School days

With la rentrée, the big return to school, on the horizon here‘s some advice for tackling the French education system

International flavour
English children living in France can also attend fee-paying international schools where lessons are taught in both English and French. They are usually based in large cities and cater for children from a wide range of nationalities. Some offer GCSEs and A levels. For a database of private and international schools in France visit

Early doors
Children do not start formal education in France until they are six but from the age of three (and sometimes earlier), each child is allowed to attend école maternelle, the equivalent of an English pre-school. Maternelle is divided up into three sections: petite: three to four years, moyenne: four to five years and grande: five to six years. The children in the petite section have a rest after lunch and can sleep if they need to. Many children catch the bus to school in France and it is not uncommon for three-year-olds to hop on the bus in the morning and catch it home again at the end of the day.

Entrance requirements
Your children will be more than welcome at your local French school but before they can start all their vaccinations must be up to date and they must have insurance. Proof of vaccination is obligatory and the school will ask you to supply details of your child’s vaccination history. If your child has had the necessary inoculations in the UK before moving to France then printed details from your GP will be proof enough; if not then they will have to be vaccinated before they start. Insurance is relatively inexpensive, about €15 (£12.32) per child, per year, and is easily acquired either online or over the phone; search online or in les Page Jaunes under assurance scolaire for websites and phone numbers.

Excess baggage
Parents must supply all their children’s school equipment and before the start of term you will be given a list of necessary items. La rentrée is big business in France and all the supermarkets have huge displays of stationery, bags, folders, white-boards, pens, pencils etc which harassed parents flock to like moths to a flame, making sure they have everything their children need before school starts. One thing you won’t have to buy though is school uniform as it isn’t worn in France.

Selection process
All schools follow the same curriculum in France, and at primary level you will automatically be offered a place at the school in your commune or at the one nearest to you. You could opt to send your child to a private school (sous contrat) if you wish. These are usually Catholic schools but children of all faiths (or none) are accepted. Teachers at these schools are paid by the state so fees are kept low. There are other private schools (hors contrat), which operate more like independent schools in the UK and charge much higher fees. There is generally more choice at collège or lycée level but the best place to start for advice on schools is your local mairie. They are well placed to explain what options are available locally.

The long haul
School days in France are long – often 9am till 5pm at primaire and slightly longer at collège and lycée. In compensation for these long hours, children at maternelle and primaire currently have Wednesdays off. However, students are expected to make the most of this mid-week break by doing extra-curricular activities such as sports or music. A debate is ongoing at the moment about introducing Wednesday morning school to replace Saturday mornings which have now been phased out. As yet it is unclear about whether or when this will go ahead.


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