Going to school in FranceWe are coming to live in France with our children. Can you advise us on schools?

To find out which schools there are in a given area, you need to get on the website for the French local education authority (rectorat) of the French regional education authority (académie) where you are going to live. For example: if you want to find schools in Angoulême, you’ll need to look up the académie de Poitiers.

You will find a map of French académies on the Ministry of Education website, under the heading l’école dans votre region, plus details of how to enrol your child at different types of school.

There are a few international schools with bilingual teaching to the French syllabus, geared to help children integrate into the French system or return to their own system easily. They are excellent and offer boarding facilities, but are hard to get into.

The list of each is to be found in l’école dans votre region, under entrée à l’ecole élementaire, collège, lycée, according to the type of school you are looking for. Here are the direct links to lists of the international schools in France: Primaire (Primary); Collège (Secondary); Lycée (College).

We are coming to France for 6 months next year. How easy will it be for our children, aged 6 and 8, to settle into a French school?

Try if possible to arrive at the beginning of the year, as this will make it easier for them to settle in and make friends. Primary age children should find it fairly easy to adapt and learn the language, especially if you also encourage them to mix with French children of their age, in out of school sports, for example.

The other key to success is to make sure you follow their school work, keep in regular touch with teachers, and if your French is not up to helping your children, get private tuition to help them through the first year.

How easy will it be for our daughter of 17 to fit into the French high school? We are coming to France for a year in the first instance, maybe longer.

Unless her French is already very good, not just basic, she will be lost. If she goes into première, it is the first year of the Baccalauréat, with an examination in French literature in June. No one, children or teachers, will have much time to help her. So it’s a sink or swim situation. If she can just use the year just to pick up some French, and it won’t be a handicap back home the following year, why not give it a try? Even putting her in as a weekly boarder could help the French immensely. Ask the headmaster about this option before you arrive.

Many children get quite bored if they don’t understand what is going on, as well as depressed at failing all the time. Are there no national correspondence courses from home that would enable her not to lose out on a year? You will need to inform your town hall if you opt for a homeschooling, as education is obligatory, and you may be inspected, so a course with national accreditation back home would be essential.

Will my child be given special French courses at school?

Not necessarily. Some schools offer the FLE (Françáis Langue Etrangère) option, mostly in big cities. Before you enrol your child, enquire at the Rectorat, or check on the Rectorat list of schools which offer FLE.

If you are going to settle in France, another option could be to put your child in an intensive French for foreigners course, over the preceding summer. Check out www.fle.fr
for a list of schools. Not all take under 18s.

Is it obligatory to send a child to nursery school?

Obligatory education begins at age 6. However, the vast majority of children in France go to the nursery school from age 3, and follow a curriculum that covers everything from oral expression, an introduction to reading and writing, nature and science study, sports activities… Children who go straight into the primary system almost inevitably get left behind, as they have missed out on so much primary school preparation; as a result, a large percentage have to repeat their first year in primary which is never a good start to schooling.

It is much better to put your children in the nursery system, where they should learn French very easily and make good friends. Arriving in primary school is also hard, socially speaking, as most children have already got to know each other by then in the nursery school.

I am a qualified secondary school teacher in my own country. Can I work in France as an English teacher?

You will only be able to work in the state system if you have an EU nationality.

If you have the equivalent of Bac + 5 ( 5 years post school higher education, with diplomas to show), you are entitled to sit the teachers’ competitive examination or concours, CAPES (certificat d’aptitude pour l’enseignement secondaire) in any subject for which you consider you have the level, not only English.

Bear in mind however, that the examinations require a very high level of French in order to pass, and that, if you pass, you will need to be fluent in French in the workplace to communicate with teachers, pupils, parents, and write school reports, for example.

Preparing for the CAPES is hard. You need to be able to put aside several hours of work each day for the entire year preceding the examination. You can prepare for it via the CNED, centre national d’enseignement à distance or in your local university. However, before you do, contact the Service des Examens in the Rectorat in the Académie where you live (it will be in the capital of your region), and find out whether your qualifications are recognised and whether you need to take the CAPES externe, or whether you are entitled to sit the CAPES interne, for qualified teachers already in service. The latter can enable you to by-pass practical training and just have an inspection in order to qualify. It doesn’t get you out of the exam, though!

Some people try to hedge their bets by sitting both examinations (they have a common core syllabus, but with more pedagogy in the CAPES interne). For the syllabus, again check out the Ministère de l’Education Nationale website, www.education.gouv.fr
under Concours, for further details, and the syllabus which is published in June or July each year, with enrolment the following October.

Jacqueline Karp