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State Schools in France

Submitted: October 2013

State schools in France are fully funded by the state. Education is free and compulsory from the ages of 6-16. However many children enter the education system from as early as 3 years old. The state school system in France can be divided into four stages:

  1. Early Childhood Education (École Maternelle): Ages 3-6

    It is important to note that while this level of schooling is not compulsory, these schools teach a curriculum set by the state as their purpose is to prepare students for primary school. These schools are free to all,  you will however have to pay fees for the provision of lunch as well as any childcare outside the regular school hours.

  2. Primary  Education (École Primaire): Ages 6-11

    Primary schools aim to have students proficient in a range of subjects including math, language, geography, history in order to provide your child with a solid foundation for entry into the secondary education system.

  3. Lower Secondary Education ( Middle School or Collge): Ages 11-15

    Students are given a fundamental secondary education in core subjects. At the end of their final year, students sit an exam to obtain a National Diploma (“Brevet des Collèges”)

  4. Upper Secondary Education: High School (Lycée) or Technical School (Lycée technologique/professionnel): Ages 15-18

    1. Lycée

      At the lycée, students prepare to sit the “Baccalauréat general”. At the end of the first year of this school, students select their desired series (areas of study). There are 3 series: S (Science and Math), ES (Economic and Social subjects) and L (Literature and Languages).  Testing commences in the penultimate year and is completed in the final year.

    2. Lycée technologique/professionnel

      Students who attend vocational or technical schools are trained in a particular trade or in numerous professional courses to prepare them for entrance into the world of work. Upon completion, they may be awarded a Baccalauréat technologique or professionnel.

Students attending state schools are required to follow the national curriculum which includes a wide range of subjects which are taught in French. One benefit of this standard curriculum is that if a child needs to move throughout the school year, the academic disadvantages of this transition will be minimal. An important principle underlying the state school system in France is that of secularism, the separation of the State and religion. As such, religious education is not taught in state schools.

The decision as to which state school a child attends is governed by the “carte scolaire”, which is a map that divides the state school system into geographical districts. Therefore, your child would have to attend the state school that is nearest to your place of residence.  

For admittance in state schools, you should contact your local town hall (“Mairie” https://www.mairies-france.com/) in order to register your children.  It is necessary for parents of children entering the French state school system for the first time to contact the administrative body (“Rectorat de l’academie”) in their district. For a list of all the academies and their addresses in France please refer to the following section of the French Ministry of Education website: https://www.education.gouv.fr/cid3/les-rectorats-et-services-departementaux-de-l-education-nationale.html

In order for your child to attend a state school of your choice, that is one that is not selected under the provisions of the carte scolarie system, a special waiver must be requested from the School Inspector (“Inspecteur d’ academie”) of your district.

If you are concerned about the quality of a potential state school, you should therefore carefully examine the results in the Baccalauréat (which is published in July https://www.education.gouv.fr/cid4914/les-resultats-du-baccalaureat.html) in order to assess a school’s performance before moving. Many parents often move to areas which have well performing lycées as a means of ensuring their child’s academic success.

You should also be aware that any documents required for admittance into the state school system (including birth certificates, immunisation records, parents’ means of identification, proof of residence, insurance) must be translated by official means if they are not originally in French.

It is necessary to note that the French state school system does not particularly provide for extra-curricular activities and parents desirous of such activities for their children would need to source them elsewhere (for example through the Mairie).

School bullying is a notorious issue across the globe. It is comforting to recognise that France has a strong campaign against harassment in schools and any such incidents, when reported, are treated seriously. For a closer look this campaign, please refer to the following website: https://www.agircontreleharcelementalecole.gouv.fr/



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