Are you moving to France with your children? This guide will help you learn to navigate the French education system and go through the educational resources available.

If you are an international parent living in France, you must choose the best school for your child, whether public, private, or international. Understanding the local schooling system in France, on the other hand, can be a challenging task, especially if you face a language barrier. Fortunately, this useful guide will walk you through each level of the French educational system, from preschool to university. Along the way, we’ll discuss the financial assistance and support available to expat parents.

Education In France

In France, education is compulsory for children aged three to sixteen, and it is divided into four cycles:

  • Preschool (Ă©coles maternelles) – These are ages three to six
  • Primary School (Ă©cole Ă©lĂ©mentaire) – These are ages six to 11
  • Middle School (collĂšge) – These are ages 11 to 15
  • High School (lycĂ©e) – These are ages 15 to 18

Parents, like in other countries, have the option of sending their child to a private or public school within each cycle. Naturally, there are some distinctions between the two. Children in public schools, for example, may have to change classrooms, buildings, and teachers at each stage of their education. Private schools, on the other hand, frequently teach multiple, if not all, cycles within the same building and administration.

Public schools in France (Ă©coles publiques) are also free, co-ed, and secular. Private schools, on the contrary, can choose to be single-sex or religiously affiliated, though this represents a minority of France’s private schools. They almost always pay a fee, though the scale varies greatly. While some public schools offer bilingual programs, bilingual education is most commonly found in private schools.

Class sizes in public schools can be quite large. For example, in the early years of schooling, one teacher and (occasionally) a teaching assistant will typically supervise a class of 25 children. In secondary school, one teacher for every 30 students is standard.

However, because French public schools generally provide a high level of education, only a small percentage of children (about 20%) attend private schools.

Regardless of the path your child takes, their academic interests and grades will influence which specialist streams they pursue in secondary school. After high school, they can go on to further their education, complete internships, or enter the local job market.

French School System 1

Preschool Education In France

Preschools (Ă©coles maternelles) in France provide compulsory education for children aged three to six, preparing them for primary school. Classes help children improve their reading, writing, and numeracy skills, and they may also include learning a foreign language. Preschools are also a great place for young international kids to learn French.

The Primary School System In France

Children in France attend primary school (école élémentaire) from the age of six to eleven and must complete five years of education:

  • CP (Cours prĂ©paratoire) – These are ages six to seven
  • CE1 (Cours Ă©lĂ©mentaire 1) – These are ages seven to eight
  • CE2 (Cours Ă©lĂ©mentaire 2) – These are ages eight to nine
  • CM1 (Cours moyen 1) – These are ages nine to 10
  • CM2 (Cours moyen 2) – These are ages 10 to 11

Public Primary Schools In France

Because French primary schools have catchment areas, your child will be assigned to a school near your home. You may express a preference; however, you must have a compelling reason for your child to attend a school outside of your catchment area. You will also need permission from your town hall (known as Mairie) and the school inspectorate (known as rectorat) to do so. However, in Paris, non-French-speaking children may be able to enrol in a school outside of their catchment area that provides language integration support.

In France, state-run primary schools are free, secular, and co-ed, with parents only paying for lunches, after-school care, and class outings. Students usually receive instruction in literacy, numeracy, geography, history, and a foreign language, which is usually English.

The school year in France, like in most other European countries, runs from September to June/July, with five major holiday breaks throughout the year. Before the school year begins in September, your child must enroll in school by June.

Notably, primary schools have some autonomy in terms of how they organize their week. Essentially, they teach 24 hours a week, Monday through Friday, with a half-day on Wednesday. However, a small number of primary schools (in French) have chosen to substitute Saturday mornings for Wednesday mornings or to have every Wednesday off.

Private Primary Schools In France

Parents who choose private education for their child may do so because of the school’s boarding facilities, religious values, or the perceived poor reputation of local public schools.

