The French Education System - Secondary School

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Secondary School

Useful information on national provisions
Secondary-school education extends over seven years, from the sixth to the final year, and is divided into two levels: lower ("first cycle") and higher ("second cycle", lasting three or four years).

As part of compulsory schooling, lower secondary-level education gives all pupils who have completed their primary education a general secondary education, including pre-professional aspects.

Lower Secondary Education
The lower secondary education establishments are called colleges. Colleges all have the same structure and provide secondary education all pupils who have completed their primary education. They offer a secondary education that continues from primary education.

Education at a college extends over four years, corresponding to the sixth, fifth, fourth and third classes. The sixth class consists of a "cycle" of adjustment to secondary education, the fifth and fourth class constitute the intermediate cycle, and the third is the "orientation" (specialisation) cycle. At the end of this cycle, pupils are awarded, after passing an examination, the national certificate or diploma (brevet) depending on the type of schooling followed.

Under the new agreement for schools, the colleges were reformed in September 1996, in order to ensure a better awareness of the diversity of pupils and to provide them with a good standard of education. The Planning Act [loi de programmation] of 13 July 1995 redefined the aims of colleges, which must, on the one hand, give all pupils a general training enabling them to acquire the knowledge and basic skills of a shared culture, and on the other, it must prepare them for the various training options available from the third class on, using diverse and appropriate teaching methods.

Higher Secondary Education
Higher secondary education is divided into two streams:

general and technological education, and
vocational education.
1. General and technological education extends over three years (second, first and final [terminale]), culminating in the general and technological baccalaureat - the national school-leaving certificate that gives access to higher education.

The second class comprises a fixed cycle, at the end of which pupils - generally aged 15 or 16 years - choose between several streams and specialise in a number of disciplines.

The first class (pupils aged 16 or 17 years) and the "terminale" (17 or 18 years) constitute the final cycle of preparation for the Baccalaureat. Pupils are divided into different classes according to the programmes or disciplines in which they have chosen to specialise.

Establishments that provide an education geared towards the general or technological Baccalaureat, or the technical diploma, are known as "Lycees d'enseignement general".

The General Baccalaureat ("Baccalaureat d'Enseignement General") is a general diploma which does not prepare pupils directly for a profession but enables them to continue their studies - for example, at a university. There are three main streams: "litteraire" (mostly comprising the study of French, philosophy and foreign languages), economic and social sciences, and physical and natural sciences.

The lycees d'enseignement technologique accept and prepare pupils at the same level as the general lycees (and are often combined with them). There are two types of examination:

for the Technological Baccalaureat (Baccalaureat Technologique), or
for the Technical Certificate (Brevet de Technicien), which gives a specialised technical qualification in a specific area and is awarded for general training that is compulsory for all (French, foreign languages, mathematics, and physical and sports education) and specific training in the technological and professional areas chosen.
These Baccalaureats combine a general education with specific professional or technical education.

People who have obtained the Brevet de Technicien can continue their studies in higher technical education or at the IUT (University Institute of Technology).

2. "Enseignement professionnel" aims to provide young people at secondary-school level with qualified vocational training. Initial vocational training nowadays comes in two varieties, corresponding to the two approaches to the diplomas in question: pupils can choose between training as a student in a vocational lycee or partially work-based training [apprentissage en alternance].

2.1. The lycees professionnels accept pupils from a college. After the third class, pupils can start to prepare for a Vocational Aptitude Certificate (Certificat d'Aptitude Professionnelle - CAP) or a Vocational Studies Certificate (Brevet d'Etudes Professionnelles - BEP). The courses last two years.

The CAP is more specialised than the BEP and is awarded for skill in one particular trade. The BEP certificate is awarded for vocational skills, not in a specific trade but for a set of activities in a given professional, industrial, commercial, administrative or social sector.

Pupils with a BEC or a CAP can go on to take a Technological Baccalaureat or a Vocational Baccalaureat [Baccalaureat Professionnel]. The Vocational Baccalaureat is awarded for high-quality training in a particular profession with, as its main characteristic, a minimum of 16 weeks of work experience in a firm.

2.2. Work-based training [apprenticeship - apprentissage ] is aimed at young people who have completed their compulsory schooling. It leads to the same diplomas as the lycees professionnels*. Training on an employer's premises is combined with teaching, during working hours, at an apprentices' training centre (centre de formation d'apprentis - CFA). Work-based training is founded on constant interaction between these two partners.

An apprenticeship contract [contrat d'apprentissage] is concluded between the employer and the apprentice - usually for a period of two years. The apprentice works for the employer and receives payment. Apprenticeship contracts give apprentices the right to training both in a firm and at a CFA.

