Your Guide to the French Educational System


The education system in your country may come as innate knowledge, but from the outside looking in, the educational roadmap may be harder to navigate. As many of you are quite literally moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar, SFP thought it would be helpful to cover some of the topics central to your new way of living. The education system is perhaps one of the most important topics for those living in Paris with kids. It may be a bit tricky to comprehend on your first go, but understanding how kids come into adulthood in France is a valuable and important piece of knowledge about the French culture. Take, for example, the early pathways kids are sorted into in order to choose their topic of expertise. Or take a crack at the organization of levels (hint: the French sometimes count backwards.)





Students who attend Crèche age from three months to three years. Crèche is a daycare of sorts provided by the government and is not considered education because there is no set curriculum and there are no mandated skills to master according to the French education board. This period is more about experimenting and discovering what it means to be human, and how to live and socialize in your community. Activities during the Crèche period range from painting, and arts and crafts to playing, cooking, and exercising (going to a baby pool, baby gymnastics.) The focus here is on the experience itself, unlike in other stages of education where there are standards that are set and meant to be achieved. Perhaps this stage in schooling and childcare is the largest difference among nations such as the U.S. and U.K.



Maternelle is the beginning of the established school system. Children here range from 3 to 5 years old with school hours approximately from 8.30am to 4.PM. Maternelle is where children learn about basics such as letters and numbers. They also employ learning methodologies through singing, manual activities, and sports.



Photo courtesy of Alice Achterhof



Primaire (also known as élémentaire) is where children ages 6 to 11 attend school. These five years are a pillar of the children’s future educational success as it is during this time that they learn to read, write, and count. This period is split into two cycles: Cycle II and Cycle III. The first year of Primaire is known as cours préparatoire or CP as it sets the stage for the fundamentals.
The second year is annotated as CE1 and is for kids 7-8 years old following with the third year known as CE2.

After completing these initial three years, children begin Cycle III and commence Cours Moyen 1 (annotated as CM1) at age 9-10 years old. Cours Moyen 2 follows CM1 as the last year of primaire school. As one exits Primaire, they will have essentially finished the US equivalent to elementary school spanning five years.



Collège can be thought of as the U.S. equivalent to middle school with the additional first two years of high school. Preteens and teens attend collège from 11 to 15 years old. The years are split up and labeled by 6eme for the first year, 5ème for the second year, 4ème for the third year, and 3ème for the fourth year (talk about confusing!) At the end of 3ème, the students must pass the Brevet d’Etudes des Collèges (BEPC) to continue. The BEPC sorts children into three different areas for their high school studies: Voie General, Voie Technologique, and Voie Professionnelle. Voie Générale is where students have the most options on what to specialize in after lycée. Students who go through the Voie Générale will eventually go onto university to do a degree in a Bachelor of Arts, whereas going through the Voie Technologique will lead to the equivalent of a Bachelors in Science, focusing on something specific such as architecture, biochemistry, or finance. Dance is randomly categorized under this school as well. Lastly, we have Voie Professionelle which can be thought of as a trade school of sorts. It helps to train those who plan to work right after school, such as in a hair salon, or as a baker.



Photo courtesy of Davide Cantelli



You can think of lycée as the last few years of American high school. Kids range from age 15 to 18 with the first year of of lycée being labeled as Seconde, the second as Premiere, and finally the last year of mandatory school, Terminale. Lycée is a bit more personalized compared to children’s education before. Students can chose optional classes (art, theatre, and music) that were mandatory but with a relatively low number of hours as opposed to collège.



In terminale, students with a Voie Technologique or Voie Général background must then rank their top four schools. According to the school’s choice, the highest on your list that you are accepted to, you must attend which makes the decision making process very important. This year is also the year where you complete the majority of your Baccalaureate.


Le Baccalaureate

The Baccalaureate (commonly called “le Bac“) is broken up into two years. The first year covers the less important subjects such as Life Science, and History. These tests make up only a small portion of the final BAC score as the first year tests have whats called a lower coefficient, meaning the score is not multiplied by much in order to attribute to the final score. The Terminale year is when students do the majority of the BAC. Students take 10+ subject exams that relate to the specific pathway that they chose. An example of some of these the subject exams are Physics or Economics. If there is a specific area that you excel in, you may choose to allocate a higher percentage of your score towards that result. Students must pass the Bac in order to graduate from high school and continue on to university.



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