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Secondary schools in France

Updated: Sep 13, 2022


The great majority of students enrolled in secondary education in France are enrolled in public institutions that are run by the state. About fifteen percent of secondary school pupils enrolled in private schools. Although the vast majority of institutions are Catholic, several private schools teach students using various pedagogical approaches. There are also bilingual and foreign schools in this category.


The French government's public schools are under the purview of the Ministry of Education. To the age of sixteen, education is obligatory for all children under the law. Middle school, known as collège in France, is compulsory education for children aged 11 to 15 in that country.


After this point, the overwhelming majority of kids continue their education and remain enrolled in some kind of academic program until they reach the age of 18. High schools, often known as lychees, are where students spend the last three years of their secondary education. There are three different kinds of lychees. Students who are more interested in their education attend a lycée general or a lycée technique, whereas those who enroll at a lycée professionnel get a more focused education on their chosen career path.


Students take the Baccalaureat examination while they are graduating from high school. However, this should not be confused with the Worldwide Baccalaureate (IB), which is a recognized international credential that may be earned at certain French educational institutions. There are several different kinds of baccalaureats, one of which is called the Baccalauréat francais international. This baccalauréat is offered in 14 different languages at a limited group of educational institutions. To get admitted to a university, students are required to complete the baccalaureate exam. On a scale that ranges from 1 to 20, with 10 representing a passing mark, each topic is given a grade.


There are 28 educational districts in France, often known as academies, which are responsible for aligning the local curriculum and tests with the national norm. Academic study is a significant portion of the curriculum in French schools. The majority of learning for fields such as the performing arts, visual arts, and athletics occurs outside of the classroom. Read our introduction to the French educational system to get further knowledge on the topic.


Two cycles of secondary education in France


Notable to mention, the secondary education system in France is divided into two cycles: collège and lycée. Middle school is referred to as collège. Students often begin their studies in middle school when they are 11 years old and continue through high school when they are 15 to 18 years old.


In France, middle school is known as collège.


In France, the four academic years that makeup collège are as follows:


● Sixième (6ème) - ages 11 to 12

● Cinquième (5ème) - ages 12 to 13

● Quatrième (4ème) - ages 13 to 14

● Troisième (3ème) - ages 14 to 15


State schools do not need students to take admission exams, and they are willing to teach students of any age. Before the beginning of the school year in September, students have until the end of June to register at the town hall (mairie) in their respective communities. After that, a student will be placed in a school that is geographically near to their house. Having said that, a parent can request that their kid attends a different school (that is located outside of their child's catchment area) that provides a particular curriculum or topic that is of interest to their child.


The following are some of the topics that are often taught at French collèges:


● French

● Mathematics

● Science (chemistry, physics)

● The past and the present both

● Instruction in specialized fields

● Art and music

● Education in physical activity

● Education in civic matters

● A foreign language


It is important to note that the study of biology is not yet included in the scientific category of the curriculum at this point.


High school (lycée) in France


Secondary schooling is required for all children in France until they reach the age of 16. After this point, pupils have the option of continuing their education for the remaining three years of secondary school (until they reach the age of 18) or signing up for two years of apprenticeships or community service. A student has the option of continuing their education through the last three years of secondary school by choosing to enroll in one of the following three study tracks in high school (lycée):


● General ( lycée générale) – academic training

● Technical (lycée technologique) - arts/applied sciences/technical instruction

● Professional (lycée professionnel) - occupational training


Notably, there are other high schools known as lycée polyvalents that provide all three of these training options.


The following three levels make up every lycée, often known as academic streams:


● Seconde is for musicians aged 15 to 16.

● Première - ages 16 to 17

● Terminale refers to the years 17 and 18.


Students who are enrolled in the technologique and professionnel streams have the opportunity to leave their studies after two years with a different diploma, such as the Le certificate d'aptitude profesionalle (CAP) or Le brevet d'études professionnelles (BEP), and begin work training without having obtained a baccalauréat.


General (Lycée Générale)


Traditionally, there have been three paths that students might choose while attending a regular high school:


● French, languages or arts, and philosophy make up the letter L.

● ES stands for "economics" and "mathematics."

● S stands for the sciences of mathematics, physics and chemistry, earth, and life.


