While Sam and Brenna have been in France for a few years and Brenna an au pair, we don’t pretend to know much about children’s education. We know there is this thing called the BAC and it’s a huge deal for all high school-aged kids. And that there are two obvious options for educating your child as we see them: 1) Public Education, 2) Private Education. We’ve read a lot of expat sites and the information on schooling in France is usually dated, so we’ll give you some long-standing facts.
- Nursery – Crèche
- Ages 2 months – 3 years, Optional
- A form of child care, not so much education
- Nursery School – École maternelle
- Ages 3-6, Optional
- Primary School, Elementary School – École primaire
- Ages 6-11, Compulsory
- Secondary School, Middle School – Collège
- Ages 11-15, Compulsory
- Secondary school, High School – Lycée
- Ages 15-18, Compulsory through the age of 16
As we said, we read a lot of expat sites to find out how the system works, and a lot of the comments find the information to be dated and inaccurate, so we will cut to the chase and tell you where to find the most accurate and current information: the government’s Ministry of Education site
But here ARE some basics and unchanging facts. To register your child you need to contact the service des écoles at the mairie of your arrondissement. If your child is arriving from outside France and is entering collège or lycée, you will need to contact the educational district’s administrative head, the rectory. You can find this information on the above Ministry of Education’s website.
All foreign documents will need to be translated by an official translator, just like for any other public service you will need in France. You will be asked for the same documents for both public and private schools:
- birth certificate
- proof of parents’ identity
- proof of immunizations
- proof of place of residence
- proof of insurance
Private schools are either subsidized by the government, sous contrat, whereby the government pays the teachers’ salaries and the school follows the national curriculum and schedule, or hors contrat whereby they are totally privately funded. Naturally, private schools sous contrat usually have a lower tuition than schools hors contrat. We won’t quote prices because that will certainly change. For budgeting purposes, take the number you’re anticipating in your head and double it.
Bilingual programs do exist in public schools, but they’re few and far between. In most cases, you will have to go the private school route for a bilingual education. American and British schools are private and follow the curriculum from their respective countries.
- The grade your child is placed into is determined by the calendar year of birth.
- Your child can anticipate approximately 26 hours of class per week in public schools; students preparing the BAC (baccalauréat) may have as many as 40 hours per week.
- There are about 158 school days per year.
- A typical school day has three hours of classes in the morning, with a two hour lunch break during which the child can stay at school for lunch at the cantine or go home for lunch, followed by three more hours of classes.
- The big breaks for public schools are two week periods in October/November, December, February/March and April/May.
- Report cards are distributed three times a year, once per trimester.
The BAC stands for baccalauréat. Ottavia does a great job summarizing this horrific French tradition of fact cramming and stress-inducing examination in the video above. In sum, it is the final exam for French high school students to be able to enroll in a French university or apply to a preparatory school for the grandes écoles. A high schooler can take the BAC in literature and language (L), science and math (S), or economics and social sciences (ES). The S bac is considered the hardest. There are a few technical BACs such as lab work, but also for dance and music.