alternatives éducatives : des écoles, collèges & lycées différents
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I Colloque Freinet à ... Londres I
I Freinet dans (?) le système "éducatif" (?) français ? I
Le mouvement Freinet : passé et présent
Gerald SCHLEMMINGER - History of Freinet Pedagogy
Liliane MAURY – Freinet and Wallon : on the Part Played by Psychology in School

La coopération à l’école : des questions pratiques…donc théoriques
Marine BARO – A l’école choisissons le plaisir d’apprendre avec les autres, de vivre ensemble et de se construire, dans la classe coopérative
Samia CHARMI – L’Auto-ECOLE de Saint-Denis
John SIVELL – Freinet on Practical Classrom Organization

Éducation, civilité, citoyenneté
Hugh STARKEY – Freinet and Citizenship Education
Jacques PAIN -  Des initiatives dans la classe pour réduire la violence à l’école : la pédagogie institutionnelle

La dimension internationale : présence et absence de Freinet
Nicholas BEATTIE – Freinet and the Anglo-Saxons
William B. LEE – The Ecole Moderne, an International Movement. What are the Ingredients for Successful Export ?
Tsunéo FURUSAWA – Pourquoi les enseignants du Japon ont-ils accueilli la pédagogie Freinet ?

De l’école primaire à l’université
Roger AUFFRAND – Freinet dans (?) le système « éducatif » ( ?) français
David CLANFIELD – Using Freinet Pedagogy in a University Environment : Challenges, Frustrations and Happy Outcomes


H. Starkey compare le modèle de Freinet aux traditions pédagogiques britanniques elles aussi actives et centrées sur l’enfant, mais qui opposent l’individuel au collectif.
Freinet considérait que l’enfant – libre à l’arrivée et non au départ - avait à travailler et à vivre sa liberté.
L’organisation coopérative et démocratique de la classe, avec ses  activités négociables et personnalisées, lui permettraient de conquérir son indépendance en devenant un citoyen.


The Open University


The legacy of the French educator Célestin Freinet (1896 - 1966) is a child-centred pedagogy, active learning approaches, formal co-operative structures at class and school level, pupils' publications, class and school exchanges and an international perspective. His work is perpetuated by two formally established movements in France, both of which have the word co-operation in their title. This paper concentrates specifically on the way the concept of co-operation has developed, how it is translated into the practical workings of classrooms and how it supports citizenship education. It compares the Freinet approach with that associated in Britain with the Plowden Report and concludes with some lessons that may usefully be drawn by British educators.

The Freinet movement in France

Institutionally the Freinet movement in France is promoted by two influential educational organisations:  the Office Central de la Coopération à l'École (OCCE) founded in 1928 and the Institut coopératif de l'École moderne - pédagogie Freinet (ICEM), founded by Freinet himself in 1947. Both organisations reach effectively into classrooms throughout France. The movement has grown beyond its alternative origins and is now part of mainstream provision, being supported by local and national public education authorities. The publishing arm of ICEM, PEMF, provides a wide range of classroom material used by teachers who are not necessarily members of the movement. The journal of the OCCE, Animation et Éducation, claims a circulation of 50 000. Whereas historically the two movements had their differences, based on the fact that Freinet's libertarian tendencies caused him to mistrust teacher trainers, inspectors and centralised civic education syllabuses, both now, in the spirit of their titles, co-operate extensively and there is considerable overlap in membership and activities (Descamps, 1996).

Co-operation: the key concept

If the OCCE and the ICEM share the word 'co-operative' in their titles, it suggests that this concept is central to the educational movements associated with Freinet. I will try to show what the term has come to mean in practice and how it links with citizenship education. The statutes of the OCCE define co-operative education as:

An active approach to civic, moral and intellectual education aiming to develop the spirit of mutual help and solidarity, to stimulate initiatives towards collective efforts, to give a feeling for and commitment to taking responsibility and thereby enable learning freedom, democracy and human rights (OCCE, 1986).

We can note the direct reference to civic education as first amongst the educational goals of schools. We further note that this education is active and based on co-operation, or mutual help. The process is one of affective engagement, a willing acceptance of responsibility and that responsibility precedes a commitment to democracy, freedom and human rights. These then are the principles of co-operative education.

