What to expect and what you need to know

It can often be quite a traumatic and daunting step when moving one’s child from their ‘mother tongue’ educational system into an entirely new one. The good news for those moving to France is that the French state education system is highly regarded both in France and at the international level.

The French School System

Firstly, it is important to understand the French school system. The French school system is divided into Nursery schools (Ecole Maternelle), Primary schools (Ecole Primaire) and Secondary schools, which begin with College (Collège) until the age of 15, and are then followed by either High school (Lycée) or Vocational College. This next step depends on the student’s exam results. Those children with good enough results will attend Lycée, where they will prepare for the Baccalauréat qualification. The majority of children in France continue their education beyond the age of 16.

Applying to School

In France, a child must attend their local school. Should your local school be complete at the time of admission, your local mairie will then decide which nearby school your child can attend. All inquires about local schools should always be directed to your local town hall – La Mairie.

If you would like information on the process while still abroad, you can write to the Inspecteur d’Academie of the département in which you will be living. For those ready to begin the inscription process (known in France as l’inscription), you will need to bring the following documents to the Service de l’Enseignement at your local mairie’s office (keep in mind inscription usually takes place between the months of February and April):

  • Your child’s birth certificate or passport – this will serve as a substitute for the French livret de famille
  • Your passport
  • Proof of residence – your lease or a utility bill in your name
  • Evidence of insurance – This is a certificate against school accidents, known as an Assurance Scolaire, which is compulsory to cover a child for any additional activities at school, such as school trips, etc. This may be part of your home insurance, in which case your insurer can print you out a copy. However, you may wish to take out a more comprehensive mutuelle for school insurance, and the school can recommend companies offering mutuelles.
    1 – Proof of immunization
    2 – Your last few pay slips – this is required should you wish for your child to eat lunch at school (please see below).

Once your registration is complete, the Mairie’s office will give you a form to take to the school on your child’s first day. You will also have to complete various consent forms. You can arrange for a time to meet with the Director of the school prior to the first day, but should you wish to visit the school and its premises in full, you will need to request this upon your visit.

School Meals – La Cantine

Should you wish for your child to eat at La Cantine, as it is famously referred to in France, you will need to obtain a medical form from the school. The medical form will include a list of vaccinations that must be completed. You will need to prove your child has been immunized against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and polio. Children from overseas will also need a tuberculosis vaccination. It is strongly suggested you visit a doctor beforehand in order to know which vaccinations are required here in France. You may wish to look in to having your health records translated ahead of time, as this will help ease the entire process for you.

The school canteen is optional in France, but should you not opt for the school lunch system, you will be required to pick up your child from school at lunchtime. In order to determine which fee you will be expected to pay for school meal vouchers, you will need to submit a copy your latest pay slip to the Service de l’Enseignement office (a copy of both pay slips if both parents are employed). They will determine how much you will pay based on your annual income.

At this point the process differs across the various départements in France, but in some cases you will submit paperwork to a private office established especially for school meals, which will enroll your child in the school meal system. You will then notify the school that your child is registered and you will receive a bill on a monthly basis from the private office. In other areas you will be provided with school meal vouchers for each day your child will eat at school, and it is up to you to hand in the vouchers every Friday morning for the following week.

Extra Costs

School uniforms are not worn in French state schools, which can be a saving for some expat families. However, parents will need to buy items like stationary, school bags and in some cases, sports equipment. Once your child is at the lycée level, you will also have to buy textbooks (grants are available to those on low income).

Instruction in French

Often a concern for expats is how their children will cope with instruction in French. Not all French schools in Provence provide additional support to such pupils, although you are much more likely to find such support in areas where there exists a greater expat community, such as Aix-en-Provence. It is therefore highly recommended that one find a means of additional language courses, preferably before the start of school, but ideally in conjunction with as well. Visit the language services section of our Business Directory for a list of language programs in your area.

For help determining which grade your child should attend in his or her new school, visit our article French School Grade Equivalents.

And for a detailed explanation of the school system in France, visit our article The French Educational System.