So, you’ve decided to make the big move to Paris and you’re bringing your family with you! While this must be incredibly exciting, it also comes with many questions –

  • What school should I put my child in?
  • What are French schools like?
  • How will they prepare my child for higher education?

No need to fear! This complete guide to Paris schools for expats will introduce you to the French education system, explain the different schooling options here in Paris, help you choose which school is best for your child, and give you the steps to get started enrolling them.

Table of Contents:

What is the French education system like?

The French education system has a somewhat unusual structure, however we’ve made it easy to understand exactly where your child lands. A child’s eligibility for a certain grade is determined by the year they were born, not by their age at the start of the school year. For example, a child born in December of 2020 will be eligible for petit section in 2023, despite being only two years old when the school year starts. To learn more about childcare for your littlest expats, check out our other article here.

What grade is my child in?

  • Preschool (Écoles maternelles) – Ages 3 to 6
  • Primary School (École élémentaire) – Ages 6 to 11
    • CP (Cours Préparatoire) – Ages 6 to 7 ( First grade)
    • CE1 (Cours élémentaire 1) – Ages 7 to 8 (Second Grade)
    • CE2 (Cours élémentaire 2) – Ages 8 to 9 (Third Grade)
    • CM1 (Cours moyen 1) – Ages 9 to 10 (Fourth Grade)
    • CM2 (Cours moyen 2) – Ages 10 to 11 (Fifth Grade)
  • Middle School (Collège) – Ages 11 to 15
    • Sixième (6ème) – Ages 11 to 12 (Sixth Grade)
    • Cinquième (5ème) – Ages 12 to 13 (Seventh Grade)
    • Quatrième (4ème) – Ages 13 to 14 (Eighth Grade)
    • Troisième (3ème) – Ages 14 to 15 (Freshman in High School/ Ninth Grade)
  • High School (Lycée) – Ages 15 to 18
    • In France, Secondary education is required until age 16. After this they can choose to either continue in secondary education for the last 3 years (Until they are 18) or sign up for 2 years of apprenticeship or civil service. If they choose to continue secondary education, they have some options:
      • General (Lycée Générale) – academic training
      • Technical (Lycée technologique) – art/applied sciences/ technical training
      • Professional (Lycée professionnel) – vocational training
    • Seconde – Ages 15 to 16 (Sophomore in HS/ 10th grade)
    • Primière – Ages 16 to 17 (Junior in HS/ 11th grade)
    • Terminale – Ages 17 to 18 (Senior in HS/ 12th grade)

What is the grading system like in France?

The French also have a unique grading system that can be a bit hard to understand for outsiders. The system is based on a 20-point scale, however, scores between 17-20 are almost unheard of because of how difficult they are to achieve. Depending on the subject, a score between 12-16 could be considered excellent.

  • Echec (Fail) : 0 – 9, F
  • Suffisant (Sufficient) : 10, E
  • Satisfiant (Satisfactory) : 11, D
  • Assez Bien (Quite Good) : 12 – 13, C
  • Bien (Good) : 14 – 15, B
  • Très Bien (Very Good) : 16 – 17, A
  • Excellent (Outstanding) : 18 – 20, A+

How do French schools prepare students for higher education?

At the end of high school, students have the option to take the general, technical, or professional baccalaureate exams. These exams consist of three written exams and one oral exam, and they make up 60% of the student’s final grade. Around 85% of students leave high school with a baccalaureate diploma (also called a bac). French universities are open to all that possess a bac or an equivalent foreign high school degree. More elite schools called grandes écoles often require additional preparatory studies that generally last between two and three years.

What are French Public schools like?

French state schools are all free and open to anyone. Similarly to American public schools, which school your student attends is based on location in most cases. Also like American public schools, the quality of the school can vary based on the socio-economic status of the area. French public schools generally follow the same curriculum of private schools (exceptions to be discussed later), however the class sizes are typically much larger than private schools and your student may receive less one-on-one attention from teachers. French public schools typically do not provide language assistance for children who do not speak French. Because of this older expat children may have a hard time adjusting to a new school in a foreign language, and often end up repeating a year.

How can I register my child for French public school?

