France is known for its excellent childcare facilities and a high standard of education from pre-school to university. The French school system is open and free to every child who legally resides in the country, beginning with optional preschool (école maternelle) for children aged 3 to 6. There are also numerous international schools in France, alongside the French education system.
France has a high percentage of working mothers compared to its European neighbours, facilitated by flexible government-backed childcare initiatives before entering the French school system. The financial status of each family is taken into account, with Allocations Familiales (childcare subsidies) calculated on an individual basis.
Parents can choose from two categories of public childcare, depending on their needs. The first is “crèche collective”, nursery groups for children from 3 months to 3 years of age with around 30 little ones per “class”, looked after by around 8-10 qualified childcare professionals. Staff are usually trained paediatric nursing assistants and are trained by the National Education Ministry. Crèches Collectives tend to have fixed opening hours and can be prone to waiting lists. The second option, known as accueil familial or crèche, is to hire a nounou, or childminder. Each nanny may accommodate up to four children at their own home, with a more flexible schedule. In many cases, private nanny and childcare agencies also offer the option to subsidise all or part of their costs via the Allocations Familiales system. Some international schools in France also have nurseries or “crèches” onsite.
Unlike many countries, the preschool system is fully integrated into the French school system, with almost all families opting to enrol their children in schools in France from the start. This leads into five years at école élémentaire or primaire, followed by four years at a middle school, or Collège.
In their final year of Collège (known as Troisième), usually aged 14-15, pupils sit a national diploma called the Brevet in almost all school subjects in French. How well they do generally determines which kind of high school (Lycée) they will go on to attend for the final 3 years of their education. Lycées are divided into general and technical or professional categories. General Lycées offer the French Baccalaureat qualification (the equivalent of British A-Levels), with technical and professional Lycées offering specialised hands-on training in careers from carpentry to patisserie and hospitality courses. Unlike independent technical colleges in the Uk, these specific career-orientated courses offering non-traditional school subjects in French are part of the mainstream French education system, in tandem with the more academic Baccalaureat qualification. Depending on academic achievement, students are split into these different schools, which can greatly influence their options later in life. For teenagers with a specific goal in mind this can be greatly beneficial, or highly frustrating depending on their individual set of circumstances.
Parents should enrol their children into French state school at their local town hall, and must provide proof of identity and residence, and a fully updated vaccination certificate. State schools in France from pre-school level to the end of Lycée are allocated based on pre-determined catchment areas (known as the carte scolaire). If parents would prefer to send their child to a different school outside the catchment area where they live, they must obtain special permission from their local Mayor’s Office (La Mairie). As a general rule, all public and most private schools will teach lessons exclusively in the French language, with a diverse network of independent international schools in France teaching curriculums from around the world in a mix of languages.
The French grading system is based on an average mark out of 20, or “La Moyènne” . This is earned for each subject and then an overall grade out of 20 is calculated. In general at most stages of their schooling if a pupil achieves an average mark of 10-8 or below at the end of the year, they will be held back to resit the year. Known as Redoublage, this is fairly common with no stigma attached for the pupils following the French school system. Nonetheless this can seem strange or discouraging to international families unused to this concept.
There are also many private schools (écoles privées) throughout the country. French private schools can be divided into two categories; sous contrat (partially subsidised by the government, and thus more likely to follow the national syllabus), or hors contrat (fully independent). Independent schools often follow less conventional teaching methods such as Montessori or multi-lingual teaching and can be much more expensive than the state French education system. As France is officially secular, many French private schools also have a religious background (as religious education is not part of the state curriculum).
The French International Schools Directory is a useful resource for parents looking for more information in English about international schools in France.
For more detailed information on international schools in France, as well as recommendations from parents on education in France, please visit MumAbroad.com.