Nevertheless, a new change that is scheduled to take effect in 2021 will eliminate these streams. Even after completing their first year (seconde), students will continue to be required to take lessons in areas considered fundamental to their education. These subjects include French, history, geography, foreign languages, sport, philosophy, and science. However, to tailor their education more closely to their pursuits, students will be required to choose three emphases, such as arts, social and economic studies, and physical education. The next year, in their last year of school, they will abandon one of these optional studies. The revised baccalauréat curriculum focuses a greater emphasis on continual assessment and assigns less weight to the value of the final test.


Pupils have various options for the baccalauréat test that they may take when they are seniors in high school. Passing this exam enables students to enroll in one of the public universities in France.


Technical (Lycée Technologique)


Students who choose to concentrate their studies in this area will, in all likelihood, continue their education at a postsecondary level in one of a variety of non-academic, technical disciplines, such as hotel management or costume design. There are eight different varieties of baccalauréat technologique, sometimes known as exam streams. These exam streams cover a total of seventeen different specialized technological subjects. The following are examples of them, however, the list is not exhaustive:


● The Intersection of Science, Industrial Technology, and Ecologically Sound Development (STI2D)

● Both the Health Industry and Social Science (ST2S)

● Management Sciences (STMG)

● Craftsmanship and Applied Art (STD2A)

● The Arts: Music and Dance (TMD)

● Agronomy (STAV)

● Hotel Management (STHR)


After completing their first year of study at the technological, students have the option of either specializing in a particular topic or taking a more comprehensive route. In addition, after students have received their high school diploma, they have the opportunity to enroll in a university bachelor's program (license) or a more technical two-year diploma program, such as the Brevet de technicien supérieur (BTS) or the Diplôme universitaire technologique (DUT).


Here you will discover a comprehensive list of topics covered in the general and technological lyceé courses, as well as a description of the various assessment techniques.


Professional/Vocational (Lycée Professionnel)


Apprenticeships and professional training are included in the high school curriculum to better prepare pupils for occupations (such as plumbers or beauticians) that they may pursue after completing their secondary education. As a result, it is the most effective technique to immediately join the working world after finishing high school.


In addition, students have their pick among more than one hundred distinct areas of concentration, and they may study toward any one of several different degrees. This could include the Certificat d'aptitude professionnelle (CAP) or Brevet d'études professionnelles (BEP). They are still eligible to apply to universities after completing this sort of lycée for a total of three years and earning a Baccalauréat professionnel (bac pro) diploma. However, before entering the profession, the majority of students continue their education and get a BTS (Brevet de technicien supérieur) or DUT (Diplôme universitaire technologique), which is the educational equivalent of two years of bachelor's degree studies.


French secondary schools that are run by the state or the public


Free, secular, and open to both male and female students, public secondary schools in France are sometimes referred to as state schools. Over 80% of students in France are enrolled in some kind of public education, and over 75% of those students who attend state schools finish their secondary education thereby passing the baccalauréat examinations.


The reading abilities of French students aged 15 are shown to be marginally superior to those of their peers throughout the OECD. However, academic performance varies widely depending on the socioeconomic background of the kid as well as the school. When compared to children who were born and raised in France, children from immigrant populations often have worse academic performance. In addition, there is often an insufficient amount of language help provided for children who do not speak French.


Despite this, the quality of instruction in French schools is normally quite excellent, and students are required to follow a curriculum that is determined at the national level. However, it is important to be aware that the educational method used in France places a greater emphasis on obedience and memorization of facts rather than on creative expression and individual autonomy. Therefore, if you are interested in finding an alternative method of instruction or educational program for your kid, you may want to consider looking into other available choices.


Curriculum and examinations in state secondary schools in France


A minimum of 26 hours of instruction is required of pupils each week while they are in secondary school. To be more specific, students spend 15 hours a week studying one of the following four major subject areas: French, mathematics, history/geography, and a foreign language, which is often English. The remaining time is divided among a second foreign language, science, technology, athletics, and the arts. Although there are around three to four hours devoted to physical exercises, just one hour is spent instructing students on creative themes. However, some institutions may provide extra disciplines as well as other languages to their students.


Learn more about school holidays in France


It is also important to keep in mind that some schools shut for the day on Wednesday afternoons and that older students could have class on Saturdays. When it comes to the number of pupils in each class, you can anticipate there will be at least 30 of them.


