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Education and Schools

France - Education and Schools


Within the French education system, schooling is compulsory from the age of 6 to 16, during this time; education is also free, unless you choose to send your children to Private school.

French schools are divided into three stages – primary school (école), middle school (collège), and high school (lycée). Primary schools cater for children from 6 until 11 and then students attend the Collège (middle school) for four years, until age 15.

After Collège, French students move on to the Lycée (high school) – 16-18. There are two different routes available to students depending upon their learning preferences and their future intentions – the General/Technological Lycée is designed for those students that wish to continue on to higher education, whilst the Vocational/Professional Lycée is aimed at students who wish to go directly into employment.

At the end of their compulsory secondary education, students receive the Baccalauréat qualification. Usually taken at 18, the Baccalauréat is required to enter university or a professional vocation.

Although most French students attend free, local schools, there is also the option to enrol your child into a state-contracted private school, a fully independent private school or an international school. Depending upon the age of your child and the permanency of your move to France, you might decide that continuing their education using the English language and curriculum will be beneficial.

The French education system is generally considered to be amongst the best in the world and maintaining this reputation has always been a priority for the Government, which is consistently reflected in their Education budget.

Similarly to the UK, the majority of French schools follow the national curriculum, which is set by the country’s Ministry of Education. Since reforms were passed in May 2015, however, schools are now permitted to set 20% of the curriculum themselves.

According to the French education system, children must attend a school within a set distance of their home. If you want your child to attend a school other than the one assigned by the Town Hall, you must submit a request (dèrogation) stating your reasons.

When it comes to enrolling into a French state school, you will be required to submit an enrolment file (dossier d’inscription) at your town hall for primary schools or at the rectorat school service for secondary schools. The file must include the child’s birth certificate or passport, proof of immunisations, proof of residence, and proof of insurance.

Although most students in France attend school for between 24 and 28 hours each week, the structure of the school week depends very much upon the region, with different authorities choosing to spread learning hours over four, four and a half, or five days. The typical school day begins at 08:30 and ends at 16:30, although this can be later for older students. The timetable generally includes two breaks (known as rècré) and at least an hour and a half for lunch.

With a total of 117 days holiday each year, French schools have the longest holidays (vacances scolaires) in the world. Whilst students only attend school for approximately 160 days per year, they make up for this with long school hours and ample amounts of homework.

Compared to countries such as the UK and the USA, France’s state schools are somewhat lacking in the extra-curricular activities department. To the surprise of many expats, they don’t tend to have sports clubs or teams, extra-curricular music, drama, arts, or crafts accessories. Local sports associations often arrange both sporting and non-sporting activities in the place of school provision, however, there are usually fees involved.

Upon completion of their compulsory education, students can opt to take one of a number of paths into Higher Education. Over 50% of 18-21 year olds in France are in full time education. The French higher education system is split into three levels, in line with the rest of Europe – students begin with a Bachelor’s degree (Licence or Licence Professionnelle) and then have the option to progress on to a Masters (Master) or a PHD (Doctorat). As higher education is funded by the state, tuition fees for French students are very low, especially in comparison to fees in the UK and the USA.

For more information, take a look at the Ministry of Education.


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