School and Education in France

There is a compulsory education in France from the age of six to the age of 16. The education is compulsory for all children residing in French territory, regardless of their nationality. The public school offer is free.

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Organization of education

Kindergartens and preschools

There are kindergartens (crèches) for children under three years. This offer is not free, but is subject to need testing, and the parents pay on the basis of income and living situation.

Preschool (l’école maternelle) is an offer for children between two and six years. All preschools welcome children from the age of three, while some also welcome children between two and three years. Virtually all French children between three and six years of age attend preschool, while around 35% of two-year-olds attend. There are both public and private preschools, and the public offer is free. Under 15% of children attend private preschools.

Preschools have comprehensive curricula, and great emphasis is placed on creativity and physical activity, as well as providing students with basic knowledge of their own mother tongue. Among other things, they should learn the letters and be able to write simple words.

The teachers in the preschool have the same education as the teachers in the primary school.

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Primary school (l’école élémentaire) is five years old, and compulsory for children between six and eleven years. There are both public and private primary schools, and the public are run by the municipalities. In 2014, there were 31,883 public and 5,126 private primary schools in France.

1 class 6-7 years CP (Course Preparatory)
2nd class 7-8 years CE1 (Elémentaire premiere année)
3rd grade 8-9 years CE 2 (Elémentaire deuxième année course)
4th grade 9-10 years CM1 (Course average premiere)
5th grade 10-11 years CM 2

From 2016, all children learn a foreign language from the first year of primary school. It is not compulsory to choose English as their first foreign language, but for students who do not choose English in primary school, this language will be compulsory when students start secondary school. About 90% of pupils in primary school have English as their first foreign language, while the remaining students have chosen either German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Hebrew or Arabic as their first foreign language. A large majority of students who do not have English as their first foreign language have chosen German.

The French public school is confessional, so there is no religious teaching. However, the private schools, which are often religious, often teach Christianity. See for all countries starting with F.

Pupils are not automatically moved up to the next grade level in elementary school, and in the past there have been relatively many students in France who have had to go through one school year again. Although the number has dropped significantly over the past few years, France is still among the OECD countries with the highest proportion of pupils returning.

Teacher density is relatively low in French elementary school. In 2012, there were an average of 18.9 pupils per primary school. class, while the average in the OECD countries was 15.3.

Traditionally it has been common in the French elementary school with teaching four days a day. week, where students have often had no tuition every Wednesday. This meant that there were no more than 144 school days per day. per year in French primary school, a figure that was far lower than in any other OECD country, with an average of 187 school days per year. year. From 2013, teaching was introduced five days per. week in France, where the fifth day was only half a day. It is still common for junior and secondary schools to have half a day every Wednesday, and many high schools also have teaching on Saturday mornings.


The secondary school (le collège) is four years old and the goods from the students are twelve until they are 15 years old. There were 7,100 junior high schools in France in 2015, both public and private. 79% of pupils attend public schools, while 21% attend private schools.

The subject offerings in secondary school are mostly common to all students. Creative subjects make up a relatively large proportion of the hours on the schedule. Optional subjects are in secondary school are Greek (Ancient Greek) and Latin, which is chosen by about 18% of students. A new reform that applies from 2016 reduced the number of hours in these subjects.

High school (le lycée) is three years old and goods from the students are 15 to 18 years. There are three main areas of higher education: Ordinary study preparation education program (lycée d’enseignement général), technological study preparation education program (lycée d’enseignement technologique) and vocational education program (lycée professionnel). There are about 4200 high schools in France, of which about 1500 are vocational schools. Around 50% of the students choose an ordinary study preparatory education program, 20% choose a technological high school, while 30% choose a vocational education program. The proportion of students choosing vocational subjects has been increasing, with the corresponding figure for 1995 being 13.6% for vocational subjects.

The students in the student preparatory high school come to the exam (baccalaureate) in all subjects, and no standpoint marks are given.


Students who have passed a high school diploma (baccalaureate) can go on to higher education. The university education is divided into three levels: The first level is a license (bachelor), which is obtained after three years of study. After another two years of study, you can obtain a master’s degree and finally you can take a three-year doctoral program (doctorate). Some studies are structured as five- or six-year studies, while the medical studies in France last for a minimum of nine years.

There are around 70 universities in France, in addition to several colleges, among them the so-called grandes écoles, which are primarily engineering schools or schools of commerce and administration, and which have very strict admission requirements. Among these schools are the École Polytechnique Technical College, the École Normale Supérieure Teacher College and the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA) for senior officials. There are separate preparatory courses for admission to these colleges, classes préparatoires aux grandes écoles (CPGE), which are added to selected high schools, and which usually last for two years.


The French educational system is inspired by ideas from the Enlightenment and the Revolution of 1789, but also by the centralism of the Napoleonic period. It is first and foremost laws passed between 1881 and 1889 that form the foundation of today’s French education system. The most important principles of this period are that the school in France should be free, compulsory and non- confessional. A central figure in connection with the introduction of these principles was then Education Minister Jules Ferry. He made sure that in 1881 it was decided that education should be compulsory and free for children between 6 and 13 years.

The high schools (les lycées) originated in 1802, under Napoleon. Initially, the students were primarily taught classical humanities. The pupils usually lived on boarding schools, and the schools had a military feel. The scheme of graduating from high school, le baccalauréat, also dates from this period.

In the 19th century, les lycées were schools that operated in parallel with the public school provision, and which taught children from the age of six. These schools had an elitist feel and were reserved for a very small part of the population. They were also not available to girls. Although the first high schools for girls opened in France in the 1880s, it was not until the second half of the 20th century that all the high schools in the country were opened to girls.

The three-year high school system, as we know it today, was introduced in 1963.

The institutions of higher education have a long history in France, and some of the French universities are among the oldest in the world, such as the universities of Paris (founded in the 12th century), Toulouse and Montpellier (founded in the 13th century).

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Education Policy

The education system in France is very centralized. The Ministry of Education is represented in different parts of the country through a Recteur d’académie, which is responsible for the schools in its region. As of 2016, the country is divided into 30 academies divided into 17 academic regions. The academies are responsible, among other things, for implementing laws and regulations adopted by the Ministry of Education.

In France, 6.1% of the gross domestic product is spent on education, which is the same as the average for OECD countries.

Regional differences

The proportion of pupils in private schools for primary and secondary schools is 16.8% for the entire country. The share is highest in Brittany, where 39.7% of pupils attend private schools, and it is lowest in Corsica, where the number is 5.2%. In Paris, there are also relatively many students choosing private schools (29.3%), while in the suburbs around the capital the figure is lower than the national average.