Education in France - an overview | WorldRemit (2023)

If you’re thinking of moving to France with your family, be prepared to navigate all the ins and outs of the education system in France. It can be a daunting task, especially if you don’t speak the language. That’s where we can help. In this guide we’ll take you through all the different stages and things to consider.

The good news is that education in France is highly rated as giving students a quality learning experience. That’s because the French government and people really appreciate the importance of education. And so, they provide substantial money towards education.

However, French schools are also known for being strictly educational. Chess, drama, dance or swim clubs - in fact, most extracurricular activities will probably have to be organised away from school. That’s because much of school funding goes to pay for low or no costs of tuition.

Education stages in France

The schooling system in France makes education compulsory for children between the ages of three and 16 and consists of four stages:

You can choose to send your child to a private or a public school within each cycle. Though, of course, you’ll pay for private education.

In the state schools children may have to change buildings, classrooms, and teachers at each stage of their schooling. Whereas in private schools, several, or even all stages, are taught within the same premises and administration.

Preschool education in France (École maternelle)

French preschool education (écoles maternelles) is for children aged three to six years old and helps prepare them for the next stage - primary school. Even at this early age, attendance is compulsory.

Classes focus on reading, writing and numeracy skills, and sometimes include learning a foreign language. This stage offers young international children an excellent way to learn French. The earlier you start, the easier it is to pick up. Preschool is divided into these stages

  • Petite section - ages 3 to 4

  • Moyenne section - ages 4 to 5

  • Grande section - ages 5 to 6

Primary education in France (École élémentaire)

The vast majority of children in France attend a state primary school. These are free, secular, and co-ed. Parents only pay for lunches and class outings - though there may be help for low-income families. Most schools also offer before-school and after-school care, which your child can attend if necessary. Private education is also available.

In primary education there are five levels:

(Video) Education System In France

  • CP (Cours préparatoire) – ages six to seven

  • CE1 (Cours élémentaire 1) – ages seven to eight

  • CE2 (Cours élémentaire 2) – ages eight to nine

  • CM1 (Cours moyen 1) – ages nine to 10

  • CM2 (Cours moyen 2) – ages 10 to 11

Teachers follow a national educational program. From the first years (CP, CE1, CE2), children start learning a second language. They’re also encouraged to ask questions and practice art, music, and sport. Plus, they're introduced to moral and civic education. In the later years, CM1 and CM2, history, geography, science, and art history are introduced.

Tests and evaluations take place throughout the year to help teachers judge the progress of each child.

Children generally receive 24 hours of teaching time, with many schools closing for all or part of Wednesday. The school year starts in September, and ends in early July - with a number of school breaks in between.

Secondary education in France

The vast majority of secondary school pupils in France attend public, state-operated schools. Around 15% of students attend private secondary school. Most of these are Catholic, however, some private schools offer other forms of education, including international and bilingual schools.

By law, all children must attend school until they are 16. Between the ages of 11 and 15, students in France attend a middle school (collège). And the vast majority stay to continue their education until the age of 18.

Secondary education in France consists of cycles: middle school (collège) and high school (lycée). Students attend middle school from the age of 11 to 15 and high school from ages 15 to 18.

Collège or Middle School

Middle school (collège) in France is composed of four years of study:

  • Sixième (6ème) – ages 11 to 12

  • Cinquième (5ème) – ages 12 to 13

  • Quatrième (4ème) – ages 13 to 14

  • Troisième (3ème) – ages 14 to 15

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French collèges generally teach the following:

  • French

  • Mathematics

  • Science (chemistry, physics, but not biology)

  • History and geography

  • Technical education

  • Art and music

  • Physical education

  • Civic education

  • A foreign language

At 15 years old, students sit the brevet, the Diplôme National du Brevet (or Brevet des Collèges). This test assesses them on French, mathematics, and history/geography. Students can leave school once they turn 16. Though most continue to a lycée.

High school (Lycée)

Student choosing to continue the last three years of secondary education will follow one of three study streams in high school (lycée):

  • General (lycée générale) – academic training

  • Technical (lycée technologique) – arts/applied sciences/technical training

  • Professional (lycée professionnel) – vocational training

Some high schools (lycée polyvalents) incorporate all three training paths.

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All lycée or academic streams consist of the following three levels:

  • Seconde – ages 15 to 16

  • Première – ages 16 to 17

  • Terminale – ages 17 to 18

Exams and diplomas

General (Lycée Générale) - At the end of high school, students can sit one of several different baccalauréat exams, which gives them entry to a public French university.

