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Structure of French Schools

The French education system is unified throughout the entire country. There are three different school zones, Zone A, Zone B, and Zone C that each have their own schedules and academic offerings for their students. However, schooling is pretty much standardized throughout the entire country. The zones start and end the school year on the same days and typically have the same breaks as one another. Children must attend a state school within a certain distance of their home and therefore it is crucial that parents take their location into consideration when buying a home. Students attend school four days a week, with Wednesday being a day off as a longtime French tradition. Some schools have classes on Saturday mornings as well. Students attend school for 160 days a year from early September until late June, although they compensate for the short school year with longer school hours.
This map displays the three French schooling zones.


School Funding

Schools, both private and public, are funded by the state. Schooling is very inexpensive to families, even at the university level. Public education is free, therefore parents only need to purchase supplies for their children. Families who meet certain requirements are able to be compensated for these expenses.

Special Education

French schools do not typically accomodate for students with special needs in the way that American schools do. However, it is becoming more and more common for schools to serve their students with disabilities through the following services:
SESSAD (services d'éducation spéciale et de soins à domicile):
The SESSAD deals with children and teenagers with mental, motor and sensory differences ensuring early education and support for the family to the end of their education (in some cases even through their university education).
CLIS (classes d'intégration scolaire):
The CLIS is for children with disabilities too severe for regular classes, however they are not severe enough to be placed in a special facility. CLIS is simply a class within an ordinary elementary or secondary school. The teaching is adapted to each students' needs but the curriculum taught is pretty much the same as taught in typical classes.
There are 4 categories of CLIS:
  • CLIS 1 (D): Cognitive learning disorders, severe mental development limitations
  • CLIS 2 (A): Hearing impairment (troubles auditifs: sourds, malentendants)
  • CLIS 3 (B): Visual impairment (troubles visuels importants: aveugles, malvoyants)
  • CLIS 4 (C): Physical disability/severe motor deficiency
Admission to CLIS is decided by the CCPE (commission préélémentaire et élémentaire).
UPI (unités pédagogiques d'intégration):
The UPI accommodates children with cognitive learning disorders from age 12 to 16 years (generally coming from CLIS 1). The UPI provides adapted school integration and partial participation in school activities. This system is currently being expanded to incorporate children with sight, hearing and physical differences.

Types of Schools

Ecole Maternelle:
The Ecole Maternelle is basically the French version of kindergarten or pre-school. Students from ages 2 to 6 attend these schools where they are prepared for their entry into primary school. The French Ecole Maternelle has an actual curriculum that consists of reading, writing and numeracy and even sometimes a foreign language.

Ecole primaire, or Ecole élémentaire:
This is France's grade school. The primary school curriculum in France is similar to that in other countries, and includes literacy and numeracy, with classes in French, mathematics, geography, history, art, and a foreign language (usually English). There are five classes that serve children ages 6 to 11. The five classes in the Ecole Primaire are: CP, CE1, CE2, CM1, and CM2. CP is Cours préparatoire, preparatory class, CE means cours élémentaire, elementary class, and CM is cours moyen, middle class. Students have an average of 28 hours of classes per week.

This is the middle school. All students will go to collège, usually at age 11, but sometimes at an older age if they have to repeat a year in primary school. The collège is designed to provide all students with a fundamental secondary education. The classes taught in collège include French, math, history, geography, technical education, art/music, physical education, civic education, some science, and at least one foreign language. There are four levels that teach students ages 11 to 15. The four classes, corresponding to grades 6 to 9, are called sixième, cinquième, quatrième and troisième.

The French lycée is the high school which covers the last three years of secondary education. There are two main types of traditional lycée: the lycée général and the lycée technique. There may not be a lycée tehnique in small towns. The main function of the lycée is to prepare students for their baccalaureat exam. Students must pass this exam to get into university. Classes in a traditional lycée cover the same basic subjects as in collège with the addition of philosophy. Students in a lycée technique may begin to specialize in a technical field in addition to their general classes. The three classes (grades 10 to 12) are known as seconde, première and terminale.

This diagram compares the American grade levels to the French grade system.


Around 13 million students attend school in France. All students are enrolled into school at age 6 and must continue until age 16.
Find out more information about French student enrollment here!

Grading Scale

Although many primary schools use a 10 point grading scale or letter grade system, the French grading system is based mostly on a 20-point grading scale:

  • 18-20 : Congratulations (félicitations du jury not an official grade)
  • 16-17.9 : very good (très bien : TB)
  • 14-15.9 : good (bien : B)
  • 12-13.9 : satisfactory (assez bien : AB)
  • 10-11.9 : correct (correcte not an official grade)
  • 8-10 : pass ("passable" not an official grade)
  • 0-8: Fail (insuffisant)

French Literacy Rates

France has a literacy rate of about 99%. This makes France higher ranked than the United States in literacy.

Extra-Curricular Activities

According to a recent Ministry of Education report, in the French educational system about 60% of students have no access to a gym, 20% have no access to a swimming pool and 25% percent of schools have poor sporting facilities. Public schools do not have sports teams, and therefore students who wish to play a sport must join a local club team.

Higher Education

There are nearly 100 universities in France. French universities are open to all students who have passed their baccalauréat exams. These universities are not necessarily for the elite, top students, rather they train all students for their desired future careers. Basic standard student fees in France for the 2010-2011 academic year are 174 € per year for undergraduates and 237 € per year for post graduates. These prices are somewhat low, however universities in France do not provide their students with the same accomodations as the typical American university.
College de France- a top university in France.

Teaching Requirements

All educational programs in France are run by the Ministry of National Education. The head of this ministry is the Minister of National Education. The teachers in public primary and secondary schools are all state civil servants, making the ministry the largest employer in the country. Professors in universities are also employed by the state. The requirements for teaching in France varies depending on what age a person wishes to teach. One must get an appropriate teaching certification before stepping into a classroom. Many American individuals who seek teaching positions in France end up teaching English, and it is beneficial for these educators to know both French and English.
Looking for a teaching position in France? Click here!

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