Legrand (1996) identifies three central aspects of the Freinet tradition:

- the organisation of school life based on individual and collective responsibility;
- acquiring knowledge through personal research and through co-operation in research, also in confronting one’s conclusions with those of others;
- engaging the school with its surrounding community, educating citizens.

In a sense the first of these leads through the second to the third. The class and school organisation enable co-operative research and project work which encourage interaction with the community and translate as active education of citizens. We can note, then, that the Freinet movement is essentially about citizenship education. I will argue that it is only in a perspective such as that of the Freinet movement that the concept of éducation civique can develop away from the mere acquisition of knowledge of institutions into a real appreciation of democracy as a way of living. As one former Freinet school pupil now become teacher puts it:

I spent four years as a pupil in a Freinet school and I sincerely think that democracy can be lived, can be practised and that it leaves its mark. Allowing children to develop their knowledge (of social rules, of maths, of grammar) through experience and trial and error is a political choice. That's a truism, of course. But now, as an early years and a primary school teacher, I consider my class to be a learning community. The individuals who make up the class, the adults and the children, are citizens, who devise rules for living together in the light of the needs that come up (Ripouteau, 1996).

The point here is that active and experiential learning is seen in itself as a contribution to building democracy. The class is a community of citizens each with equal rights and responsibilities each contributing to the learning community which is a community for living. The child in Freinet pedagogy is not only an individual learner but part of a group, the class. Children's freedom of action and expression are exercised within the limits necessary to protect the freedoms of the others. In this Freinet pedagogy differs radically from individualist child centred traditions. Freedom, in the Freinet tradition, is not the starting point but the result of the co-operative organisation of the work of the class. To quote Freinet himself:

It is through work and life itself that the child should come to feel and achieve freedom. Freedom is not the starting point. Freedom is the result of the new co-operative organisation of the work of the class (ICEM - Pédagogie Freinet, 1984: 71).

Schools and the survival of democracy

This stress on freedom through community and co-operation is the fundamental insight that enables the Freinet movement to lay serious claim to making a significant contribution to developing citizenship and the renewal of democracy. Of course Dewey (1909) was already developing influential ideas about schools as models for the good society in the early years of this century, but it is only recently with the growing anxiety about the health and sustainability of European democracy in the face of globalisation and a resurgence of far right identity-based politics that French intellectuals have started to stress the pivotal role of schools in enabling democracy to survive. One such writer is Dominique Schnapper (1994) who asserts:

The school is not just for transmitting a national ideology and a common historical memory through the curriculum. On a deeper level, like the political nation, the school forms a constructed space in which students, like citizens, are treated equally, irrespective of their family or social background. It is a place, both literally and as a concept, which is constructed in opposition to the real and existing inequalities of society and which stands out against the forces of discrimination found in civil society. The concept of the school is, like the concept of citizenship, impersonal and formal. By understanding the idea of school as community, children will learn to understand and feel included in the political nation.

Similarly, Alain Touraine (1997), who, in the title of his latest book, Pourrons-nous vivre  ensemble?  (Will we be able to live together?)  expresses his anxiety about the future of democratic society maintains: 'Today, the fate of democracy, defined as a polity of the Subject, hangs on the school and the city'. He could be describing a Freinet school, though neither that name nor the word co-operation can be found in his index, when he says:

A school whose aim is to strengthen the ability and the wish of individuals to be active and to recognise in the Other the same freedom as in oneself, the same right to individual identity and to defend social interests and cultural values is a school for democracy just so long as it recognises that the rights of the personal Subject and intercultural relations need institutional guarantees that can only be gained through a democratic process.

 The 'institutional guarantees' referred to by Touraine include international law, the United Nations, treaties and human rights conventions. At a national level they are enshrined in constitutions and laws and at local level, such as the school, they are to be found in mission statements, policies and rules. The same system and the same safeguards are found at local, national and international levels.

Active learning and the Plowden tradition in Britain

Active and child-centred learning are both central concepts in a  Freinet school or class. They are also at the core of a British conception of a renewed primary education which has its origins in the Hadow Report of 1931 and found its fullest expression in the Plowden Report of 1967. Hadow concluded:

The child is the agent in his (sic) own learning. The curriculum is to be thought of in terms of activity and experience rather than of knowledge to be acquired and facts to be stored.