Technical (Lycée Technologique) - here students are preparing for further higher education in specific non-academic, technical fields, such as hospitality management or costume design. There are eight types of baccalauréat technologique, or exam streams, which cover 17 specialist technical fields.

Professional/Vocational (Lycée Professionnel) - this study stream prepares students for vocations (such as plumbers or beauticians) after collège by integrating apprenticeships and professional training into their high school curriculum. Therefore, it’s the best way to enter the workforce right after high school.

There are over 100 different specialities to choose from - and a number of possible diplomas. This might include the Certificat d’aptitude professionnalle (CAP) or Brevet d’études professionnelles (BEP). After finishing three years of this type of lycée with a Baccalauréat Professionel students can still apply for university. However, most go on to vocational training.

Higher education in France

Vocational diplomas

Those attending a Lycée Professionnelusually go on to study a BTS (Brevet de technicien supérieur) or DUT (Diplôme universitaire technologique) which are two-year technology-oriented degrees. BTS courses are offered by high schools and DUTs are awarded by universities.

Academic diplomas

There are three types of higher education institutions in France:

Universities - these are public institutions that offer academic, technical, and professional degrees to any student who has obtained a baccalaurét or its foreign equivalent. University study leads to degrees in many fields. Degrees are awarded at three different levels of achievement, called cycles, within a framework referred to as licence (bachelor degree), master, and doctorat.

Grande écoles - are high prestige, selective public and private institutions and only a minority of students attend them. They offer more specialised three-year courses of study in subjects such as business, public administration or engineering. All students must have a baccalauréat to apply. Many have taken a two-year preparatory course (cours préparatoires or prépas). All have to take a competitive exam to get a place. Students graduate from a Grande école with a master's degree.

Specialised schools - these are public or private institutions that train students for professional careers in specific fields, such as art, architecture, social work or tourism. They offer licence and master degrees.

The US & UK equivalent of french degrees and diplomas

A French licence, a three-year course of study, is an undergraduate degree equivalent to a bachelor's degree in the English-speaking world.

After the licence, students can complete a master, a two-year course of study equivalent to a master's degree. This can be a professional degree (master professionnel), e.g. law, business, or engineering, or it can be a research degree (master recherche), leading towards doctoral work.

Students with a master recherche may complete an additional three years' coursework to qualify for a doctorat(doctoral-degree (PhD) equivalent).

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The grading system in France

Grading in the schooling system in France is put on scale between 0 and 20, with the average pass being 10/20. Evaluations are made to see the progress of students each trimester and then with an overall year grade. This determines if a pupil passes onto the next class.

Living abroad and sending money home

So, we’ve looked at the education system in France - but there are other things to consider when moving. You may, even, be considering a move to another country. If so, don’t forget to check out our blog for more resources and guides to living abroad, and how to send money back home to your family with WorldRemit.

Education in France: FAQs

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions.

What time does school start in France?

  • Preschool and primary school: School starts at 8.30 and finishes at 16.00. School runs 5 days a week, though most schools have Wednesdays off, or only work in the morning. That adds up to 24 hours per week.

  • Middle school: School starts at 8.00 and finishes at 17:30 - that’s 26 hours per week. Though there may be some free periods during the week where students go to study hall.

  • High school: School runs between 8.00 and 18.00. The number of hours will depend on class grade and speciality. But it averages 28.5 hours per week with free periods.

How long is the school year in France?

The school year lasts 10 months. It begins in early September and ends in late June, or early July. There are four school holidays spread over the year:

  • in late October (Toussaint)

  • at the holidays season (Christmas/New year)

  • in the winter (February/March)

  • in the spring (April/May)

Is school free in France?

Yes. Public schools in France are free, secular, and co-ed. They follow the national curriculum that is set by the Ministry of Education. There are, of course, private fee-paying schools too.

What age do you start school in France?

In France, school is compulsory from three years old until 16. Your child's year of birth determines when they start school, and the school year starts at the beginning of September.


Disclaimer: The contents of this blog post does not constitute legal or financial advice and is provided for general information purposes only. If you require specific legal and / or financial advice you should contact a specialist lawyer or financial advisor. Information true at time of publishing.

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How is the education system in France? ›

The French education system offers an inflexible approach to education; one where the teacher has absolute authority, tough grading and rote learning are the norm, and high academic standards are demanded in reading, writing and arithmetic. The French don't expect children to have 'fun' at school.

