The French Education System - Primary School

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Primary School

Structure and duration
School attendance is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16. This requirement covers both primary school (ecole elementaire) and lower secondary school (college). Pupils generally leave college after 4 years at the age of 15. They still have to attend school full-time for at least one more year, therefore, to satisfy the compulsory schooling requirement. Normally, they do so in a general and technological lycee or a vocational lycee.

Primary education lasts five years from the age of 6 to the age of 11. It is offered by "ecoles elementaires or ecoles primaires" (6-11 years). These primary schools are run and financed by the local authorities.

Primary education comprises five classes divided into two "cycles": the basic learning cycle, which begins in the upper section of nursery school (ecole maternelle) and continues in the first two years of primary school (preparatory course and elementary course, covering one year each), and the consolidation cycle, which covers the final three years before admission to college (the second year of the elementary course and the two years of the intermediate course).

School year
The school year normally starts at the beginning of September and lasts for 36 weeks.

Admission requirements
Attendance at primary school is compulsory for all children from the age of six. As a rule, parents are required to enrol their children in the school area in which they live, but exceptions are possible.

Tuition fees
All compulsory schooling is provided free of charge. The cost of books and other teaching material used by all the children is often borne by the local authorities in the case of primary schools.

In 1989, certain schools introduced the teaching of a foreign language in the two years of the intermediate course on an experimental basis. With the new syllabuses for primary schools laid down in the Decree (Arrete) of 25 January 2002, living foreign or regional languages have been compulsory since the beginning of the 2002-2003 school year in the consolidation cycle. As from 2005, languages should be taught as a normal part of the instruction given in the upper section of the nursery school.

Advancing to next class
Each child has a report book (livret scolaire) which informs parents of the proposals by the Teachers' Council for the cycle attended regarding the child's advancement to a higher class or cycle, and the final decision taken. According to the pupil's performance advancement can be delayed or advanced by a maximum of one year over the entire period of primary education.

Children who complete school normally or have difficulties that are not covered by special education move up automatically from primary school to the first year of secondary school. There is no final examination and every pupil has the right to be admitted in the sixth class of a college.

Financial assistance
State financial assistance can be direct or indirect. Direct allowances are given at the beginning of the school year to families with children of school age (6 to 16) on the basis of family income to enable poorer families to buy the items necessary for the return to school. Support for transport may also be provided. Indirect allowances are given in the form of books and teaching materials provided free by local authorities and county councils. Sometimes these bodies also offer scholarships to support pupils in their studies. Children and young people who are handicapped/disabled may receive a special education allowance to cover costs resulting from the handicap that must be borne by the family (care and rehabilitation in addition to education, which is free as for all pupils.

For more information you can consult Eurydice, which provides information on the national education systems of the Member States. The information is available only in English.
You can also visit the Ploteus website (Portal on Learning Opportunities throughout the European Space), which has information about education and training opportunities throughout Europe. In particular, the site provides information on available grants, contact points and other specific information about the country you may want to go to.
Source EUROPA © European Communities, 1995-2004 

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The French Education System - Primary School
Page 2 of 4 Primary School Structure and duration School attendance is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16. This requirement covers both primary school (ecole elementaire) and lower...

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