School Education in France

In the 2022 PISA international study, which analyzed the school education systems of 79 countries in the context of applied knowledge, France ranked 26-29. While not an exceptionally high ranking, it does not prompt intentional enrollment of children at a young age, as is often seen in educational institutions in the United Kingdom. Typically, foreigners find their way into schools in France when their parents relocate to the country.

This article delves into the French school education system and outlines the requirements imposed on students there.

Previously, we covered education in EU.

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Education in French schools is mandatory for all children. Before this phase, parents enroll their child in daycare, which is available from the age of two.

Elementary School

Children in France start elementary school at the age of 6 and attend for 5 years. At this point, parents can choose between public and private institutions. However, competition for the latter is intense, constituting about 17% of the total number of schools. Additionally, private education is fee-based, making it financially unattainable for some families.

Key stages of elementary school include:

  • Preparatory Course (CP: Cours préparatoire): A year-long program designed to teach children how to read and write.
  • Elementary Course 1 (C.E.1: cours elementaire 1)
  • Elementary Course 2 (C.E.2: cours elementaire 2)
  • Intermediate Educational Course 1 (C.M.1: cours moyen 1)
  • Intermediate Educational Course 2 (C.M.2: cours moyen 2)

Students cover French language and literature, mathematics, basics of social life, world knowledge, and receive artistic education. At the end of this stage, they must take exams, and upon successful completion, they are awarded special certificates of elementary education (CEP).

High School in France

High school education in France comprises the “collège” and “lycée.” From ages 11 to 14, students attend the “collège.” The educational program during this period consists of three stages:

  • Adaptation Stage: This phase solidifies knowledge acquired in elementary school, preparing students for new learning standards and greater independence.
  • Central Stage: Students deepen their knowledge in various subjects and begin preparing for future career choices.
  • Orientation Stage: During this period, students undergo preparation for the profession they will choose in the “lycée.”

Class numbering in the “collège” follows a reverse sequence, from sixth to third, which may be unfamiliar to foreigners. In the “collège,” students typically study two foreign languages. One is chosen in the first year, and another in the second or third year.

Upon completing the course, students take a special exam to obtain the diploma (National du Brevet), necessary for progressing to the next stage of education.

At the age of 15, teenagers commence their education in the “lycée.” Unlike in other countries, French students decide on their profession early, as the “lycée” program already incorporates specializations. Those opting for a vocational career undergo a 2-year program, while those preparing for university admission undertake a 3-year program.

This educational approach in French schools is often criticized because few individuals can definitively decide on their career at such a young age. However, if a student wishes to transfer from a 2-year program to a 3-year program, they can do so with the appropriate grades.

There are several types of “lycées”:

  • Professional Lycées: These are intended for obtaining intermediate vocational education, lasting two years, and followed by an exam.
  • General Education Lycées: These include sociological, natural sciences, philological, and economic tracks.
  • Technological Lycées: These cover scientific-industrial, laboratory-research, service-oriented, and medical-social tracks.

Essentially, the “lycée” serves as a preparatory course for university or the beginning of professional activity. During their main education in France’s schools, teenagers are expected to have a clear understanding of the profession they wish to pursue.

Students have two attempts to pass the exam. If they score below 10 points, they receive only a “lycée completion certificate,” which is insufficient for university admission.

Upon successful completion, in addition to the certificate, students are awarded a bachelor’s degree. Subsequently, they can pursue admission to a university.

In France, a 20-point grading system is employed, considered more precise as it reflects even minor changes in a student’s performance.

Another distinction is the ranking system. Parents receive a monthly report with grades and the overall class score. The report also indicates the child’s rank in the discipline.

Academic Year Structure

The academic year is divided into trimesters. Unlike the conventional school schedule with a 5-6-day week and four quarters, in France, summer vacation is typically only in July and August, with Wednesdays and Sundays being the designated weekends.

Education is usually organized into blocks:

  • From 9 am to 12 pm
  • From 2 pm to 5 pm

Starting from middle school, students begin classes at 8 am. Lessons last for 50 minutes, with breaks ranging from 5 to 15 minutes. Generally, homework is not part of the curriculum, but some schools may assign it.

School holidays in France do not uniformly start and end at the same time everywhere. The country is divided into three holiday zones: 'A, ' 'B, ' and 'C, ' each with its designated start and end dates.

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Tuition Fees

In public schools, parents only need to purchase textbooks, backpacks, and stationery. School uniforms are not required, eliminating this expense for French parents. Additionally, daycare services in France are also provided for free.

After school, children can participate in various extracurricular activities and sports sections.

Lunch is served in school cafeterias, costing around 3 euros. Currently, the country has implemented an anti-obesity program, aiming to instill healthy eating habits in children and adolescents. The Ministry of Education has developed a menu that helps maintain optimal levels of calories, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats while reducing sugar intake.

Schools either receive pre-prepared meals or have staff preparing them on-site. If, for any reason (such as religious beliefs or allergies), a child cannot eat what the school offers, they can bring their lunch or go home to eat and return for the second part of the school day.

Schooling at Embassies

Some countries with diplomatic representations in Paris establish schools at their embassies. These schools are typically open to children of citizens residing in France and usually conduct classes in the national language.

The principle of free public primary education was established by the law of June 16, 1881. On May 31, 1933, free education was extended to the secondary level.

School textbooks up to the third grade, as well as materials for collective use, are provided for free.

In 2023, additional hours of reading and writing were added to the school programs for primary school students. Sports sections were divided into smaller groups, and more hours were allocated to other subjects needed for high school students.

There was also a focus on combating school bullying: preventive measures and anti-bullying activities were announced.

A few years ago, the French Ministry of Education conducted an assessment of the knowledge of 6th-grade students with immigrant parents.

The study showed that the grades of these children were nearly ten points below the national average. This was primarily attributed not to poor knowledge but to insufficient proficiency in the French language. Hence, language learning currently receives slightly more emphasis.

For a foreigner living in France to enroll a child in school, they need to contact the city hall (mairie) at their place of residence for guidance.

Children must undergo a test to determine their proficiency in basic subjects. Afterward, the city hall assigns a school and issues a document confirming the right to education. With this certificate, the child can be registered at the school.

Choosing a school is possible if you wish to attend a private or religious school. If there is availability in the desired institution, they may consider your preference. For international students, efforts are made to find a school with a special class for foreigners.

Documents required by the city hall include:

  • Foreign passports of parents
  • Foreign passport of the child
  • Birth certificate translated into French
  • Documents confirming the place of residence (bills, registration, lease agreement)

To enroll in school, you’ll need:

  • Direction from the city hall
  • Vaccination certificate translated into French (the translation can be done independently)

The process of enrolling a child in school varies, taking anywhere from a day to a couple of months according to migrants' feedback. The extended duration may be due to high competition among those wishing to enroll in a specific school.

Even when immigrants move to a European country with their families and children, many do not lose connections with their homeland. Other loved ones, such as parents, grandparents, brothers, and sisters, often remain there. Maintaining ties with them is facilitated by financial transfers, whether it’s a gift for a birthday or a significant date, assistance in challenging times, or perhaps an unexpected surprise — all these actions help preserve positive relationships despite the distance.

The mobile application Korona allows money transfers without fees from France to over 50 countries. It is a simple and convenient tool for sending financial transfers.

  • No commission for transfers with currency conversion
  • Clearly defined conditions
  • Receipt to a card or in cash at points of service
  • Instant delivery of transfers

You can download the Korona app for free from the App Store and Google Play.

In our blog, we write extensively about life and work in Europe, providing information on obtaining various documents and simplifying certain migration procedures. You can explore all topics here.