From Toddler to University Graduate
In France, education is the responsibility of the state and is provided through a series of state (i.e., public) schools, although private schools are also available. Education is mandatory up to the age of 16 and is free until the age of 18. The Ministère de l’Education Nationale (Ministry of Education) manages all aspects of education, and is responsible for the establishment and maintenance of schools, the recruitment of staff, the definition of programs, and the administration of exams. Although education is free, school supplies such as textbooks, stationery, and other essential items must to be paid for by the parents. One will find that the shops and supermarkets selling these items are often very busy right before the beginning of the school year in September, known as la rentrée. Many of these items sell-out quite early, so it is highly recommended that one start the shopping process well in advance.
The Academic Year
The French school year runs from the beginning of September to the end of June/beginning of July. Summer vacation, known as les grandes vacances, takes place from July through August. Other than the summer vacation, there are four vacation periods. France is divided into three school zones – A, B and C. Depending on which zone you live in – Provence falls under Zone B – the exact dates of these other vacation periods will vary. Visit here for a list of this calendar year’s exact school dates for Zone B.
Vacances de Toussaint (All Saints) – one week in late October or early November
Vacances de Noël (Christmas) – two weeks starting mid-December
Vacances d’Hiver (Winter Holiday) – two weeks in late February/early March
Vacances de Printemps (Spring) – two weeks in late April/early May
The School System by Age Group
For children three months and older whose parents are employed, there is what is called a crèche or garderie (nursery/pre-school). You will find that these crèches/garderies are very popular and therefore it is strongly advised that you reserve a place in your community of residence as early as possible – and by this we mean in the early stages of pregnancy. Most of these establishments will take children as early as 3 months of age (if both parents are working) and remain open during school vacations (in some cases they are closed the month of August). The cost is based on the parents’ total income. In many cases, lunch is provided, although some facilities require parents to supply the child’s lunch. There are two types of crèches/garderies available to you: the crèche municipale, which is run by the Mairie (town hall) and the crèche parentale, which is run by an association of parents. For more information, consult your local Mairie.
The other option is a nanny, who usually works out of her own home, taking care of one of several children. Your local Mairie office will have a list of nannies in your area that are registered (known as agrées). These nannies are regularly monitored to make sure they are in compliance with strict government guidelines.
3 to 6 years – Maternal or Preschool education:
This instruction, which is not compulsory, is offered in the Ecoles Maternelles and the Classes Enfantines, which are attached to primary schools.
6-10 years – Elementary Education:
Elementary education includes three courses – the preparatory (6 years old), the elementary course (7 to 8 years old) and the intermediate course (9 to 10 years old). Instruction on this level is the same for all children in all elementary schools.
11 to 14 years – Premier Cycle (First Cycle):
The Premier Cycle covers four years (Classes de 6e, 5e, 4e et 3e) and admits students who have been promoted from the cycle élémentaire (elementary school) at the level of the classe de 6e. For the duration of the premier cycle, teachers meet periodically in a class council for the purpose of determining pupil aptitudes or interests to guide the pupils in the type of education best suited to them. The guidance council examines the proposals offered by the class councils and gives parents their considered opinions. At the end of the classe de 5e and at the end of the classe de 3e, should parents decide to follow the advice of the guidance council, the student automatically enters into the recommended section of education. If the parents feel that their child should pursue a different section of education other than that which was recommended by the council, the child must then take an entrance examination.
15 to 17 years – Second Cycle Education:
Following first cycle education, pupils are guided according to their aptitudes, interests, and their previous work toward one of the following branches of study or sections: (L) literature and the humanities, (ES) economics and social sciences, (S) science and mathematics, or toward specialization in technology (STT, STI). They will continue their studies in universities based on the work that has been accomplished over these two extremely important years.
18 years and older – Higher Education:
Higher Education is offered in private institutions as well as in public establishments. It is offered to holders of a Baccalauréat. The public institutions include: the Facultés grouped into universities, which are authorized to grant state degrees; the University Institutes of Technology, designed to train future high-ranking administrators and technicians in the industry; and the scientific and literary institutions, and research and study institutions.
In France, one will often encounter the term ‘Bac+2’ or ‘Bac+3’, which indicated the number of years of study following the Baccalauréat:
- Bac+2 = DEUG (Diplôme d’Etudes Universitaires Générales)
- Bac+3 = Licence (Bachelor’s Degree)
- Bac+4-5 = Maîtrise (Master’s Degree)
- Bac+6 = Mastèrs spécialisés and Doctorat (PhD)
Please visit our article Transferring into the French School System for detailed information on the entire process.
For help determining which grade your child should attend in his or her new school, visit our article French School Grade Equivalents.