British elementary and then primary schools gradually adopted as early as the 1920s some elements of active learning, at the very least the nature walk, parallelling Freinet's own practice. As school reconstruction developed after the Second World War, architects played a role in creating more open schools, making team teaching and more flexible organisation a possibility. Together these developed into pedagogical traditions based on exploration and cross-curricular working at a time when there was no officially defined national curriculum.This practice was officially endorsed in the Plowden Report on primary education which recommended:

We endorse the trend towards individual and active learning and 'learning by acquaintance'.

The class should remain the basic unit of school organisation, particularly for younger children. Even so children should have access to more than one teacher and teachers should work in close association.

Experiments should be tried in associating two or three classes of the older children in the care of three teachers.

The teaching and learning style that came to be known as the Plowden revolution in British schools, after Lady Plowden who was invited by the Minister of Education to chair the committee of enquiry, is thus based on co-operation between teachers and providing children with a combination of individual, group and class work (TES, 1997). There is no mention, however, of co-operation, still less of democracy. Group work is a means to achieving active learning. It is not an end in itself. There is no explicit citizenship project associated with Plowden.

The Plowden Report, in a sense, merely reported on the good practice that had developed in primary schools in England. The majority of the 3000 teachers surveyed gave priority to group teaching as opposed to class teaching, for example. In reporting this and, thus giving it an official sanction, the Plowden Report was on very different ground from the Freinet movements. For British primary teachers, the active methods which they had developed were recognised as the appropriate pedagogical approach. The theory which underpinned their practice was that of Piaget, whose theories, the Report maintains: 'fit the observed facts of children's learning more satisfactorily than any other'. French teachers, on the other hand, have tended to start from an expectation of whole-class teaching. Co-operative groupwork has tended to be seen as something slightly exceptional, needing to be promoted by pedagogical movements such as those associated with Freinet.

British primary teachers continue today to use group-work and active methods extensively, in spite of increasingly vocal and powerful right wing opposition, starting with the Black Paper in 1969.  The 1988 Education Act was in some ways the start of an attempt to legislate Plowden methods out of existence by reducing the teacher's freedom of action.

This parenthesis helps, I think, to explain why British teachers have been slow to recognise Freinet. British primary teachers do not consider group work and project work to be exceptional or innovative. It has been part of their daily life for so long that it is a tradition and one that is still to some extent officially sanctioned. Whilst education in Britain was locally controlled, until the 1988 Act started to weaken the local dimension, active methods continued to be approved of by the teacher training colleges and by local advisers and inspectors employed by education authorities most of which were controlled by parties of the opposition. In the 1980s, to persist in using active methods was thus both conforming to local expectations and in some ways an act of resistance to a government very critical of teachers. The Piagetian methodology had no need of a movement in Britain as it was already institutionalised. However, that said, the British Plowden tradition had no theory of democracy or of the education of citizens.  British teachers have thus missed out on an essential contribution of the Freinet movements, the theory and practice of co-operation.

Co-operation in practice in Freinet classes

In fact the organisation of a class co-operative was a response to the poverty stricken rural milieu. A small contribution from each child's family, used collectively for the good of the class, could enable each child to have the basic learning materials. Participation in visits and outings could be extended to even the poorest children if the class collectively raised funds. This has become a tradition of the Freinet movement.

A co-operative class or school is a way of organising school life for its members, but it is also a mechanism for enabling enhanced learning experiences based on visits, projects or productions. The co-operative is a semi-legal structure with its own resources. In fact the word co-operative links directly to the international Co-operative Movement and in this sense is considered part of the social economy:

The school co-operative should be considered as an enterprise. Not in the sense that it makes a contribution to the national economy, but as an organisation which, having as its object the creation of joint projects, sets up a programme of work, a contract, produces accounts and is dependent on the sound management of its material and financial resources (OCCE, 1986).

As another teacher puts it:

When I take on a new class, the first thing I do is to set up a class co-operative. This means, essentially, setting up the mechanisms for a permanent dialogue between the children themselves and between the children and the teacher. As this way of working is often new for the children, they need to share their experience. They talk about it in school, to other children and to their parents. Inevitably when children are happy they show it in the playground and the dining room, and sometimes colleagues start to wonder and come and see what is going on. Co-operation and how you go about it are not taught in initial teacher training (Cahiers pédagogiques, 1996).

