Print Posted By Lost in France on 24 Sep 2005 in Living in France - Living in France

The French Education System


There is a long tradition of pre-school education (enseignement pre-elementaire) in France. Nursery schools (ecoles maternelles) are the only educational establishments that all children aged over two years on the first day of term may attend. The percentage of children attending nursery schools is higher in France than in any other European country, except Belgium; it ranges from 34% for two-year-olds to 100% for five-year-olds.

Attendance is optional but it is strongly recommended that children attend regularly so that they can adjust better to being with other children and draw the maximum benefit from this first experience of school. Attendance at public institutions (which represent 85% of all the establishments) is free of charge. The remaining 15% is mostly made up of denominational or non-State (private) institutions, which receive State and/or regional support and financial contributions from the individual families.

The children are generally divided by age into three sections: lower, middle and upper. This division is flexible in order to take account of the different learning rates and degrees of maturity of the various children and the skills they have acquired. The teaching team, in consultation with parents, can choose to place a child in the section that best suits his or her needs, even if it does not precisely correspond to the child's age.

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 

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

Higher Education

Structure and Duration
Higher education is characterised by a great variety of institutions. Organisation and admission vary according to the type of institution and the purpose of the education provided.

Higher education institutions include:

universities, which offer short courses (Baccalaureat + 2, first cycle) or long courses (Baccalaureat + 3 or more, second and third cycles);
public or private colleges or institutes, which provide higher vocational education under the supervision of various ministries. This takes the form of short courses (technological, commercial or paramedical training etc.) or long courses of three or more years after the Baccalaureat (political science, engineering, commerce and management, veterinary science, notarial skills, architecture, telecommunications and art).
Post-baccalaureat courses are offered by general and technological lycees: classes preparatoires aux grandes ecoles (CPGE); higher technical sections (STS), which prepare students in two years for the brevet de technicien superieur (BTS).

Long courses are offered by the grandes ecoles, which can be private or public. Most of France's senior civil servants and engineers have passed through this type of educational institute. The limited number of places, allied to the fact that most graduates of a particular grande ecole enter the same profession, creates important networks. Courses last three years.

Most private institutions recognised by decree of the Ministry for Higher Education have the right to award official certificates.

Academic Year
As a rule, the academic year runs from the beginning of October until the end of June.

Entry Requirements
A) Qualifications

To enrol at a university, applicants must hold a Baccalaureat or a certificate judged equivalent, or must have the national diploma providing access to university studies (diplome d'acces aux etudes universitaires - DAEU). To enter a grande ecole, students must, after obtaining the Baccalaureat, prepare for the entry examination in a classe preparatoire aux grandes ecoles (CPGE). European citizens must possess the qualification allowing them to enter higher education in their home country.

B) Admission

Universities are obliged to admit all Baccalaureat candidates to the first year of courses. Applicants to the grandes ecoles have to take an entry examination, prepared for in a CPGE, admission to which is subject to scrutiny of the applicant's school record by a committee of teachers in the CPGE itself. The entry examinations are organised by the grandes ecoles themselves. Admission to these institutions is very selective.

Other higher-education establishments apply selection criteria and methods that they decide on themselves (entry examinations, scrutiny of applicants' records, interview etc.). In addition to an entry examination, each grande ecole can apply its own selection criteria and methods. EU citizens are subject to the same rules as French students.

The yearly registration with the "service de scolarite" at the university in question has to take place before 31 July (inquire carefully, because some universities have earlier closing dates). Course registration (inscription pedagogique) takes place at the beginning of the academic year.

C) Numerus Clausus

No numerus clausus rules are applied by French universities, except the medical faculties. In other subjects, students are admitted according to the institution's capacity. However, students have to pass the two-year degree (DEUG or DEUST) to be admitted to continue for further degrees. Grandes ecoles always apply the numerus clausus rule.

D) Languages

To enter university, EU citizens must have a good knowledge of French. Some categories of citizen are exempt from this requirement.

Tuition Fees
Administrative registration involves the payment of tuition fees (holders of grants from the French Government are exempt from paying tuition fees.) Various other costs have to be added. Some are obligatory (such as provisions for health insurance and social security), others voluntary (such as fees for membership of a mutual benefit or sports association). After payment of registration fees, students are issued with a student identity card (Carte d'etudiant).

University tuition fees for courses leading to national degrees are laid down each year by a decree of the Minister responsible for higher education. Foreign students from EU Member States, with the exception of Erasmus students, must pay these fees unless they are receiving a grant from the Ministry responsible for higher education. The same applies to all public higher-education establishments. The fees for public and private ecoles superieures are higher and vary.

Academic Recognition

A) Recognition of Certificates of Aptitude for Higher Education

The holders of a foreign secondary-school or higher-education certificate wishing to study in France should apply to the establishment of their choice: decisions concerning the recognition of diplomas are taken by the head of the establishment in question. A full or partial academic waiver may be granted by an education committee, which takes its decisions on a case-by-case basis. Some courses, however, have different entry requirements (medicine, pharmacy, paramedical training, architecture, agronomy, music, dance, plastic arts etc.).

B) Recognition of Final Qualifications

Information on the recognition of higher-education qualifications awarded by other EU countries can be obtained at NARIC centres.

At university level, the intermediate and final qualifications are as follows:

first cycle; DEUG (diplome d'etudes universitaires generales) or DEUST (diplome d'etudes universitaires scientifiques et technologiques), lasting two years (Baccalaureat +2);
second cycle; basic and professional education leading to the degree of Licence (DEUG +1) and Maitrise (Licence +1); professional education leading to a technical Maitrise (DEUG +2); three-year course of study leading to an engineering degree (Maitrise +1); courses at IUP (university institutes of vocational education) and IUFM (university institutes for teacher training);
third cycle; professional education leading to a certificate of advanced specialised studies (diplome d'etudes superieures specialisees - DESS, Maitrise +1) or research training leading to an advanced studies certificate (diplome d'etudes approfondies - DEA). The DEA can be followed by the Doctorat.
All public and private institutions and grandes ecoles issue a final certificate in their field of specialisation.

Financial Assistance

A) Grants (from the Ministry of Youth, Education & Research)

Two types of grants are available for both French and European citizens: those awarded on social criteria and those awarded to third-cycle students on the basis of academic and social criteria.

Social grants are awarded on the basis of family income and outgoings and, in some cases, students' incomes. They are available to students who are under the age of 26 when they submit their first application and who wish to study full-time or to follow a correspondence course or open distance-learning course (on a digital campus) for a national or other approved degree . If they have to repeat part of their course or if they change subject, students in the first or second cycles, students studying engineering, medicine or pharmacy, and students studying for a teaching qualification are eligible for grants for three years in the first cycle and one supplementary year in the second cycle.

B) Eligibility

Grants are awarded on the basis of family income and outgoings assessed according to a national scale laid down each year by interministerial decree on the basis of performance on courses and in preparation for the end-of-year exams or for full-time courses or correspondence courses, or in open distance-learning courses (on a digital campus). Students must be enrolled in the first or second cycle, in technical higher education sections or in preparatory classes for grandes ecoles. They have to be under 26 if starting studies.

For the third-cycle, scholarships on the basis of university (DEA) and social (DESS) criteria are quantified and granted by the regional education authorities on the basis of a ranking drawn up by the university presidents in the light of the candidates' results. EU citizens are eligible for such aid in accordance with the Community rules.

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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