French Education is regulated by the Ministry of National Education (called « Ministère de l’Éducation nationale, de l’enseignement supérieur et de la recherche »). Education is compulsory between the ages of 3 and 16. Although school is no longer compulsory from age 16, between 16 and 18, training is compulsory (since 2018). This corresponds to continuing your schooling in a public or private establishment, being an apprentice, on a support or social and professional integration path, on civic service, or being in employment. 

General principles: 

  • Academic freedom : State schools and private schools having a contract with the state coexist within the state system. The state alone awards diplomas. Exams are set at the national level.
  • Free provision : school is free of charge, parents only need to pay for lunches, after-school care, and class outings
  • Neutrality : The curriculum and content of teaching have to respect the principle of neutrality. Teachers and pupils are required to show philosophical and political neutrality.
  • Secularism (Laïcité) : State schooling has been secular since 1882. The respect for the beliefs of pupils and their parents means the absence of religious teaching in the syllabus – which does not prevent the teaching about religion – and the banning of proselytism.

Around 20% of the children are going to private schools. Most private schools are under contract (sous contrat) with the French government (state pays the teachers’ salaries, the school follows the national curriculum etc.). Some of them offer an alternative teaching philosophy.

French education system

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.

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. 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 ».
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

Upper secondary educationlycée »): 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. 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.

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 etc.) 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.

There are eight 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)

Vocational training

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

The Common Core of Knowledge and Skills (Socle commun de connaissances et de compétences)

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 ».

This common core presents what every student should know and master by the age of 16. It brings together all the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes needed to succeed in school, as an individual and as a future citizen. The school booklet allows parents to be informed of their children’s achievements and progress, and thus to obtain a complete and demanding assessment. Mastery of the foundation is necessary to obtain the diplôme national du brevet (DNB).

The common base of knowledge, skills and culture is acquired during three cycles of education:    cycle of fundamental learning (CP, CE1, and CE2), consolidation cycle (CM1, CM2 and class of 6e), deepening cycle classes of 5e, 4e and 3e)

The Common Base will be structured into five areas of training defining the knowledge and skills that must be acquired at the end of compulsory education:

  • languages for thinking and communication ;  
  • methods and tools for learning
  • the development of the individual and the citizen;  
  • natural systems and technical systems;  
  • representations of the world and human activity.

Support pupils with special educational needs

When a pupil faces certain difficulties or has special educational needs, a number of arrangements can be put in place, depending on these needs. A Personalized Program for Educational Success (PPRE) is set up on an ad hoc basis to deal with localized difficulties. Specialized support networks for pupils in difficulty (RASED) can help a pupil in difficulty, always with the family’s agreement, in three ways: predominantly pedagogical, predominantly re-educational, predominantly psychological. In the case of more severe difficulties, educational teams can be set up to assess the pupil’s needs and respond to them as closely as possible, or to refer them to the therapeutic sector. Referral to a specialized class may also be proposed. The request must then be made to the Maison départementale des personnes handicapées (MDPH). The MDPH examines the file, requesting educational, pedagogical, therapeutic and social assessments, and proposes an orientation. Under no circumstances is a decision taken without the family’s agreement.

Law no. 2005-102 of February 11, 2005 on equal rights and opportunities, participation and citizenship for people with disabilities has led to greater inclusion of children with disabilities in school, emphasizing the principle of compensation for disability and the obligation of solidarity on the part of society as a whole.

There are several possible types of schooling for disabled pupils, depending on their situation and particular needs. There can be schooling in an ordinary environment, with or without adaptations (equipment, teaching aids). This type of schooling is always preferred, as long as it is possible and beneficial for the student. It is also possible to attend a school in a collective integration program called ULIS (Unité Localisée pour l’Inclusion Scolaire). In this case, integration into the mainstream is either collective, involving several classes or groups of pupils, or individual in subjects where this is possible. Finally, there is the option of schooling in a specialized establishment providing comprehensive care (therapeutic, educational and academic). In this case, integration into an ordinary environment can still take place, on a part-time basis, depending on the needs and abilities of each pupil.

Useful Websites

Study in France :

Vocational training :