The French Educational System

Schools are certainly not the only aspect of education, but for families settling in a new country, the formal education system will definitely be...

Schools are certainly not the only aspect of education, but for families settling in a new country, the formal education system will definitely be one of the major vectors of integration, not only for the children but for the parents as well.

Here are a few questions about the French educational system often asked by new comers:

What's so different about the French educational system?

First of all, the French educational system is highly centralized. The Ministry of National Education establishes the national curriculum followed by a very large majority of the country's schools. This "mammoth", as the ministry was referred to by a recent Minister of Education, is France's largest employer. Another particularity of the system is its very well developed learning program for children starting at three years of age (see grades and cycles below). Though school is not obligatory before a child turns six , 99% of the three-year-olds in France go to school at least part-time, and by four they attend school full time, from 8:30am to 4:30pm. The very important baccalaureate exam at the end of secondary school and the prestigious Grandes Ecoles which provide higher education for the country's elite are two other factors that mark the French system.

Is it as strict and austere as everyone says it is?

It depends on what type of system you are coming from, but for those coming from an Anglo-Saxon country, yes. It is only fair to add that in a majority of the countries schools, students receive a good, albeit traditional, education.

In primary school rote learning, memorization and a tidy, well-presented written page are a big part of learning. As children move on to secondary school long written exams, as opposed to multiple choice or fill in the blank questions, competitiveness and a certain reverence for math as well as for a neat presentation are common. At this level also, knowledge goes from the top down. Students are encouraged to study and understand what their teachers and the experts have to say on a particular subject, then, within an established framework, they can carefully offer their point of view. Advanced math classes, where students are often encouraged to think for themselves and to find original solutions, are about the only exception to these somewhat austere learning practices.

Which schools are we talking about? Public schools? Private schools? Bilingual Schools? International Schools?

We're talking about French system schools. The catch, as mentioned above, is that the large majority of schools in France are French system schools. Public Schools, Private Schools sous contrat (state funded) or hors contrat (not state funded), - bilingual schools and many of those referred to as international schools follow the French national curriculum*. Only the schools which apply the methods of well-known pedagogues (Montessori, Steiner, etc) or those adhering to curriculums from other countries (British School of Paris, The International School of Paris, Marymount) don't fall into this category.

Celestin Freinet and other innovative French pedagogues of the école nouvelle movement have inspired schools, and influenced teachers who can even be found working inside the "mammoth" itself, particularly in primary schools. However, these methods as well as those of education experts from other countries are adopted only by a small number of schools, sometimes stated funded, but more often than not they are hors contrat schools, which means they are not obligated to follow the national curriculum and they are more expensive.

How much does it cost?

Once again, this depends on which school you choose. Public schools are free of charge, you pay only for your child's personal supplies. Private schools vary. The sous-contrat private schools that are religious (Catholic for the most part) are the least expensive of the state funded schools with an annual tuition between for most 1200 and 2000 euros a year, depending on your child's grade level. Extra expenses such as registration fee, insurance, class outings and extra curricular activities can add up to between 100 and 500 euros a year while a school lunch will cost at around 5,50 euros a day. In state funded secular schools the annual tuition starts at around 3000 euros plus the extra expenses which can exceed those mentioned above. Rare schools require a uniform. The most expensive schools are those that are not state funded. The tuition in schools belonging to this category, which includes those following curriculums from other countries, range between 5000 and 20, 000 euros a year plus the extra expenses. Always ask for specific information on extra expenses and compare school fees, these charges can vary quite a bit from one school to another.

How do I go about enrolling my child in a French school? What documents are required?

All private school require you to fill in an application form and furnish certain documents. You can download these forms on the internet site of most schools. Some of the better private school have a waiting list, so it's best to start the process in January or February if you can.

Documents to furnish for private schools:

   * A copy of your child's Birth Certificate
   * 2 to 4 passport-size photos
   * School transcript or report card for the previous two years (if applicable)
   * Up to date vaccination certificates or proof of vaccination for the DTP (polio ) and the BCG
   * A non reimbursable registration fee

Some private schools also require :

   * Entrance test results
   * Letter of recommendation from the previous school
   * A personal essay for high school students

Documents to furnish for public school:

   * Proof of residence ( last gas/electricity or telephone bill or attestation of home insurance)
   * Proof of up to date DTP (polio )and BCG vaccinations.
   * Proof of parental authority if parents are divorced.

Is day care available for very young children?

There is both private and public, full-time (créche) and part-time (garderie) day care for children from three months to 6 years. Some centers, those that are private in particular, offer activities to stimulate little ones and rouse their curiosity while other are simply a means of childcare in an appropriate environment. The premises as well as the staff in these establishments must meet state requirements regardless of the status of the day care institution. The full time day care centers in Paris are full and running over. It's a good idea to apply as soon as you know there is a new baby on the way. In most areas of Paris you wil have to resort to day care by someone in their home. Fees are calculated on the basis of family income.


No Comment


Commentaries closed

© 2001-2008 French shool expat guide