The French government contracts with the majority of private schools (sous contrat). This means that the teachers are paid by the state, the school follows the national curriculum, and the fees are reasonable. However, some private schools (écoles privées) are completely autonomous (hors contract). Some religiously affiliated schools and international schools may charge significantly higher fees.

Many private primary schools in France also provide an alternative teaching philosophy, such as Montessori and Steiner-Waldorf curricula. Furthermore, private schools such as écoles démocratiques, which are student-led with no set curriculum, and éco-citoyennes, which focus on environmental learning and take an even more unconventional approach to education.

The Secondary School System In France

The Ministry of Education controls France’s public schools. All children are required by law to attend school until the age of sixteen. Students attend a middle school (collĂšge) in France between the ages of 11 and 15. The vast majority of students continue their education until they reach the age of 18. Students complete their secondary education by attending a high school (lycĂ©e). There are three different kinds of lycĂ©e. Students with a more academic bent attend lycĂ©e technologique or a lycĂ©e general, whereas students with a more vocational bent attend a lycĂ©e professionnel.

French School System 2

Public Secondary Schools In France

In France, public schools are free, secular, and co-educational. They adhere to the national curriculum established by the Ministry of Education. These schools typically employ more traditional teaching methods. To put it another way, the French educational system does not promote creative or lateral thinking.

Montpellier’s LycĂ©e Joffre is a general and technical public secondary school.

Furthermore, the system does not adapt to different children’s learning styles: it is one-size-fits-all. The teaching style emphasizes rule learning and application, rote learning, and repetition. Public schools place a premium on teacher authority and set high academic standards.

Normally, public schools encourage creative and sports activities but do not include them in the curriculum, so they are primarily organized by the community or private associations.

Private Secondary Schools In France

Private schools enroll approximately 22% of secondary school students in France. In general, these schools are in high demand because the teaching is of high quality. They may also provide bilingual or international curricula, religious education, or a non-traditional educational approach. Most private schools are subsidized by the state, making their tuition more affordable for parents.

Some private institutions, like international schools, may be significantly more expensive (€20,000 per year and up), but they also provide financial aid and scholarships, which we will discuss later.

Notably, if you want your child to study in your native language, country-specific international schools are your best bet. In France, you can choose between Swedish, Japanese, and English schools (those that teach American or British curricula) or Russian schools. However, the majority of these are concentrated in and around Paris.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) In France

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a globally recognized educational program. Over 5,400 schools in 159 countries offer IB programs. In total, 23 IB schools in France provide bilingual or solely English-language education to children aged 3 to 19.

The IB is recognized as a university admission qualification by universities all over the world. As a result, this is an appealing option for international parents who want to provide their children with the best opportunity to study abroad once they complete secondary school.

Graduating In France

Students must take the baccalauréat exams at the end of high school (lycée), which assess all of the subject areas. Each subject is graded on a numerical scale of zero to twenty, with a passing grade of ten.

Currently, 75% to 80% of students graduate from high school possessing a bacclauréat diploma, and the majority go on to study at a French university. Despite this, only 44% of students who enroll in university complete a degree.

Public universities in France are open to all. The only prerequisite is that a student holds a baccalaurĂ©at (bac) or an equivalent foreign high school diploma. Admission to France’s elite higher education institutions (grandes Ă©coles) is, however, extremely competitive. Students must take oral and written exams, and only the top-scoring students are admitted. Furthermore, after high school, the majority of these students will have completed two or three years of preparation classes.

French School System 3

Financial Aid And Scholarships In France

From primary school (6 years) and up, low-income families can receive state subsidies. Notably, the back-to-school allowance scheme – Allocation de RentrĂ©e Scolaire (ARS) – can assist with the costs of school materials, the commute to school, and school meals.

Your child may also be eligible for a need-based financial aid scholarship, depending on parental income (bourse). Check the Aide Sociale (social welfare) website to see if your family is eligible. Furthermore, high-achieving boursier students can apply for merit grants. It should also be noted that individual schools may provide academic or talent-based scholarships.

