What was a primary school day like in the 1960s?


In 1960, the 19th century and post-war school began to date. France is educationally behind compared to its European neighbours. This decade was going to be a veritable dusting off, gradually shaking up the typical day of schoolchildren, required to continue their studies until the age of 16, from the start of the 1960 school year.

At 8:30 a.m., the students then return to classes where co-education is not yet the rule. 2 by 2, the schoolchildren dressed in a blouse, join their tilted desks. In front of them, the teacher’s desk and the blackboard. The maxim of the day was written there in chalk. A remnant of the moral lessons abolished by the Ferry laws of 1881-1882, it is accompanied by a discipline leaving little say to the students, motivating them with a system of good points and punishments ranging from dunce caps to corporal punishment. .

But in a decade, the primary school is profoundly transformed. From 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. then from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., the schoolchildren then follow dictations, mental calculation, geography and history. They are only authorized to use mechanical pencils or nibs dipped in inkwells. But on September 3, 1965, a decree authorized the use of ballpoint pens in schools. Victory for the left-handers and the pen dodgers!

With the arrival of baby boomers, it is necessary to accommodate more students while reducing classes. The overcrowded classes as well as the then “archaic” and “increasingly precarious” working conditions, as a report shot in 1964 reminds us, are obstacles to the quality of education. Students are on average 30 per class.

The school must also adapt to this new consumer society, working hours and the desire to spend time with family, to join a secondary residence, for the wealthiest. But schoolchildren have had school every day except Thursday and Sunday, since 1881. In 1963, the State proposed replacing the Thursday off with Saturday. Only the Church opposes it because Thursday is catechism day for children who will wait until 1969 for Saturday afternoon to be released, with the passage from 30 to 27 hours of lessons.

At the start of the 1969 school year, the influence of May 68 was visible. Gowns are no longer compulsory for the 6 million students. Girls can wear pants without a skirt on them and gender diversity fits into the landscape. The moral courses and the maxim disappear.

Minister Olivier Guichard then launched a major education project between 1969 and 1972, changing the school program. In primary school, pupils study French (10h), calculation (5h), practice early learning activities including history, natural sciences and drawing (6h).

As early as 1967, the Lichnerowicz commission had also promoted the integration of modern math and set theory, first in primary school. Avant-garde, this method is rejected by part of the teaching body.

Great novelty, the program also includes physical and sports activities (6 hours). Although compulsory since 1879, school swimming is finally becoming more democratic, hitherto little practiced due to lack of infrastructure. In 1968, a city like Angers had only one swimming pool for 90 classes. “Operation 1,000 swimming pools” was then launched by the government to facilitate access to the pools.

Long left out or even excluded from schools, children with disabilities were gradually included in the school circuit during the 1960s. A few rare specialized schools opened, but the D system, like mutual aid, remained in the majority. It was not until 1975 that an orientation law made the education of disabled children compulsory.