French Education is regulated by the Ministry of National Education (called « Ministère de l’Éducation nationale, de l’enseignement supérieur et de la recherche »). Even if education is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16 (law of the 28 March 1882), France has a long tradition of pre-primary education, most children go to school since the age of 3.

State-run primary schools in France are free, secular, and co-ed, and parents only need to pay for lunches, after-school care, and class outings.

The French education system is organised into four levels of education :

  • Pre-primary education (« école Maternelle« ) : for children from 2/3  up to the age of 6. Even though it is optional, almost all children attend nursery school from the age of three.
  • Primary education (« école élémentaire« ) :  which is provided in “elementary schools” and admits children between the ages of 6 and 11 (5 classes).
    • CP (Cours préparatoire) – ages six to sevem
    • CE1 (Cours élémentaire 1) – ages seven to eight
    • CE2 (Cours élémentaire 2) – ages eight to nine
    • CM1 (Cours moyen 1) – ages nine to 10
    • CM2 (Cours moyen 2) – ages 10 to 11
  • Lower secondary education or middle school (« collège« ):  which is dispensed in collèges for 4 school years for pupils between the ages of 11 and 15 years.
    • Sixième (6ème) – ages 11 to 12
    • Cinquième (5ème) – ages 12 to 13
    • Quatrième (4ème) – ages 13 to 14
    • Troisième (3ème) – ages 14 to 15

Education in collèges is compulsory and common to all pupils since 1975. The end of the lower secondary education is sanctioned by the Diplôme national du brevet even if admission to upper secondary level is not conditional upon success in the « brevet ».

  • Upper secondary education (« lycée »): which is dispensed in “general and technological lycées” or in “professional lycées”, for pupils between the ages of 15 and 18 years during 3 years.
    • Seconde – ages 15 to 16
    • Première – ages 16 to 17
    • Terminale – ages 17 to 18

There are three educational paths : general path (which prepares pupils for long higher studies), technological path (which mainly prepares pupils for higher technological studies) and professional path (which leads mainly to workplace, but also enables students to pursue further vocational studies). The end of upper secondary education is sanctioned by the baccalauréat.

Nursery school, elementary school and lower secondary education have the goal to allow children to acquire the Common Core of Knowledge and Skills (Socle commun de connaissances et de compétences). It is based on the recommendation of the European Parliament and the European Council on « key competences for education and lifelong learning ».

It is organised aroud seven key competences. According to the ministery, each of these is intended « to be a combination of basic knowledge, skilles to be uses in various contexts and essential attitudes throughout life ».

The seven key competences are :

1. command of the French language ;
2. proficiency in a modern foreign language ;
3. the key elements of mathematics, scientific culture and technology ;
4. mastery of ordinary information and communication skills ;
5. humanist culture ;
6. social and civic skills ;
7. autonomy and initiative.

Lower secondary schools take all pupils from elementary school without an entrance exam from the age of 11.
Its primary objective is to help all to master the Common Core of Knowledge and Skills. It also prepares pupils for the rest of their general, technological or vocational schooling.

Pupils who experience serious academic difficulties when starting college can, through referral units, the “sections d’enseignement général et professionnel adapté” (SEGPA), over four years of collège – benefit from tailored support, adapted timetables and vocational familiarisation

Pupils attend at the secondary school at the end of the last year of lower secondary school (la troisième) for three years. They can chose between three differents paths :

  • the general route
  • the technological route
  • the vocational route

To access to the general and technological route and prepare a « baccalauréat » exam, pupils attend a « Seconde générale et technologique », then, at the end of the year, they chose between the general or the technological path. Since 2021, at the end of their first year (seconde), students will still have mandatory classes in core subjects, such as French, history, geography, foreign languages, sport, philosophy, and science. However, they will have to choose three specialties (such as physical education, arts, social and economic studies) to better adapt their curriculum to their interests. They will then drop one of these elective subjects in their final year. This new baccalauréat reform also places more emphasis on continuous evaluation and less importance on the final examination.

And there are six technological baccalaureate :

  • STMG « Sciences et technologies du management et de la gestion » (Management)
  • STI2D « Sciences et technologies de l’industrie et du développement durable (Industrial)
  • STL « Sciences et technologies de laboratoire » (Laboratory)
  • ST2S « Sciences et technologies de la santé et du social » (Health and Social)
  • STD2A « Sciences et technologies du design et des arts appliqués » (Design and art)
  • STAV « Sciences etScie
  • S2TMD « Sciences et techniques du théâtre, de la musique et de la danse » (Theatre, music and dance)
  • STHR « Sciences et technologies de l’hôtellerie et de la restauration (Hotel and catering industry)

The vocational route « enables pupils to learn a trade by gradually moving from the school environment to the world of work in particular through dual training courses with some time spent in the workplace and other periods at school. These diplomas can be prepared through schooling at a vocational high school or through an apprenticeship in a Centre de Formation pour Apprentis (CFA – apprenticeship training centre).

Qualifications :

  • Le certificat d’aptitude professionnel (CAP)- Vocational Training Certificate : level 3, 2 years of study, over 200 specialties for artisanal trades, production and services
  • Le baccalauréat professionnel – vocational baccalaureate : level 4, 3 years of study, 70 specialisms in very diverse sectors (commerce, services, catering, maintenance, accounting, construction, agriculture, fashion…). It consists of :
    • a vocational 2nd year organised by trade family or speciality outside trade families to gradually prepare the pupil for a specific vocational baccalaureate. The second year of vocational education is organised by trade families in most fields, each of which groups together several specialities of the vocational baccalaureate. This measure is designed to give students the time and knowledge they need to choose their trade. For example : professions in aeronautics, hotels and restaurants, digital and energy transitions, maritime professions…
    • a 1st vocational year, during which pupils follow a speciality chosen at the end of the 2nd year. For example, in the second « digital and energy transition professions », students can choose between heating, air conditioning and renewable energy installation, maintenance and energy efficiency, electricity and its connected environments and refrigeration and sustainable energy professions
    • a vocational final year, which prepares students for professional integration and further study.

Vocational education

  • Le brevet professionnel (BP) : level 4. The vocational diploma is a national diploma which attests to the acquisition of a high level of qualification in the exercise of a defined professional activity. It is a diploma for social promotion prepared either while working or as part of a work-linked contract, usually after a level V diploma obtained in the same or a related speciality. There are more than fifty specialities.
  • La mention complémentaire (MC) – Designed with the aim of professional integration, the complementary mention is a national diploma which aims to give a specialised qualification. There are about twenty specialities of complementary mention of level 4
  • Le brevet des métiers d’art (BMA : arts vocational qualification) : is a national diploma in the crafts sector which aims to preserve and pass on traditional techniques while encouraging innovation. It is awarded for a professional speciality. Candidates are admitted to training (school or apprenticeship) if they hold a diploma or title in the same professional sector registered in the national register of professional certifications and classified at level 3 of the national framework of professional certifications. There are about twenty BMAs.

More information in the government website.

A presentation of the « Campus d’excellence » (Hubs for vocational education and training excellence) : 2020_campus-metiers-qualifications

Study in France :

Vocation training :