Different Types of school or college in the French Educational System
Ecole Maternelle; kindergarten or pre-school
Ecoles Maternelles take pupils from age 2 to age 6 (although in some places children under 3 are not accepted), and prepare them for entry into primary school.
French education is taken very seriously and the French école maternelle is more than just a playschool and is considered a normal part of the curriculum for students. The children develop their basic abilities, improve their language and begin to discover the world of writing, numbers and other areas of learning even sometimes a foreign language, as well as artistic and creative activities.
There are three classes, “les petits“, “les moyens” and “les grands“.
Ecole primaire, or Ecole élémentaire: primary school, grade school in France
There are five classes, ages 6 to 11. The primary school curriculum in France is similar to that of other countries and includes literacy and numeracy, with classes in French, arithmetic, but also geography and history, the arts, frequently a foreign language – usually English, as well as three hours of sport per week.
All students take 24 hours of compulsory education a week. Lessons are held Monday through Friday, or four days, nine half-days, including Wednesday morning.
There is no class on Saturday morning these days. Additional support is available for students in the form of two hours of personal assistance per week as well as weekly refresher courses during school holidays.
Collège: middle school in France
Middle school or secondary school is called a college in France. There are four levels, ages 11 – 15. All pupils go to collège, usually at age 11; occasionally a child may start at a later age if he/she has been made to repeat a year in primary school.
The collège is designed to provide all pupils with a fundamental secondary education, after which a certain degree of specialisation will be introduced. Emphasis is placed on:
Mastering the French language
Languages and cultures of ancient
History, Civics, Geography
Life Sciences and Earth
Music education and arts
Physical Education and Sports (EPS)
Computers and Internet
There are additional courses available to children wishing to follow vocational programmes – you should discuss this with the school administration staff.
Children will be expected to take an exam on completing college – The National Certificate (Le Diplôme National du Brevet) – an evaluation of knowledge and skills acquired at the end of the college.
Lycée: High School in France
The traditional French high school covers the last three years of secondary tutoring in the French education system. At the end of the final year of schooling, most students take the baccalauréat diploma.
There will be more choice of lycée in large towns and cities.
Lycées are divided into three types of school:
Lycée général (or lycée classique), leading to two or more years of post–baccalauréat studies; in France, the lycée général is the usual stepping stone to university degrees.
The second type is the lycée technologique, leading to short-term studies. Pupils in a lycée technique may start to specialise in a quite narrow technical field, in addition to their general secondary studies. There are technical lycées specialising in areas such as microtechnologies or aeronautics.
Lycée professionnel, a vocational qualification leading directly to a particular career, providing essentially a non-academic syllabus for young people intending to work in manual or clerical jobs.
Pupils will either work towards a “baccalauréat professionnel” (bac pro), for which they will need to continue taking classes in the main academic subjects – French, maths, and frequently a foreign language), a BEP (Brevet d’enseignement professionnel), or a CAP (certificat d’aptitude professionnel).
A common category of Lycée pro, is the “lycée du bâtiment” or building trades lycée, where pupils specialise in one of the many trades of the building and construction sector.
In rural areas it’s common to find agricultural high schools, “lycées agricoles” and even horticultural high schools, “lycées horticoles“, providing the technical education required more and more by tomorrow’s farmers and gardeners.
Private and public schools in France
Most people outside France believe that pretty much all schools in France are state schools, i.e. in the public sector.
Although private education is less common than in some countries there are private schools available, most of them are state aided and the majority are Catholic schools in which religious instruction is on the curriculum there is no formal teaching of religion in state schools in France but it may take place after hours, for pupils who wish – at least in theory.
If this is important to you and your family you should discuss what is available with the administrators of the school you are considering.
The baccalaureate is considered a unitised exam and pupils pass or fail – it’s not possible to pass in one subject and fail in others. The only mark that counts is the final weighted average, which must be at least 50% for a pupil to pass
School holiday dates may vary from region to region, it’s best to check directly with the school administrators or check the education.gouv.fr website directly for information.
Don’t forget to check for requirements for school insurance – it is mandatory in France to have insurance cover for your children.