French School System


Despite the deep-rooted conservatism of the French education system and recent slipping of France in a number of educational rankings, the French school system is still considered to be among the best ones in Europe. Yet, there are still many aspects one has to know when thinking about sending one’s children to the French school. This article will provide an insight about the structure of the French school system, its principles, advantages and drawbacks, as well as you will get some recommendations about where and how it’s better to apply for schooling.

General Overview of the French School System

The French school system provides all children aged between 6 and 16 with free education, which is also compulsory. And even though it is not obligatory to send children to the nursery and kindergartens in France, the majority of French parents opt to do so. Free education is also provided to the children of foreigners, though non-EU residents should have a student visa for that matter.

The French education system is very conservative, which leads to a number of problems in the schools (you can read more about it here). One of the problems is that French teachers expect all students to meet their high expectations. If a child lags behind in some subject, it is likely that he/she will not catch up and experience problems in that subject in the future. The fact that over 40% French pupils experience problems with math just proves it. Moreover, one should point out that the French school system stresses high competition among students, given its tough selection system that starts at the age of 14 and allows to “separate” talented students from others.

school system in france

Teachers in France tend to have high expectations towards pupils

However, French schools typically provide additional (special) classes for those children who experience problems in certain subjects – though the number of such classes is diminishing along with budget cuts. Also, you can expect that your children will often have to pass tests and examinations that will help to estimate their knowledge, and those tests start from the primary school. If a student lags behind the others, it may lead that he/she will have to repeat the academic year. On the other hand, a student is able to “jump over” one class if he/she knows much more material than required.

School classes in France are typically large (one of the largest among the OECD countries), with the average number of pupils per class being equal to 25.9 in nursery schools, 22.7 in primary schools, 23.7 in middle schools, and 27.6 in high schools. Although the number of students per class has been lowering in the last few decades, it’s still considered to be quite high. Some state schools (on the outskirts of Paris, for example) are problematic to the extent that even police officers are present there, since such problems as drug abuse, vandalism, and violence have become common. In the majority of schools, however, truancy appears to be a very rare offence and parents of such children can be fined for 750 Euro.

Structure of the French School System

The French school system is structured in the following way:

  • Nursery school;
  • École (primary school);
  • Collége (middle school);
  • Lycée (high school).
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The academic year in France starts in September, while French students can enjoy a large number of holidays – 2-month long holidays in summer and over 3-week long holidays around Christmas and Easter.

Nursery School in France

Nursery schools in France (known as écoles maternelles) are designed for children aged from 2 to 6. There, children receive care and preschool education while their parents work. Attending nursery schools in France is, however, optional, yet many parents opt to send their children to nurseries. Considering that nurseries are funded by the state (i.e. tuition-free), it is a good way to let your children be cared after while you have to work. Besides, this option appears to be especially appealing for expats, as their children will be able to learn French much faster and better. In addition to that, children in nurseries get taught and prepared for the primary school, whereas they learn numeracy, writing, reading, and (sometimes, though) a foreign language!

Primary School in France

Attending primary school is obligatory and lasts 5 years (from 6 up to 11 years old). If your children didn’t attend the nursery school, then you should apply for a primary school via a local mairie. Make sure that you have applied no later than June (studying starts in September). Studying process in the primary school is broken up into five levels: CP, CE1, CE2, CM1, and CM2. On the average, children have around 24 learning hours during a week in the primary school, where they learn foreign languages, geography, history, numeracy and literacy.

Middle School in France

There are no admission tests or exams for entering the middle school, where children learn from 11 up to 15 years old. The enrollment process is somewhat similar to the one to the primary school. There are four levels of the middle school: 6éme, 5éme, 4éme, and 3éme. At this point, the aim of the school is to provide the students with general education, usually comprising such subjects like physical education, music, art, technology, physics, biology, geography, history, foreign languages, math, and French.

In the middle school, students are regularly tested and their marks start playing a significant role in their education. Upon the completion of the middle school, students need to pass exams (called the brevet) that include geography/history, math, and French. After accomplishing the brevet, students may leave the school (if aged 16 or more) or enroll in the high school (lycée).

High School in France

Studying in the high school lasts 3 years, though students are able to choose in which high school to enroll: lycée professionnel, lycée technique, or lycée general. The latter two types of high schools are aimed at students who want to pursue studies at the university later – they will have to complete La back after three years of studying in the high school and get an opportunity to enroll in a university thereafter.

Lycée professionel aimed at those students who want to get a job after graduating or take up some vocational studies later. During those three years, students study to get qualifications in one of the following fields: optics, catering/hotels, transport and driving, health and social sphere, agriculture, and building.


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