The co-operative class is, then, the exception rather than the rule in France. It is still not part of the official teacher training syllabus. It is something that tends to be picked up by personal contact and promoted as an exciting innovation.


In keeping with the spirit of co-operation and democracy, the decision to form a class co-operative is a collective one, though usually at the suggestion of the class teacher. Once agreed, the co-operative requires officers and funds. The teacher helps, suggests and observes but in principle does not control. The designation of officers is an introduction to democracy. Typically of the global approach of Freinet teachers it is also an opportunity for integrating other areas of the curriculum, such as maths. As one teacher describes it:

It is vital to ask their opinion about the various ways in which people are appointed: drawing lots, teacher's choice, choice of the "best", examination, rotation or votes.  The pros and cons of each option were expounded. A consensus was reached that appointment should be by vote.  (Fortunately, as how else could any particular method be selected?)

- Who must be elected?    - definition of responsibilities           or duties
- Who must do the electing?    - electoral list
- How and where should voting take place? - voting equipment
- When should elections take place?  - type of poll; mathematical

It is important for all these procedures to be specified before the election (written rules) and that the right to vote is granted by the teacher, that boys and girls have equal voting rights, that religion and nationality are not asked before this right is granted.  The count is supervised by the teacher (Sabourin, 1994).

In secondary schools the election of officers for the class co-operative runs in parallel to other formal representative structures in the school, such as class delegates for the school council or class review meetings (Jourdan, 1993).

Freedom of expression

Once constituted, the class co-operative needs to produce a project and formulate its rules. In the words of another teacher:

We have to find collective ways of working which enable us to take decisions, preferably by consensus, about the programme of work, the organisation of time and of the classroom, the rules of this micro-society and the assessment and evaluation of our work. Of course freedom of expression is essential, but obviously the freedom of each is limited by the freedom of the others, the group attempting to regulate the expression of this individual freedom within the class (Giroit and Poslaniec, 1985: 92).

The children may formulate their rules in writing, but in any case good communications are the key:

Every morning, in my class, ...we begin with a short meeting during which pupils can bring what they want and talk about anything. It is often during this meeting that we hit on the research topics that we will investigate over the following days and weeks. Some bring in books, articles, documents that they speak about briefly. Others bring their own writing or drawing or creative work. Several tell about things that have happened.

At the end of the week we have a more formal meeting to evaluate the week, to agree the following week's programme (which can be adjusted each morning) and to note and try to resolve any problems that have arisen (id.).

This tradition is also illustrated in the video made for the Freinet centenary (CIEP, 1996). The teacher, Marine Baro describes the morning session as 'je présente' (I share). This corresponds to the practice in British schools of 'circle time', which developed from the mid 1980s.

Such meetings do not necessarily need a record, but decisions about project work requiring the raising of funds may need to be more formal. Such formal meetings are conducted by the elected officers, chair, secretary and treasurer. Children from the early and middle years of the primary school are initiated into these formal roles. One of the first tasks of a co-operative is to agree the 'contract for the life of the class', in other words the rules by which the class will live.

The class contract

The drawing up of the contract may well use as a starting point the contract of the previous year, or of another class, but it will be amended to suit the particular conditions of the new group. Here are some extracts from the contract of a class of 8 and 9 year olds from Vignot:

I respect what others are saying.
I take care of things in the class whether they are the school's, my classmates' or my own.
I behave sensibly: people can trust me and give me responsibility.
If I don't understand, I tell someone.
I never make fun of others for whatever reason.
I have the right to disagree with the teachers and to tell them so politely.
I write helpful suggestions politely and put them in the suggestions box.
The teachers agree not to raise their voices, to keep to the timetable and do everything agreed by the class, never to punish without the agreement of the class, to do their utmost to ensure everyone achieves.
If I don't respect this contract, the group can pardon me or decide on a punishment. These decisions are taken after a discussion and a vote if necessary.

The class teacher comments that the advantage of the contract is to make explicit what is too often hidden. The contract, which may seem like a list of detailed rules, expresses the essential values on which the life of the class is based, and in particular the idea that freedom is not about lack of regulation, but comes from an understanding of rights and responsibilities (Aubertin, 1996: 18).

