French educational system


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French educational system

School education is compulsory for children aged between six and sixteen; this obligation covers both elementary education (elementary school) and the first four years (collège) of secondary education.

Children are enrolled in kindergarten by their parents, whereas they are automatically enrolled in elementary school.

  • Parents may choose the educational institutions they wish their children to attend when those reach the age to go to the lycée. Children go to kindergarten or nursery school from the age of three, or the age of two subject to availability of places.

Enrolment takes place during the first half of the calendar year at the town hall near the place of residence.

A special rule applies in day nurseries: children who reach the age of three between September and 31 December of that year may attend nursery school from September on. Children who turn three between 1 January and 1 March may go to nursery school, subject to availability of places, from 1 January until the end of the February holidays at the latest. Children who turn three after 1 March may go to day nursery until the start of the new school year.

  • Elementary school is compulsory for all children who have reached the age of six. Generally, parents are expected to enrol their children in the school near their place of residence. Public education is free.

If a child has never been to school in France, enrolment in elementary school takes place at the school or at the town hall near the parents’ place of residence.

In Paris, a child aged six and over who does not speak French is sent by the local town hall to a school where French-language courses for beginners are available. Children under six attend regular classes in school.

  • Secondary education for pupils aged 16 and over is dispensed in lycées d’enseignement général et technologique (secondary schools) and in lycées professionnels (secondary schools for vocational training). Pupils attend the former establishments for three years, from the classes de Seconde ("1st year of lycée education"), de Première (2nd year) and de Terminale (final year), to study for the Baccalauréat général and Baccalauréat technologique examinations. They attend the latter establishments for two years to study for the Certificat d’aptitude professionnelle - CAP (vocational training certificate); two more years are required to prepare for the Baccalauréat professionnel examination.

To enrol your child(ren) in a collège or lycée, please contact the establishment of your choice directly or the Inspection académique, Service de la division des élèves (education authority). Your child(ren) will have to take a French-language test.

  • Higher education includes several systems:
  • Higher education is divided into three cycles or stages: the Premier cycle, two-year course up to DEUG (Diplôme universitaire d’enseignement général) level; the Deuxième cycle, third year up to the licence followed by the one-year maîtrise; and the Troisième cycle or higher postgraduate study beginning with the Diplôme d’études approfondies (DEA) or with the Diplôme d’études supérieures spécialisées - DESS (diploma in an applied subject).
  • The Grandes écoles of engineering and business administration. These are competitive-entrance higher education institutions offering either four or five-year courses directly after the Baccalauréat or three-year courses after two years of classe préparatoire (preparatory class) during which students prepare for the entrance examinations to the Grandes écoles.
  • Vocational training lasts two to three years after the Baccalauréat. Courses may be taken in the Sections de techniciens supérieurs - STS (Advanced technicians sections) where students prepare for the Brevet de technicien supérieur - BTS (vocational training certificate for advanced technicians) and are also taught by the Instituts universitaires de technologie - IUT (polytechnics).
  • Some training courses have special entrance requirements and their own organization (study of medicine, pharmacy, paramedical studies, study of art and architecture, etc.).

To begin higher studies in France, foreign students must have a French baccalaureate or foreign equivalent and be able to prove that their command of French is good enough for them to take the course of their choice.

Entrance procedures vary depending on the educational institution and the chosen training course. For the Classes préparatoires for entrance to the Grandes écoles, IUTs (polytechnics) and Instituts universitaires professionalisés - IUP (professional university institutes) students are to enrol directly with the institution concerned. For Premier cycle enrolment at a university, students are required to file an entrance application before the start of the academic year.

Students are required to take a written examination and an oral to test their command of French.

It is possible to continue with one’s higher education in France and to apply for a place on a course at university. The choen institution alone will be authorized to validate a student’s previous education.

For further information please contact:

ministère de l’Éducation nationale _
Direction de l’Enseignement scolaire - DESCO (Directorate for primary and secondary education) bureau des relations internationales

107, rue de Grenelle 75357 Paris 07 SP

Tél 01 55 55 08 98

Information sheets on primary and secondary education are published in French and in English. They provide information on the French educational system and are aimed primarily at foreign nationals.

The bookshop of the Office National d’Information sur les Enseignements et les Professions (ONISEP), for brochures and periodicals on education, professions and openings. 168, boulevard du Montparnasse

75014 Paris

Tél 01 23 35 15 98

Centre d’Information et de Documentation Jeunesse (CIDJ), where you can consult brochures and publications on education, training courses, professions, employment, permanent education, practical life, etc. 101, quai Branly

75007 Paris

Tél 01 44 18 53 00

Centre National des Oeuvres Universitaires et Scolaires - CNOUS (National centre for French and foreign students) 69, quai d’Orsay

75007 Paris

Tél 01 44 18 53 00

Alliance Française (International school of French Language and Culture) 101, boulevard Raspail

75006 Paris

Tél 01 42 84 90 00

Updated : July 2012