How important is education in France? ›

Education in France is known globally as both competitive and exceptional when it comes to giving students a quality learning experience. This is because the French government and the French people understand the importance of education, thus they continue to provide substantial money towards their education systems.

Why France is the best country for education? ›

Why study in France? According to students reporting on what it was like to study in France, the country offers a great multicultural study experience, bringing together cultures from all over the world. Students appreciate the beautiful, developed cities and the great variety of social life available.

Does France have a good or bad education system? ›

France's education system has been long criticised by psychologists, teachers, parents, and others. A specific kind of child is being let down by the system, ones with "high potential" or "precocious" children, however you want to define them. These children have an IQ of 130 or more are out of step with their peers.

What is school like for students in France? ›

Generally speaking, the school day in France is from 8:30 until 4:30, but it varies depending on which area you live in. This is longer than the typical school day in the UK or America, but there is a longer lunch break and two other breaks during the day. There are 24 hours of lessons a week.

Who controls education in France? ›

School education in France is highly structured and state controlled through the ministry of education, although some private schools do exist, many of which are catholic.

What are the best education in France? ›

Here are the best global universities in France
  • Sorbonne Universite.
  • Universite de Paris.
  • Universite Paris Saclay.
  • Aix-Marseille Universite.
  • Universite Grenoble Alpes (UGA)
  • Universite de Montpellier.
  • Ecole Normale Superieure (ENS)
  • Universite de Strasbourg.

What are the benefits of going to a French school? ›

Some key benefits of studying in a French-language school: High-level bilingualism and long-term proficiency in both official languages. Success and well-being. Increased likelihood of pursuing post-secondary training or academic studies of their choice in a French-language, English-language or bilingual institution.

Which country is best for education and why? ›

The education system of the US is one of the best in the world. According to the QS World University Rankings 2023, 36 USA universities come within the top 150 ranks. Nearly 948,000 international students were studying in the US in 2021/22. 77% of these have come from Asia.

Why is education free in France? ›

Tuition fees are low in public Higher education institutions because the French government subsidizes higher education. The true cost of education is the same as it is elsewhere in the world—around €10,000 a year. The difference is that in France the government assumes a large share of that cost.

Which country has the greatest education system? ›

United States

How hard is the French education system? ›

French schools have a reputation for being tough, with students enrolled in study-abroad programmes often bemoaning the number of working hours, the pressure of the grading system and the lack of physical activity.

How are schools in France different from America? ›

Typically the American school day starts earlier, but the French school day is longer. American schools operate from Monday to Friday and typically start at 7:30am and end around 2:15pm. In France, the school day starts at 8:30am and ends at 4:30pm; however, on Wednesdays, the school day ends at midday.

What do French students learn in school? ›

The curriculum is organized by subject – French, mathematics, history and geography, civic education, life and earth sciences, technology, art, art history, musical education, physical education, physics and chemistry, and two modern languages constitute the bulk of the coursework.

How long do French students go to school? ›

The French academic school year

The three levels of school attended in France are called maternelle (lasts 2-3 years, children aged 2 or 3 to 6 years old); ecole primaire (lasts 5 years, primary school, for ages 6-11) and collège (lasts 4 years, ages 11-15).

What is the history of education in France? ›

France's first encounter with formalized education came in 121 BCE with the Roman conquest of the southern regions of Celtic Gaul, but education did not become established in any way until the reign of Catholic King Charlemagne in 768 CE, where a “chief educator” presided in his court.

What curriculum is used in France? ›

The French Department of Education has developed a national curriculum, called the Common Foundation of Knowledge, Skills and Culture. This national curriculum identifies the knowledge, skills and attitudes essential for a student to be successful in his educational and personal life and as a future active citizen.

What kind of schools does France have? ›

After primary school, two educational stages follow: collège (middle school), for children during their first four years of secondary education from the age of 11 to 14. lycée (high school), which provides a three-year course of further secondary education for children between the ages of 15 and 18.

What are 5 benefits of learning French? ›

10 good reasons to learn French
  • A world language. ...
  • A language for the international job market. ...
  • The language of culture. ...
  • A language for travel. ...
  • A language for higher education. ...
  • The other language of international relations. ...
  • A language that opens up the world. ...
  • A language that is fun to learn.

Which is the No 1 educated country? ›

Canada has emerged the most educated country in the world in 2022 and the country has a literacy rate of 60 Percentage, according to OECB data.

