secularism principle, how it fits into liberty, equality and fraternity within the French Republic and in a school setting. This charter serves as a reminder that the teaching of the Republic's values is a role entrusted to Schools by the state.
Schooling has been compulsory since the law of 28 March 1882. It is compulsory from the age of six for all French or foreign children of both genders who are resident in France. Initially schooling was compulsory until the age of thirteen but was extended to the age of 16 in 1959. However (with a prior declaration) the family can home-school their children.