Projects and curriculum integration

Typically a co-operative class will run one major project in a school year. This might be a few days exploring a region on bicycles, a dramatic performance, a class exchange involving a visit abroad and receiving guests, a visit to a nature reserve involving a boat trip. In other words, the class agrees to undertake something beyond the usual curriculum, but in which all are involved. Once the project is decided, funds have to be raised. Parental contributions may certainly help, but the children themselves are expected to make an effort too. One classic fund raising approach is to sell cakes to other pupils during break or lunch times, another is to make and sell calendars at the end of the year.

The major project is a direct successor to Freinet's own practice.  He encouraged children to follow their own lines of research and gave them opportunities to suggest class investigations or projects. His class would regularly leave the school building to study and observe animal and plant life in the locality, the children themselves being encouraged to be inquisitive and discuss. This direct contact with the local environment, whether natural or social, is still very much a feature of the Freinet tradition. In a collective book entitled History Everywhere, Geography the Whole Time secondary school teachers suggest that space and time, the essence of geography and history, are present in any situation.

When curiosity is sparked off by contact with real life, young people ask questions about their environment and feel a need to understand, to know how the different parts of their surroundings inter-relate. They formulate hypotheses which they try to check on the spot, they work on real life situations which they personally experience and which enable them to develop more abstract generalisations. ...These pupils no longer put up with their environment as fixed and unchangeable; they realise that, like the organisation of their class, the space in which they live can be modified, that nothing is permanent  (ICEM - Pédagogie Freinet, 1984: 39).

The major project is an integrated learning experience involving all parts of the curriculum. It is a democratic form of learning in that the participants have real choices and themselves make all major decisions.

The members must be given time to discuss plans. Their first task was to organise a school trip. The officers of the co-operative would be in charge of collecting parental permissions and financial contributions, solving any difficulties, and then preparing the visits. A meeting of the whole co-operative  organised ways in which the visit could be put to use. Alone or working in groups, pupils chose the topic, particular moment or incident to report on. All presentations were programmed and contracts were prepared (Sabourin, 1994).

A co-operative project, whether a major one involving fund raising or a more routine exploration of a theme, is carefully structured. The ICEM working group of history and geography teachers suggested that a project has ten distinct phases:

1. Choosing the subject. Making up the project team.
2. Preliminary search for sources of information, including library. Keeping a list of sources.
3. Sharing the tasks in the light of individual strengths and need for support.
4. Understanding and assimilating the information.
5. Decide on how the information is to be presented (avoid reading out a text).
6. Make a plan for the presentation.
7. Draw up deadlines working back from the date of presentation.
8. The presentation (including, possibly,  posters, other visuals, handouts, video, musical or dramatic elements).
9. Questions and discussion with the class and teacher.
10. Evaluation. A mark, awarded on criteria. Feedback. What the team feel went well and what could be improved. Communicating results beyond the school (e.g. to partner schools, newspapers).

The working group describes the project as an iceberg, largely hidden from view. There is a visible product, the presentation of the conclusions, but this is the final stage of a lengthy sequence. The work of preparation in the first seven stages determines the quality of the outcome. The results of the project are always presented to the group. In other words each project team is accountable to the other members of the class and are prepared to discuss their findings. The evaluation of the project will include suggestions from the class teacher, but also reflections by the members of the project team themselves to help them with their next project.

In France civic education is a notoriously problematic subject for teachers to cover, often producing dull textbooks (de Closets, 1996) and uninspiring lessons (Roche, 1993). The Freinet methodology of co-operative project work can demonstrably bring education for citizenship to life (CRDP, 1989). This was indeed recognised by the working group on civic education which produced the recommendations largely adopted as the current syllabus. The group proposed that a certain number of hours be freely allocated to enable blocks of time to be devoted to project work and visits (Ministère de l'Education Nationale 1993).


Whereas, in Britain, the political debate on education has tended to polarise around the false dichotomy of formal as opposed to informal methods, the co-operative education movements of France provide many lively examples of formalised learning in a context based on living together within a framework of universal values, human rights for short. British traditions certainly encourage co-operative working on projects and often stress groupwork. The aim, however, is a pedagogical one rather than a social or indeed political one.

