Types of schools
In France, schools are either public or private. Within the private category some schools are state-contracted and are funded by the government, other schools are non-contracted and have little government control, no funding, and are often affiliated with the Catholic faith.
French Education System
French Ministry of Education or Ministère de l’Education Nationale, is the ruling agency of French education that determines the curriculum used throughout all of France for both public and many private schools.
If children turn the required age for a specific grade by December 31st, they can join the class in September. For example, if your child turns three on December 15th, your child can start Petite Section in September of the same year, even though your child is not yet three years old.
Ecole Maternelle – Preschool & Kindergarten (full day and free of charge)
- Petite Section – Preschool for three-year-old children
- Moyenne Section – Junior Kindergarten for four-year-old children
- Grande Section – Kindergarten for five-year-old children
Ecole Elémentaire – Elementary School
- CP – 1st grade
- CE1 – 2nd grade
- CE2 – 3rd grade
- CM1 – 4th grade
- CM2 – 5th grade
Collège – Junior High School
- 6ème – 6th grade
- 5ème – 7th grade
- 4ème – 8th grade
- 3ème – 9th grade
After 3ème, students earn a diploma called le Brevet des Collèges.
Lycée – High school
- 2nde – 10th grade
- 1ère – 11th grade
- Terminale – 12th grade
After Terminale, students take a national exam call le baccalauréat or bac, which validates high school studies and plays a role in college admittance.
Grading Scale Equivalency
Grades in France are assigned on a 20-point scale. Here are the most common equivalent U.S. letter grades:
- 16.00 – 20.00 – A
- 14.00 – 15.99 – A-
- 12.00 – 13.99 – B
- 10.00 – 11.99 – C
- 8.00 – 9.99 – D
- 0.00 – 7.99 – F
School Day Structure
School days are long in France, and that’s because of the extended two-hour lunch break (some schools have only a 90 minute lunch.) The school starts at 8:00 am or 8:30 am and goes until 4:00 pm or 4:30 pm. In one host family, I ate at school three days a week and went home two days a week. While staying with another host family, my host sister and I went home everyday to eat lunch.
Teachers do not have their own classrooms, but move from classroom to classroom each period while students remain in the same classroom all day.
French teachers demand great respect from students, are more authoritarian, and maintain a distance from students. Their role is to teach their students, not to form relationships with them.
- In junior high school and high school, teachers primarily lecture and there is minimal teacher-student interaction.
- My teachers didn’t hesitate to criticize student’s responses and openly embarrass students, which shows a lack of discretion and concern for the student. In fact, in math class the teacher pointed out that the in-class assignment would be too difficult for me “the American,” since the U.S. has such a bad educational system. As it turned out, I was one of the only students to do it correctly. My host sister was so proud of me that she announced it to our fellow classmates during break. She would never speak up in class for that would be disrespectful of the teacher!
- Teachers are not paid very well and there seems to be low moral among them to the extent that I felt students were a burden to them. Most teachers are civil servants who are guaranteed a job for life, which does not provide much of an incentive to strive to improve and incorporate new methods.
Homework and Learning Style
- Homework consists primarily of reviewing class notes and memorizing the material word for word. There are fewer projects and papers than in the U.S.
- When teachers write on the whiteboard, they use a variety of different colors. For example, green represents examples; red, blue and black are use to distinguish the association with other categories. The students take meticulous notes copying not only the words, but also the colors by changing their ink. Four-color pens are immensely popular and I remember hearing the students’ constant clicking from one color to the next as the teacher changed marker colors.
Academic Calendar Year
- Starts early September and ends late June/early July.
- The school year is divided into five periods of typically seven weeks that are each followed by two-week vacations.
- Period 1: September/October – followed by Vacances de la Toussaint (All Saints)
- Period 2: November/December – followed by Vacances de Noël (Christmas break)
- Period 3: January/February – followed by Vacances d’hiver (Winter break)
- Period 4: March/April – followed by Vacances de printemps (Spring break)
- Period 5: May/June – followed by two months of Vacance d’été (Summer break)
- France is divided into three geographical zones that have staggered starts for winter and spring breaks to prevent overcrowding at ski resorts and on auto routes.
- In May, there are several long weekends.
- Due to student confidentiality, no student information is shared with other families or students. This means that there is no printed or electronic version of a student directory, which makes communication very complicated and extremely frustrating.
- Students and mothers may create their own WhatsApp group chat, but these are often formed within their friend groups and are rarely inclusive of the entire class or grade.
- Students do not have lockers, but cubbies in their classrooms to keep their books and papers.
- Paper is the European A4 size format, which is longer and narrower than standard U.S. 8.5 x 11-inch paper. One of two types of graph paper is typically used for all subjects: carreaux (squares) and Grand Carreaux or Séyès (French-ruled), which is used for writing and includes larger grids with lighter horizontal lines. Paper is two or four-hole punched for corresponding two or four-ring binders. However, papers are usually put into plastic sleeves prior to being inserted into a binder.
- Writing with a pen is preferable and required by teachers, except for math class in which pencils can be used.
- Some students use fountain pens, which makes their cursive handwriting even more beautiful. Students learn to write in cursive earlier than in the U.S. as French students are expected to write in cursive.
- Four-color pens (black, blue, green and red) are a must!
Fewer and fewer private schools require uniforms. In some elementary schools students are required to wear a blouse, which is a lose smock worn over your own street clothes. I wore a blouse at school during my elementary school home stay. However, during my junior high and high school home stays, I did not wear a uniform at the private school I attended.
Students use public transportation in Paris and use buses (touring coaches) for school field trips.
Extracurricular activities in the French education system are far less important than in the U.S. and have no bearing on college admittance.
- There are no school leagues or regional tournaments associated with schools.
- Students who do participate in extracurricular activities outside of school may have a few family members or friends watch them compete or perform, but it is not a social activity.
- Extracurricular activities are generally separate from school
- In high school, many students drop the few activities they may have had to focus exclusive on studying for le baccalauréat.