La Révolution nationale et la réforme de l’École en France. Les ambitions contrariées du régime de Vichy (1940-1944) - Université de Lille Accéder directement au contenu
Article Dans Une Revue Paedagogica Historica, International Journal of the History of Education Année : 2019

National revolution and school reform: the frustrated ambitions of the Vichy Regime (1940–1944)

La Révolution nationale et la réforme de l’École en France. Les ambitions contrariées du régime de Vichy (1940-1944)


According to the Vichy Regime, beginning in July 1940, the whole school system, from preschool to university, had a great responsibility in the decline of patriotism justifying the rapid defeat in the face of the German armed forces. As Marshal Petain pointed out in his 20 June 1940 speech: “Since the Victory, a spirit of pleasure prevailed over the spirit of sacrifice. People claimed more than they served. Efforts were saved, and people nowadays have been living in despair.” The national Revolution the Regime brought about had to help revive the true values of the Nation, founding its activities on Work, Family and Homeland. Therefore, the “undesirables” (Jews, Freemasons, Communists, …) had to be rejected from the school system and the dissemination of national values had to prevail. As Serge Jeanneret, one of the Marshal’s trustees, noted: “Making the Revolution without Schools is as useful as a sand building” (extracted from Serge Jeanneret, La vérité sur les instituteurs [The Truth about Teachers], Paris, Flammarion, 1941, p. 173). From that point of view, all the educational ministers belonging to the Vichy Regime tried to reform the school system – its organisation, its programmes and staff – in order to train a “newman”, even if they sometimes fed projects launched during the interwar period. The Communist teachers and the Freemasons were expelled from schools because the 13 August 1940 Law prohibited them from working in the civil service. Registration as not belonging to secret societies was required of the educational staff. The first Jewish status (3 October 1940), then the second (2 June 1941), excluded Jews from the school system. The Act proclaimed on 21 June 1941 introduced a numerus clausus for the Jews (3%) in universities. The 8 September 1940 Act closed teacher training schools for primary staff, which were replaced by a new training organisation. The competitive examination laureates were integrated into secondary schools, passed the baccalaureate and, for one year, they attended a vocational training institute and had to undergo four different practical trainings. They had a three-month period at the vocational institute, a three-month training period in primary schools, a three-month training period in an agricultural education school or a technical school and, for women, a three-month training period in a housecraft centre, and one month’s training in a regional sport centre. The Vichy Regime and the Germans also forbade certain schoolbooks. Consequently, they modified the programmes to assert the stronger continuity of French History with Ancient times. This enabled a reduction of the revolutionary and Republican impact and promoted French geography and homeland. Pupils were invited to love their local and national fatherland. That sense of belonging could induce them to remain attached to their home. The veneration of the leader, the morals for duty and sacrifice, the symbol of eternal femininity serving the family were reasserted in the educational culture. At the same time, the Vichy Regime struggled with secularism and supported private schools, giving numerous grants to Catholic schools thanks to the Law of 2 November 1941. The Minister Jacques Chevalier, with the 6 December 1940 Act, restored duties to God in civic and moral instruction programmes for primary schools (those duties had been suppressed in 1923). The Ripert Act on 15 October 1940 allowed the local education city office to award grants to poor pupils who attended private schools. The Jacques Chevalier Act on 6 January 1941 allowed cities to finance equipment charges and operational costs concerning the private schools (and especially lighting, heating and lunchrooms). The 6 January 1941 Law, by welcoming God in schools and asserting that religious instruction could exceptionally be delivered by a priest in educational buildings, modified one fundamental pillar of the French Republican School. With the 10 March 1941 Law, Jérôme Carcopino, faced with such a great number of opponents, demanded that religious instruction became optional and was studied off school premises. he Vichy Regime also reformed school organisation. Jérôme Carcopino launched the main transformations with the 15 August 1941 Act. Higher Primary Schools became modern secondary schools and were linked to secondary education in the hope of weakening them. At the same time, the selection process was reinforced. Primary schooling was divided into two cycles. The first included a preparatory class (for children aged 6–7 years), an elementary class (7–9-year-olds) and a middle class (from 9- to 11-year-olds). At the end of the first cycle, a diploma for preparatory primary studies was created and prescribed as compulsory if pupils intended to go further in public schooling (i.e. additional classes, primary or secondary high schools); but pupils who succeeded in the scholarship examination were exempted from the diploma. The second cycle (three years from age 11 to age 14) ended with the Primary Certificate. In secondary education, Jérôme Carcopino increased selection and, according to the 15 August 1941 Decree, the principle of free access was suppressed for pupils older than 14 years of age. This multidimensional reform had to face two major obstacles that considerably reduced its implementation. First, the war years were not favourable to educational change – the country was partly and afterwards totally occupied after November 1942. German troops occupied a majority of schools. Shortages were numerous and many teachers were imprisoned in Germany. Labour requisitioning progressively affected the older pupils, mainly student and fresh teachers. The Vichy Regime, after the succession principle failed – the principle was established on 22 June 1942 and proposed that one prisoner came back to France and was traded for three skilled workers sent to Germany – decided, according to the 4 September 1942 Law, to organise forced conscription for male workers (from 18 to 50 years old) and for unmarried women (from 21 to 35 years old). The constraint was then accentuated with the 16 February 1943 Law implementing Mandatory Work Service – Service du Travail Obligatoire STO – for young adults (aged 20–21 and 22-year-old men). All these young men had to be registered and the process made people-requisitioning easier. Therefore, they could definitely be sent to Germany. Second, there was a sort of revolt by the educational staff, who were deeply attached to the Republican values and the Jules Ferry conception of school. Indeed, they strove to reduce the scope of the legislation, rejecting the political choices of the Vichy Regime and also collaboration. If teachers, students and older pupils joined the collaborator parties, most of them remained prudent and followed as little as possible the Vichy Regime’s instructions. They commemorated forbidden celebrations and listened to BBC radio. A minority joined the Resistance fighters and got involved in the dissemination of tracts and of clandestine papers. They also committed to information networks, escape organisations or fights against the occupiers.
Fichier non déposé

Dates et versions

hal-04046393 , version 1 (25-03-2023)



Jean François Condette. La Révolution nationale et la réforme de l’École en France. Les ambitions contrariées du régime de Vichy (1940-1944). Paedagogica Historica, International Journal of the History of Education , 2019, 56 (5), pp.680-703. ⟨10.1080/00309230.2019.1676269⟩. ⟨hal-04046393⟩
27 Consultations
0 Téléchargements



Gmail Mastodon Facebook X LinkedIn More