National bourse scholarship applications differ depending on whether you are applying to a private or public school, a lycée, or an acollÚge. If your child attends a public school, you can complete all administrative procedures via the Scolarité Services education services portal. Private schools, on the other hand, should contact the school secretariat or administrative department directly to complete the necessary forms at the beginning of the school year.

Educational Support For Expat Students

Assume you are enrolling your child for the first time in a French public school. In that case, you should get in touch with your local CASNAV (center for the schooling of non-francophone children – in French). Specialized teachers will then meet with your child to assess their proficiency in French and possibly English, as well as their level of education. Depending on the results of the assessment, they may be placed in a class with slightly younger children or receive intensive French language instruction.

These educational units, known as UnitĂ© pĂ©dagogique pour Ă©lĂšves allophones arrivants (UPE2A), are taught alongside regular classes for other French children. Teachers will assess your child’s progress throughout the school year in order to help them integrate into the standard curriculum during that time frame.

International students who are struggling in secondary school will be mentored and receive individualized support (accompaniment personnalisé). Extra hours may be added to their schedule to improve their language proficiency or working methods. This mentoring can also assist them in deciding on a baccalauréat stream and furthering their education. Fortunately, the Ministry of Education provides resources in 12 languages to assist non-French-speaking families in assimilating into the French educational system.

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Learning French In France

You might also think about scheduling additional private classes for the child outside of school hours. So, several institutes, including the Institut de Langue Française in Paris, provide French language assistance to non-francophone children. Classes begin at €60 per week and include a minimum of four hours of instruction. It may also be worthwhile to investigate the various French language schools situated throughout France.

Support For Children With Special Education Needs

From the age of three, children of all intellectual and physical abilities are welcome in French public schools. The MDPH (Maison départementale des personnes handicapées), a local service, can create a personalised education plan for your child, known as a PPS (Projet personalisé de scolarisation).

Depending on the nature and type of a child’s disability, they can be homeschooled, taught in a local school through an educational inclusion unit (ULIS – UnitĂ© localisĂ©e pour l’inclusion scolaire), or hosted in a specialised educational unit called Établissement rĂ©gional d’éducation adaptĂ©e (EREA).

Schools can also provide smaller classes with individually targeted assistance for children with disabilities beginning in college. Segpa (Sections d’enseignement gĂ©nĂ©ral professionnel adaptĂ©) refers to these. Personal, educational support is frequently available on-site for hospitalized children.

Specific Resources And Assistance For Children With Special Educational Needs

Parents can also apply for financial assistance; the most reputable is the Allocation d’éducation de L’Enfant handicapĂ© (AEEH). Furthermore, there is a wealth of information for students and parents on the Service Public website as well as the Onisep website: the French organization that provides study information and guidance. In addition, parents can contact the Aide Handicap École helpline to learn more about services for children with learning disabilities.

Changing Schools In France

During the French school year, your child may change schools. To do so, you must first contact the new school to ensure that a space for your child is available. Once the child has been accepted by the new school, you can notify the current school principal of your decision. You will be given a document known as the certificate de radiation (cancellation certificate), which will allow you to complete the new enrollment.

However, if your child is transferring from a fully independent (hors contract) private school to a public school, they will almost certainly be required to take an exam to determine their academic level. You will have to contact the regional school administration to make this happen.

French School System 5

Parental Involvement In schooling

In French schools, each class elects one parent representative to attend school council meetings. Parents are frequently asked to accompany students on school outings and may be invited to speak about their work or share their talents with the class.

Schools may also involve parents in school life and encourage dialogue by providing an Espace or online portal for parents. Furthermore, parents can join associations, the largest of which form national parent federations. More information can be found on the websites of the Ministry of Education and Eduscol.

