For families relocating to France, one of the biggest concerns is moving English-speaking children into the French school system. From learning the language and adapting to different school hours—here’s what to expect when settling English Children into a French School.
Choosing a French School
How will they cope? How long will it take them to understand and speak French? Will they be ok?
As parents of young children, it is understandable to have a few wobbles when it comes to uprooting your children from everything they know to embark on your French adventure.
Once the area had been decided prior to moving, it is possible to research the local schools. As is the case in your home country, schools are a very personal choice – they are run by individuals each with their own personalities and as such vary from area to area. What may work successfully for one family may not suit another.
However, there are public schools, international schools and private schools with many private schools being a fraction of the price you may have come to expect. Of course, private education does not always mean a better standard of education, so do be cautious and do not rule out the public sector. Try to find the right place to suit your child.
Your Maire will be able to advise on local schools. In order to get a feel for an establishment, a lot can be gleaned from an initial telephone call. It is often as simple as that. If it is a trial to get past the secretary, then that tells you something right there.
Visiting the School
Arrange a visit when the school is working. This will enable you to see how students interact with each other and with members of staff. It could be an idea to take your child too – they need to feel comfortable in their new setting and no matter how young, they will have an opinion!
School Life in France: Settling in
There can be a few differences to watch out for when moving to France from the UK or another country, for example, the school timetable. Expect earlier starts and longer days with longer lunch breaks in-between. In some areas, the children do not attend school on Wednesdays at all or it is a half-day timetable.
The local “Centre de Loisirs” (which is not a Leisure Centre as you might expect) often provides childcare for working parents. How much you pay for your childcare is dependent on your income. Again, you may be pleasantly surprised by prices outside of the main cities, of course.
Read our guide to Moving to France with Young Children for more ideas.
School holidays and school lunches
School holiday periods in France are different too depending on whether you live in Zone A, B or C. This is great as the holidays are clearly mapped out for the whole country.
School meals are particularly important (this is France after all!) with a comparatively longer time to eat and socialise at lunchtimes. Many primary schools source local produce, with bread coming from the local boulangerie and seasonal fruit and vegetables from local growers as well as meat from the local butcher.
Some schools provide a variety of games equipment at lunchtime and there seems to be an emphasis on ‘play’ rather than standing around. Be prepared to go ‘old school’. You may come across many a marble battle and even knitting and crochet going on in the local playground.
Read our guide to French School Days: Holidays, Lunches, and La Rentrée and France’s Primary School System: Maternelle & Ecole Primaire for more information.
Homework in French schools
Homework can be variable, as is the case the world over, although young children are treated as such and homework requirements are unlikely to be overbearing.
Children are, however, expected to reach class averages and may be asked to repeat a year due to lack of secure understanding or because of poor behaviour. This does not seem to be heavily stigmatised. Sometimes young children whose first language is not French can really benefit from that extra year to secure their language acquisition before moving on to further studies. This might be a really positive experience, so don’t rule it out.
French schooling and school reports
As a rule of thumb, do not expect your child to be spoon-fed or molly-coddled by their French teachers. That is not to say you will not find teachers who really love youngsters and care about your child’s progress, they are just less likely to discuss every single issue in minute detail and pander to your child’s every whim. Your child may even become more independent thanks to this.
You might not receive a full and comprehensive verbal report every day on their progress at the school gates when you collect them as you may have been accustomed to elsewhere, but you will receive feedback and a full report at Parents’ Evenings. You can make an appointment to see or to speak to your child’s teacher when required too.
French School Enrolment and Paperwork
On the paperwork side, your child needs school insurance and you will be asked for that certificate, along with a copy of their passport or similar proof of identity and residency. You will also need to provide dates and proof of their vaccinations, which are legally required for children to attend state schools.
Translate everything once and save it on your computer, as the likelihood is you will need to provide it again and again, depending on what extracurricular activities they choose to pursue.
Read our guide to Enrolling Your Child in a French School.
Moving English Children into a French School
Finally, do remember that youngsters are far more adaptable than us – within three months they are likely to have a sound grasp of the language if they are fully immersed and after a year, they will never look back!
Read our guide to Raising Bilingual Children in France for more tips and advice.