What British educators can learn from the Freinet movement is first, that an explicit commitment to building democracy is in itself a legitimate and worthwhile educational aim. Indeed, without such a commitment, the future of democracy itself may be threatened. Secondly, it follows that this explicit commitment should be followed by opportunities for the formal practice of democracy. It is precisely the formality of the class co-operative that strikes the British observer, and yet it is this formality that enables differences of background or family values to be reconciled. The rules of procedure are agreed and they are inclusive. Classes and schools operating within these structures have a real opportunity to become democratic communities of citizens.

(Parts of this paper are reproduced from chapter 9 of Osler, A. and Starkey, H. (1996) Teacher Education and Human Rights  London: David Fulton.)

Contact de l'auteur :

References and principal works consulted

Aubertin, J-P. (1996) Le contrat de vie du groupe-classe, Animation et Education No. 131, Paris: Office Central de la Co-opération à l'École.

Audigier, F. and Lagelée, G.(1996) Education civique et initiation juridique dans les collèges  Paris: INRP.

Cahiers Pédagogiques No. 347 (Octobre 1996) La pédagogie coopérative.

CIEP, (1996) Une journée en classe Freinet  Sèvres: Centre International d'Etudes Pédagogiques.

CRDP  (1989), Connaissance et rencontre des cultures à l'école, Paris: Centre Régional de Documentation Pédagogique.

De Closets, F. (1996) Le bonheur d'apprendre et comment on l'assassine.  Paris: Seuil.

Descamps, (1996) L'OCCE  in Cahiers Pédagogiques No. 347 (Octobre 1996).

Dewey, J. (1909) Moral Principles in Education, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Giroit, A. and Poslaniec, C. (1985) Une journée à l'école Freinet . Paris: Retz.

ICEM - pédagogie Freinet (1984) Histoire Partout, Géographie Tout le Temps,  Paris: Syros.

Jourdan, P. (1993) Délégué Flash, Grenoble: CRDP.

Legrand, L. (1996) in  Animation et Education No. 131,  Paris: Office Central de la Co-opération à l'École.

Ministère de l'Education Nationale (1993) L'éducation civique aujourd'hui: propositions du Groupe Technique Education Civique. Paris.

Mougniotte, A. (1994) Eduquer à la démocratie, Paris: Cerf.
OCCE (1986) Qu'est-ce que l'OCCE?  Paris: Office Central de la Co-opération à l'École.

OCCE  (1996), Animation et Éducation No. 131, Paris: Office Central de la Co-opération à l'École.

Osler, A. and Starkey, H. (1996) Teacher Education and Human Rights  London: David Fulton.

Ripouteau (1996) Quand la classe est réellement une communauté éducative  in Cahiers Pédagogiques No. 347 (Octobre 1996).

Roche, G. (1993) L'apprenti-citoyen  Paris, ESF éditeur.

Sabourin, E. (1994) Case Study in D. Georgescu, Final Report of the Experimental Phase of the Pilot Project No.1 of Strategies for Interculturally-Oriented Civics Teaching at Primary and Secondary Level. Strasbourg: Council of Europe (DECS/SE/DHRM (94)11).

Schnapper, D. (1994), La communauté des citoyens, Paris: Gallimard.

Starkey, H
- (1990) Pour une éducation civique fondée sur les droits de l'homme  pp85-88 in Actes des rencontres SCOLA 89, Paris, Nathan (1992) Civic education and education for human rights in France and in England pp 85 -102 in Jones N. and Baglin Jones E Citizenship in education, Kogan Page.
- (1995) From rhetoric to reality: starting to implement education for European values in Bell, G (ed) Educating Europeans: CitizenshipValues and the European Dimension, Fulton.
- (1995) Violence, Schools and Society  in  Jan Windebank and Renate Gûnther (eds) 'Violence and Conflict in the Politics and Society of Modern France', pp219 - 230 Lampeter, The Edwin Mellen Press 1995.
- (1995) Re-inventing citizenship education in a new Europe in Sayer, J. Developing Schools for Democracy in Europe : Oxford Studies in Comparative Education  5(1) 1995  pp 213 - 226  Oxford: Triangle Books.
- (1995) La dimension internationale: un enjeu éducatif Revue internationale d'éducation: Sèvres no 6  June 1995 pp47-54.
- TES (1997) Primary Update: Plowden - 30 years after an education revolution  Times Educational Supplement  24 January.

Touraine, A. (1997) Pourrons-nous vivre ensemble? Paris, Fayard.


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