Homeschooling In France

Homeschooling was legal in France until recently, and parents only had to declare it to the authorities once a year. However, beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, a new law severely restricts homeschooling in the country. As a result, parents who want to homeschool their children will need to obtain prior approval.

The authorities will only allow homeschooling for one of four reasons:

  • The health or disability of the child
  • The intensive practice of a sport or artistic activity by a child
  • The itinerant nature of the family
  • A child-specific circumstance that justifies this educational path

Les enfants d’abord, a French national organization for homeschooling families, is fighting the new law.

French Lingo For School System

How To Say School In French?

School, the typical term is l’école (feminine, singular).

Leyla aime aller Ă  l’école.

Leyla enjoys going to school.

Now let us see the different French school levels.

French School System 6

How To Say Preschool In French?

The term for pre-school is l’école maternelle (la maternelle). Preschool attendance is voluntary in France.

Below are the different French preschool grades:

  1. La petite section maternelle ou PS (3 ans) = This is Nurserylevel.
  2. La moyenne section maternelle ou MS (4 ans) = This is Pre-K (Reception UK)
  3. La grande section maternelle ou GS (5 ans) = This is Kindergarden (Year 1 UK)

How To Say Elementary School In French?

In France, elementary school is known as “le primaire” or “l’école primaire,” and it is compulsory. This means that in France, children aged six and up are required to attend school (see the paragraph below about homeschooling in France).

The following are the various French elementary school grades:

  1. Cours préparatoire ou CP (6 ans) = This is 1st Grade (Year 2 UK).
  2. Cours élémentaire 1re année CE1 (7 ans) = This is 2nd grade (Year 3 UK).
  3. Cours élémentaire 2e année CE2 (8 ans) = This is 3rd grade (Year 4 UK).
  4. Cours moyen 1re année CM1 (9 ans) = This is 4th grade(Year 5 UK).
  5. Cours moyen 2e année CM2 (10 ans) = This is 5th grade (Year 6 UK).

Les Ă©coliers means elementary school children.

In French, the word l’école is frequently used to refer to elementary school.

Traditional names for teachers are “le maütre” and “la maütresse” (be careful with this word because it means both “elementary school teacher” and “a (woman) lover “
 go figure
)

In French elementary schools, a primary teacher teaches several “matiùres (f)” such as French, mathematics, geography, history, and science.

How Do You Say Middle School, In French?

After elementary school, French kids begin what we call “l’enseignement secondaire”.

It all begins with “le collùge” – Middle School. In France, children typically attend middle school from the ages of 11 to 16. In France, formal education is required until the age of 16.

The following are the different French middle school grades:

  1. La sixiĂšme (11 ans) = This is 6th grade (Year 7 UK).
  2. La cinquiĂšme (12 ans) = This is 7th grade (Year 8 UK).
  3. La quatriĂšme (13 ans) = This is 8th grade (Year 9 UK).
  4. La troisiĂšme (14 ans) = This is 9th grade (Year 10 UK).

The collùge concludes with a “le brevet” test.

Middle school students are referred to as “un collĂ©gien, une collĂ©gienne.”

There are a number of “professeurs” (un professeur, always masculine version, even when referring to a female teacher).

Camille is a good professor (in slang, “un/mon prof” or “une/ma prof”).

The first cycle of secondary studies is also known as middle school.

French School System 7

College In English Vs. CollĂšge In French

Keep an eye out for the following common French blunder:

  1. le collĂšge means middle school
  2. la fac, la facultĂ©, l’universitĂ© means collĂšge

It is confusing, indeed! The best way to remember these nuances is to learn French in context.

High School In France

Le lycĂ©e is the French word for high school. Students range in age from 16 to 18 years old. So, Le lycĂ©e can be in general studies, with some specialization such as sciences or languages, leading to the diploma of BaccalaurĂ©at gĂ©nĂ©ral (typically referred to as “le bac” – do say the “c”), or it can prepare you for a special trade (hairdresser, mechanic, cook) leading to CAP or BEP diplomas – you can stop at 16 years old – or a BaccalaurĂ©at technologique.