Is the US education system the best in the world? ›

For the most part, these publications and organizations agree the U.S. does, in fact, have the best system of higher education in the world. Almost all rank the U.S. system highest based on numerous factors, and American universities dominate the top 20 on every list.

Which European country has best education system? ›

High-quality teaching

Deutschland is consistently named as one of the best countries for international students who want to study abroad in Europe each year. Sharing its borders with eleven other countries, Germany is truly the center of it all.

Is the US education system good? ›

Many families all over the world aspire to and strive for an American education for their children. That's because American schools are well known for providing high-quality education through a balanced, tried-and-tested curriculum.

How is the French education system different from the British? ›

The French education system is designed to help pupils enter employment. Whereas the British education system is more centred on group work and pupils' wellbeing. School in France is considered a professional place where pupils strive to achieve success.

Which country has the smartest education system? ›

Top 20 Countries with Best Education System in the World
RankCountryQuality Index
1United Kingdom78.2
2United States72
16 more rows

What is the most difficult thing about learning French? ›

Prickly Pronunciation

Without a doubt, the hardest part of learning French is the pronunciation. Written French and spoken French seem worlds apart at first, since there are a number of rules that dictate when certain letters are not pronounced, or words are suddenly squashed together.

Why learning French is difficult? ›

Many find French hard to learn because of the complex grammar and linguistic nuances that don't exist in English, especially for those who have never studied another European language specifically Romance languages like Spanish or Portuguese. Spoken French can also be challenging!

Is school in France strict? ›

Schools in France are strict, and the teacher-student relationship can be very formal. School days are longer in France but include a full or half day of closure on Wednesdays. There are no yellow school buses. Free or subsidized buses are typically provided up to 15 years old.

What is unique about French schools? ›

French schools are reputed for having lots of vacation

In many of them, kids rarely have time to breathe, but at the same time their school days are very short. In France, it is the opposite: kids (and teachers) can enjoy lots of vacation: 2 months every summer, and 2 weeks every 6 weeks of school.

What are some differences between France and US? ›

The French live a more leisurely lifestyle than Americans. They enjoy spending time with family and friends, eating good food, and relaxing in their free time. The American lifestyle is fast-paced and focused on work/career success. Americans are also much more individualistic than the French.

Why do French students not go to school on Wednesday? ›

That French schoolchildren have had Wednesdays off is a quirk of history. When France instituted universal public education in the late 19th century, the government granted a weekly day off for children to attend catechism by the Roman Catholic Church.

Who has the best education system in the world? ›

The USA tops the world ranking of the best education systems, and Canada secures the fourth position.

What country has the best education system? ›

Top 20 Countries with Best Education System in the World
RankCountryQuality Index
1United Kingdom78.2
2United States72
16 more rows

Is education in France hard? ›

French schools have a reputation for being tough, with students enrolled in study-abroad programmes often bemoaning the number of working hours, the pressure of the grading system and the lack of physical activity.

Which country is no 1 in education? ›

The United States

What is higher education like in France? ›

In France, Higher Education is a double-component system: universities (“Université”) and Higher Schools (“Grandes Ecoles”) which offer scientific and management curricula. This system is inherited from the political and economic history of our country.

Who has the hardest education in the world? ›

Which are the hardest education systems in the world? Ans. The countries with the hardest and most difficult education systems include South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, etc.

Why is the French education system unequal? ›

According to the OECD, one of the main causes of these inequalities in France is the lack of social diversity in schools: pupils from poor backgrounds do not attend the same schools as those from richer backgrounds, and a pupil from a disadvantaged background has "only one chance in six to attend the same school" as a ...

What is different in French school? ›

Differences in teaching styles

The teaching style is also different: French teachers focus more on individual work and tasks in class. Pupils focus on core subjects (Maths and language). They learn poems and texts by heart. There is not much group work.

Where is the best education system in the US? ›

New Jersey topped the list of states with the best public school system, according to a new report from Scholaroo. Findings revealed the Garden State offers the safest environment for its students and has the lowest dropout rate compared with all other states. It also has the fourth highest spend per student.

Which country is No 1 in the world? ›

The overall ranking of Best Countries measure global performance on a variety of metrics. Switzerland is the best country in the world for 2022.

Which is the easiest education system in the world? ›

According to the OECD, students in Finland have the least amount of outside work and homework than any other student in the world. They spend only half an hour a night working on stuff from school. Finnish students also don't have tutors.


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