Education and Lycées under Napoleon

Napoleon Bonaparte felt that education was an extremely important area to provide and expand on.  According to Napoleon, the old system had a lack of professionalism among teachers, lack of discipline and attendance by students and lack of religious education. He believed in a system of merit and he also believed that education was just as important to girls as it was for boys. However, they needed a different type of education than the boys would receive. Napoleon’s new system was established on the first of May in 1802. This new system of education is still currently used as the foundation of what is found today in France, however it has since been modified slightly.

The new system consisted of an education for boys that was split into two parts: boys under the age of 12 and boys over the age of 12. Within the first four grades, the general topics were: reading, writing, history and use of arms. The second stage of classes after the general topics would be strictly for boys who wanted to be in the military, as a career, or have a civil career. Boys that took the military career path took classes such as: math, physics, chemistry, and other military matter courses. If one were to choose the Civil career path, they would take courses in languages, rhetoric and philosophy. Boys that choose to follow the military career path or Civil career path would graduate and usually be employed immediatley. Napoleon had very little interest in the early years of education taking place at Elementary Schools. Bonaparte did not approve of mass education systems that derived from a statewide elementary education system. Local municipalities were responsible for taking care of elementary schools, or écoles populaires.

Napoleon Bonaparte did however have a huge interest in secondary education. He felt that it was the basis of education for the future leaders in bureaucracy and military positions(Markham). In total, there have been a total of 30 lycées that have been established. Lycées, are French public secondary schools that usually replaced écoles centrales. Secondary schools were controlled by the state, yet they were established privately. All appeal court districts were requested to establish a lycée.  They were attended by students from the age of ten to sixteen and were a six year term of study. In order to increase student performance and education, teachers were given bonuses if they had a large number of students that had qualified for advancement testing within their class. Lycées also provided that one-third of the scholarships that were awarded, were given to boys that wanted to go into the military. Each lycée had a curriculum of languages,modern literature, science, and other liberal education subjects. Within each Lycée, at least eight teachers and three masters were present. The teachers were provided a pension and a fixed salary from the government. In order to provide top education and insure the stability of the Lycées , Napoleon would pick teachers from a list that the “inspectors and the institute provided” due to the fact that the “inspectors’ would inspect the schools regularly(Markham).

Napoleon did not establish all 30 lycées on his own or even within his lifetime. However, the purpose of the new system was to make their country elite and to raise a generation that could control the country and military with success. Napoleons goal was also to increase patriotism and loyality in schools and to increase the success of the middle class system. After the downfall of Napoleon Bonaparte, the system was greatly changed. However, as previously mentioned, it still remains the foundation of todays education system in France. Lycées still exist today and are just as important for graduating students trying to find a successful career. Currently in France, the two most famous and rigorous lycée are Henri-IV (Kajimoto) and Louis-le-Grand (Pline). The Lycée Henri-IV is one of the most “demanding” lycées in France, beside Louis-le-Grand. It is a public secondary school that currently has more than 2,500 students (PSL). The Lycée Louis-le-Grand is said to have educated many of France’s elites, including statesmen, diplomats and scientists. It is also the “home to the oldest and most prestigious educational establishments in France” (Présentation En Anglais). In Conclusion, Lycées have been very influential and will continue to further educate current as well as future generations.

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“Adriana Fatenko”


Henri-IV: A Lycée
Henri-IV: A Lycée

Photo: Kajimoto. Entrance on the Rue Clovis. 2006. Photograph. Paris.Louis-le-Grand: A Lycée

Louis-le-Grand: A Lycée

Photo: Pline. Secondary School Louis Le Grand, Paris,France. 2008. Photograph. Paris.

Other sources:

  • “Lycée Henri-IV.” PSL-Reasearch University. PSL, 04 Feb. 2013. Web. 29 Nov.         2013.
  • “Présentation En Anglais.” Lycée Louis-le-Grand. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2013.
  • Markham, J. David. “The Revolution, Napoleon, and Education.” Research Subjects:19th Century Society. The Napoleon Series, n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2013.


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