In France, studies are compulsory until the age of 16, but they can be in school or in a study/apprentice program.

High school is sometimes referred to as “le second cycle des Ă©tudes secondaires” in France.

Below are the various French high school grades:

  1. La seconde (15 ans) = This is 10th grade (Year 11 UK).
  2. La premiĂšre (16 ans) = This is 11th grade (Year 12 UK).
  3. La terminale (17 ans) = This is 12th grade (Year 13 UK).

Higher Education In France

Higher education is commonly referred to as “l’enseignement (m) supĂ©rieur” in France.

French students then pursue “des Ă©tudes supĂ©rieures” (higher studies) at the lycĂ©e, l’universitĂ© (college in French), or les Grandes Écoles (the French Ivy League: SciencePo, HEC, and others).

To get into these schools, you must have the baccalaurĂ©at, and Les Grandes Écoles frequently require “une mention” (jury honours) or pass a special test.

How Do I Say I Take A French Class In French?

You can’t say “French class” in French. Your class is not about French; it is about the French language.

In English, saying “French class” is an idiom.

As a result, translating word for word and saying “une classe française” is incorrect.

So, here are some possible translations for discussing your French class:

  • I am taking a French class – “Je suis un cours de français” (it is linked to the verb “suivre” means ‘to follow’) 
  • I am enrolled in a French class – “Je fais partie d’une classe de français”, 
  • I love my French class – “J’adore ma classe/mon cours de français”,
  • I hate my French teacher – “Je dĂ©teste ma prof de français”

In any case, it’s “de français” for a class, never “français/française,” which is my point.

How do I Translate ‘I Study French’ In French

Here is how you can say “I study French”:

  • I study French – “J’étudie le français”

The name of the language is referred to as “le français,” and it’s masculine.

  • I study the French language – J’étudie la langue française

“La langue” is the feminine version, and the adjective “française” is also feminine.

Let’s go over the French school vocabulary we saw in this article again and add some more.

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French School Vocabulary

  1. La maternelle = preschool
  2. L’école primaire = elementary school
  3. Le collĂšge = middle school
  4. Le lycée = high school
  5. L’universitĂ©, la facultĂ© (la fac) = college
  6. Un Ă©colier, une Ă©coliĂšre = an elementary school child
  7. Une collégienne, un collégien = middle school child
  8. Le maĂźtre, la maĂźtresse = an elementary school teacher
  9. Un professeur = a teacher – always masculine
  10. Un prof, une prof = a teacher, common slang
  11. Un Ă©tudiant, une Ă©tudiante = a student
  12. Un lycéen, une lycéenne = a high school child
  13. Les vacances – always plural in French – vacation.
  14. La rentrĂ©e (des classes/ scolaire) – 1st day back to school
  15. Faire ses devoirs – to do one’s homework
  16. Une classe de français/ Suivre un cours de français – to take a French class – watch out, you can’t say “un cours français/ une classe française”, it’s a class OF French (language) in French. So, the class itself is not French.
  17. l’APEL – association des parents d’élĂšves (parent association)
  18. Le directeur, la directrice – principal
  19. La cantine – the cantine / cafeteria
  20. La rĂ©crĂ©ation (la rĂ©crĂ©) – recess
  21. L’étude – study hall
  22. Une colle – detention
  23. Se faire coller – to be sent to detention
  24. Les notes – grades

Useful Resources

  • France Education International – It is a website that gives information about education in France (in French)
  • Eduscol – It is the official website of the French Ministry of Education
  • Aide-Sociale.fr – It provides information about French social welfare, rights, and proceedings
  • International Baccalaureat (IB) – It is the official website of the globally recognized secondary school diploma
  • Diplomeo – It is a portal that succinctly explains the different types of diplomas, degrees, schools, and colleges in France