On This Day in Napoleonic History – 1 May 1802

13Napoleon establishes lycées in France

Educational reforms were at the top of the list of the First Consul’s priorities, who once said that education was ‘the most important of all the institutions, since everything depends upon it, the present and the future.’ Napoleon knew how important it was to speak French in order to advance, and so he made it the only permitted language of instruction.

While he was conservative when it came to primary education, putting it back in the hands of the clergy, his reforms in secondary education were  revolutionary. Forty-five lycées – state secondary schools – were set up with the aim to produce future soldiers, administrators and technicians.

Greek, Latin, logic, mathematics, physics and rhetoric were taught, as well as some other sciences and modern languages, while religion was kept to a minimum. 6400 full-fee scholarships were offered. By 1813 French education was the best in Europe and some of the Napoleonic lycées are still considered the most elite in secondary education today. The lycées served as a model in Spain and Holland, which accepted French educational ideas even as they rejected the French occupation.

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