Registration for French public schools generally happens during the end of the Spring semester to start the following September. First you will need to contact your educational district’s head (rectorat) and in a few weeks or sometimes months a school will be assigned to you based on where you live and if your child has any specific needs. To register your child at your assigned school, you will need to get a certificat d’inscription. You can get this either by supplying the following documents directly to your rectorat, or through an online portal:

  • Proof of birth – often a birth certificate
  • Both you and your child’s ID or copy of passport
  • a passport-style photo of your child
  • proof of residence – usually a utility bill or rental agreement showing your home address

What are private schools like in France?

Around 22% of French children attend a private secondary school, also known as an école priveé or école libre. This number has steadily increased in recent years surrounding criticism of the public school system. In France, there are two types of private schools: those that receive government money (sous contract) and those that don’t (hors contract). Sous contract schools are required to follow the public school curriculum, but often offer additional courses and extra support for students (including support for non-French-speaking students). Hors contract schools have complete freedom of curriculum, and are often much more expensive.

What about international schools?

There are many international school options in Paris with different curriculums and focuses. These schools focus on providing multicultural learning environments for children from around the world. Each school will offer different types of diplomas and prepare students for different types of college entrance exams depending on which curriculums they follow. Here we will explore the 4 most common types of international schools in France.

International Baccalaureate (IB) Schools

International Baccalaureate schools follow an internationally recognized curriculum, not to be confused with the French Baccalaureate tests. These schools are either bilingual (English + another language) or fully English taught. In order to achieve an IB diploma students will study six subjects over two years: Literature, foreign languages, sciences, mathematics, humanities, and arts. They will also take an additional course in philosophy and contribute to a creative activity or complete service in their community. As their final project they are expected to write a 4,000 word essay. This degree is internationally recognized and will give your child many options when deciding where to go for their higher education. For more information on the program, check out their website here.

Baccalaureate Francaise International Schools

These schools can be public or private and follow the typical French baccalaureate syllabus with an added layer of extra studies and exams. These additional studies are focused on studying the arts, cultures, languages, and histories of other countries. These schools are best for students that are bilingual or international students that are fluent in French and intend to apply to a French university after graduation.

American International Schools and Advanced Placement (AP)

Some schools follow an American curriculum and prepare students for American college entrance exams like the ACTs and SATs. These schools also often offer AP courses which allow students to earn college credit while in high school. These schools are recommended for students who wish to attend an American university after graduation.

British International Schools and A-Level exams

British international schools are known for hosting students from all over the world and follow the British standard curriculum. These schools prepare students to take the English GCSE and A-Level exams. While this option is mostly recommended for students hoping to pursue higher education in the UK after graduation, the diploma and tests taken offer much more flexibility in ability to transfer to other countries than American diplomas and tests.

So how do I choose what’s right for my child?

Length of stay in France

How long are you and your family planning to stay in France? If you are only planning to be here for a year, then it might be best to consider a school that teaches in your native language so your child has the best chance of flourishing during your time here. Many international school students are expats as well and do not stay in one country for longer than a year or two. However, if you are planning on staying longer it might be good to consider putting your child in a bilingual school so they can learn the language and adjust to the culture faster. It can also be advantageous to have your child prepare for the baccalaureate if they are planning on staying in France for their higher education as well.

Education system: what works best for your child?

Different systems have different curriculum and standards for performance, which can be hard to adjust to. Something to consider is checking where your child’s home curriculum left off and where their new one will pick up. Will your child need to catch up a bit? Will they be too advanced? Finding what works best for your child is a personal journey that ambassadors from different schools would be glad to explore with you.

Languages Spoken

Obviously, if your child does not speak any French they will not be able to thrive in a purely French-speaking school, but something else to consider is the sense of community. Being around peers who do not speak your language causally can be isolating for children, and can make adjusting to a new country unnecesscarily difficult. It is important to consider what languages your child will be speaking with their peers and what will be best for them to be able to connect completely with their new environment.

Qualifications Awarded

Most traditional high schools are aimed at preparing your child for university, through giving them the basics and giving them specific training for standardized tests. Something to consider when picking a high school for your child is which direction they want to go afterwards. If your child wants to go to a specific country for university it is a good idea to enroll them in a school that will give them the diploma and preparation they need for the application process. If your child is less sure about where they want to end up, an International Baccalaureate is generally a good way to go as it is accepted in many countries and follows an internationally consistent curriculum.

Still have questions?

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