The French Educational System and Schools in Paris

The French education system is highly regarded in the world and Paris itself is home to a number of excellent schools and universities. The city also attracts a high proportion of international students pursuing higher education. For many expat parents and their children relocating to the capital, what are the options when it comes to schools in Paris? How easy would it be for children to learn French and another foreign language? Where are the best international schools located? Is there a big difference in quality between private schools and public schools in Paris? In this guide, find out what you need to know about the French educational system and schools in Paris.


The French Education System

When it comes to family life, including childcare and education, expats give France a high score. In the most recent HSBC Expat Explorer Survey, expat respondents ranked France third overall, especially when it comes to the quality of childcare and schools.


According to the results of the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) run by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), the average student in France scored 496 in reading literacy, maths, and sciences, higher than the OECD average of 486.


Schooling in France is mandatory for all children ages 6 to 16. The Ministry of Education is in charge of the French educational system and sets the national education curriculum. This means that most public schools and private schools follow the state curriculum.


Types of Schools

Parents can send their children to a state school, private school, or a state-funded and controlled private school. All state schools in France are free for any child legally residing in France.


There are private schools which are under contract (sous contrat) to the French government and thus follow the national curriculum. The government pays the teachers' salaries, and this keeps the fees to a reasonable level.


Finally, there are private schools that are fully independent (hors contrat), including some international schools, but still, need to comply with French education law and subject to government inspections.


The schooling system in France begins in nursery at age three months, followed by preschool (école maternelle) from two to five years old. Primary school is accomplished from ages 6 to 10 years old, and middle school or junior high school (collège) at age 11 until 15. From there, senior high school (lycée) or secondary education follows for those aged 16 up to 18 years old, and they may choose to take up higher education by going to university.


French Academic Zones and School Year Calendar

The school year begins in early September and lasts 10 months, ending in late June or early July. There are different holiday dates for each academic zone, but major holidays include Christmas, New Year, All Saints' Day, winter and spring half-term breaks.


The French schooling system divides France into 15 academic regions, which are separated into three academic zones, labeled A, B and C. Zone A covers Besançon, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Grenoble, Limoges, Lyon, and Poitiers. Zone B features Aix-Marseille, Amiens, Caen, Lille, Nancy-Metz, Nantes, Nice, Orléans-Tours, Reims, Rennes, Rouen, and Strasbourg. Zone C includes Créteil, Montpellier, Toulouse, Versailles, and Paris.


Public Schools


Public schooling in France offers a high standard of education comparable to private schools. It's also free of charge for all citizens and legal residents of France. Check with the local city hall of your arrondissement to find which schools are available in your area and the enrollment procedures.


Like many other countries, admission to a public school at any level is based on catchment areas, which means your child's school is assigned by the local municipal education authority. If you wish to send your child to a different state school outside your catchment area, this requires authorization from the mayor's office.


You may need to show identification, proof of residence and school records as part of the admission requirements. Please note that updated immunization certificates are also needed. For children born after January 1, 2018, aside from the mandatory vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus, and polio, eight more are added, bringing the total to 11. The new vaccinations are for whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella, Hepatitis B, influenza, pneumonia and meningitis C.


Many expat parents choose to enroll their children, especially those age 2 or up, in a local nursery school for practical reasons. It's free and it enables the children to learn the French language at a very young age. Some state-funded French schools offer bilingual education using French and English, but these are mostly done in middle schools and high schools in the major French cities.


In the French educational system, a French Baccalauréat diploma is awarded after taking up and finishing a specialist stream in senior high school. The general stream includes Literature, Economics & Social Sciences, and Science. The technology streams are more science-based, such as Laboratory Science and Technology, Industrial Science and Technology, and Science and Technology of Business Management, among others.


For more information about the registration of children from abroad for primary, junior high or senior high school, please visit the Family section of the official French administration website (French only).


Private Schools

Around 15 percent of French children attend private schools, which may have smaller classes, a higher teacher-to-student ratio, and updated facilities.


The private schools in France are either state-contracted to the French government, or non-contracted which means they operate independently. The state-funded schools follow the national curriculum and follow the same rules as public schools - all lessons, tests, and examinations are in French. The upside is that fees are slightly lower in these schools than independent ones, but may also have mandatory charges such as registration fees and school meals.


Non-contract private schools set their own curriculum and offer a wider choice of subjects, and extra-curricular activities such as arts, sports, music, etc. Many are Catholic or faith-based, which means the curriculum includes religious studies. Some private schools also offer bilingual education or offer classes for non-French speakers. Fees for private schools are generally higher than public school and the state-funded private schools. Admission procedures also vary with each school and may require proof of residence and school records.


Some private schools offer an International Option Baccalaureate (IOB) instead of the French Baccalaureate diploma for the final years of high school. To qualify, students must have studied in a school with an international program during the second and final year of the International Baccalaureate course.


International Schools


The Paris Region is home to around 38 international schools, and like most, charge higher fees than private schools. However, they may also have more flexible admission policies when it comes to expatriate children.


International schools may follow the curriculum of a certain country or subscribe to the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Among the international schools in Paris that offer the IB program are the American School of Paris and the International School of Paris.


Higher Education in Paris

Having a baccalauréat or its equivalent allows your children to enroll in a public university in Paris. One requirement is to prove their fluency in French is at a level appropriate for their chosen course via a written and oral test.


They may choose to apply at any of the universities in France, or in the Paris Region. Several renowned institutions such as the Research University Paris, École Polytechnique, Pierre, and Marie Curie University, University of Paris-Sud, and Paris-Sorbonne University are in the top 200 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2018. Today, the Paris-Sorbonne University and Pierre and Marie Curie University, which used to be part of the University of Paris, are now known as Sorbonne University.


Interested students can choose to do one or two years of further study to enter some of the elite educational institutions in Paris, known as Les grandes écoles. These include engineering and business schools such as INSEAD and HEC Paris, which rank second and third, respectively, in the QS World University Rankings for the Global MBA category in 2018. 

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