The training given at the CFA is the same as for the diplomas at the vocational lycees but the teaching methods are different: the teachers systematically base their teaching on the work the apprentices have done in the firm, so as to impart the knowledge necessary for mastery of their trade.

* It is also possible to work for a higher-level vocational diploma by means of an apprenticeship.

School year
As in compulsory schooling, the school year usually starts in September and lasts 36 weeks.

Entry requirements
All pupils who have completed the consolidation cycle of primary school are admitted to college at the age of 12 at the latest.

Admission to general and technological or vocational lycees depends on the pupil's choice according to the opinion of teachers' council, the parents' wishes and the decision of an ad hoc committee. A firm must have been found to sign the apprenticeship contract before a pupil can be admitted to an apprenticeship.

Tuition fees
All compulsory schooling is provided free of charge. The cost of books and other teaching materials is often borne by the county councils (conseils generaux) in the case of colleges. The regional councils (conseils regionaux) often make a contribution towards the cost of vocational training (particularly the purchase of the pupil's first professional equipment) and can supply books.

At a college, the study of a first foreign language is compulsory from the sixth class onwards, and the study of a second foreign or regional language has been compulsory since September 1998 from the fourth class onwards. Study of a foreign language is compulsory in all courses preparing for vocational diplomas.

Moving up to the next class
In the college, marks are noted in a report which is sent to parents. Only in the fourth and third classes are pupils' results noted in a school report book and taken into account for the award of the national certificate (brevet).

In the lycee, the assessment of pupils is similar to that carried out in the colleges. The second class is important for specialisation. At the beginning of the year all pupils are assessed in the basic disciplines and during the year they decide what courses they want to take in the first class. These courses determine the kind of baccalaureat they will obtain at the end of their studies. In vocational training, access to higher-level training is based on the results obtained at this level.

At the end of the third class in the college, pupils sit a national examination, and, if successful, are awarded the national certificate (diplome national du brevet). The certificate is awarded on the basis of the marks obtained in the examination and the results obtained in the fourth and third classes. This is a general education certificate that does not determine future study options.

Studies completed in general and/or technological lycees lead to a general or technological baccalaureat examination. This is the key to admission to higher education and includes both compulsory and optional examinations.

Only one examination session is organised each year. In each regional education authority, a selection committee, headed by a Recteur, selects the examination subjects. Examinations are organised under the same conditions in September for candidates who were unable, for reasons beyond their control, to sit the examination at the end of the previous school year. Pupils who do not pass the baccalaureat examination but have, on average, received marks equivalent to at least 8/20 receive a secondary school leaving certificate (certificat de fin d'études secondaires). This certificate does not entitle them to enter higher education.

Initial vocational training leads to level-V (CAP or BEP) and level-IV diplomas (vocational baccalaureat). The examinations concern general and vocational subjects (theory and practice). Characteristic of the vocational examinations is assessment during the training itself, which makes it possible to establish the acquisition of some of the know-how and skills at training establishments or in firms.

Financial assistance
For upper secondary education there are direct and indirect State allowances. Direct allowances consist mainly of family allowances and education grants and are based on family income. Indirect allowances consist mainly of tax relief.

Other Types of Vocational Education

Training credit
Individualised training credit (credit formation) corresponds to two levels of qualification, the first comprising classes over two years intended to allow young people to obtain a CAP (Certificate of Professional Ability) confirming the training of a qualified worker or employee in a specific area of industry, craft or the service sector; or a BEP (Diploma of Professional Studies) which can be obtained through initial training, ongoing training or distance learning. Individualised training credit also enables students to undertake an individualised training course with a view to obtaining a vocational qualification recognised as equivalent to CAP and BEP level. There are 235 CAPs preparing pupils for specific jobs in the industrial and agricultural sectors and 30 BEPs preparing pupils for more highly-qualified activities in the same sectors.

The stream geared towards a baccalaureat after a CAP or a BEP allows students to obtain a high level of qualification corresponding to the need for training expressed by the professional sector, at an intermediate level between manual labour, qualified employee and higher technician.

Sandwich courses (formations en alternance)
These fall into three categories:

introduction to working life (SIVP),
qualification contracts allowing young people to obtain a vocational qualification in a firm,
adaptation contracts allowing young people to adapt their qualifications to their post in the firm.
For more general information on the national education system, see files "Kindergarten and primary school".

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 - Secondary School
Page 3 of 4 Secondary School Useful information on national provisions Secondary-school education extends over seven years, from the sixth to the final year, and is divided into two levels:...

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