Students take their first exam for the brevet, known as the Diplôme National du Brevet (or Brevet des Collèges) when they are 15 years old. Their knowledge of French, mathematics, history, and geography will be evaluated using this exam. After then, pupils have the option of leaving the educational system when they become 16 years old. Alternately, the majority continue their education at a lycée. They begin their preparations for the baccalauréat (also known as le bac) here, which is an exam that is taken at the age of 18. This is the prerequisite that must be met to enroll in the university. During their time at the lycée, students begin to specialize in their studies to better prepare for the examinations that follow.


The grading system in French schools


The use of an absolute grading system, as opposed to a curve-based grading system, is often used by educators to promote individual competitiveness. As a result, the majority of the examinations and activities are graded out of twenty. As a result, the following would be an approximate equivalent for a grading scale that goes from A to F:


● Echec (fail): 0 – 9, F

● Suffisant (sufficient): 10, E

● Satisfaisant (satisfactory): 11, D

● Assez bien (very good): 12 – 13, C

● Bien (good): 14 – 15, B

● Très bien (quite good): 16 – 17, A

● Excellent (outstanding): 18 – 20, A+


As a result, the purpose of this grading system is to encourage students to push themselves to fulfill their academic potential and not to get complacent.


The advantages and disadvantages of public education in France


Some advantages of sending your child to a state school are:


● Free education is provided by the state

● Your kid may attend classes in the neighborhood.

● The quality of instruction is, on the whole, satisfactory.

● They will follow the same course of study as students at private schools in France.

● It will make it possible for them to assimilate into the community here, as well as for you.


Some potential disadvantages of sending your child to a state school include:


● The quality of the school might differ from one instance to another, and this is mostly determined by the socioeconomic standing of the community and the family that live there.

● Older children may have a more difficult time adapting to a new educational system that is conducted in a foreign language; thus, many expat kids end up having to repeat a year of school.

● If your kid does not speak French, there is a good chance that language help will not be provided.

● There are no options for youngsters whose parents have strict work schedules in terms of boarding facilities.


Applying to secondary state schools in France


You have until the end of the spring term to register your kid for the next school year for them to begin classes in September. However, if your kid will be coming to France from a country other than France, you will need to get in touch with the rectorat, which is the administrative head of the educational district. After that, a school will be assigned to your kid depending on where you reside and whether or not they have any special needs. This might take a few weeks or even a few months.


You can also consider writing a letter to the headmaster of a collège or lycée to explain why you would want to attend that particular institution. This formal request for a school exemption is known as a "demande de dérogation scolaire." Your request must be driven by a specific need, which might be medical (for example, your kid has a handicap), geographic (for example, the closeness of the school to your place of employment or a grandparent), or intellectual (for example, your child's desire to study a certain topic).


You must get a certificat d'inscription to register your child. You may do this by delivering the following papers to your rectorat or by submitting them to an online registration site.


● evidence of birth — a birth certificate, extrait de l'acte de naissance, or a livret de famille (an official French booklet of family records issued by the mairie)

● both of your identification documents or passport copies, if applicable.

● a photograph of your child's head in the format of a passport

● evidence that you are a resident of the state, often in the form of a copy of a utility bill or rental agreement that displays your home address.


Late June or early July is the time of year when your kid will often acquire a spot in the secondary school of their choice. You always have the option to file an appeal with the relevant authorities if your kid was not accepted into the school of your choice. Just keep in mind that there are only so many spots available at the top colleges.


Private secondary schools in France


About 22% of French pupils attend private schools (écoles privées or écoles libres) across France. In France, private schools may either be "contracted" to the French government, known as "sous contrat," or "non-contracted" (hors contract). These latter schools are in the minority, tend to charge higher tuition rates, and are not required to adhere to the national curriculum. Despite this, their level of popularity has been steadily rising over the last several years.


In the year 2020, there were about 1500 schools that were not required to follow the contract. Thirty percent of these schools are confessional, with the majority being Catholic. The remaining 70 percent are comprised of non-confessional schools, which also include several multilingual and international institutions of education.


Students at private schools often get more individualized attention, and the class sizes at private schools are typically lower. As a result of this, many of the private schools that get funding from the state will provide extra help for kids who do not speak French.


There is a large amount of variation in the cost of tuition for private institutions, which may vary anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000. On top of that, there is a possibility that there may be other expenses, such as registration fees, meals, and excursions. A first-come, first-served policy is often used during the enrollment process. Get in touch with the school to learn more about the admissions process and the qualifications needed to apply.


Private schools are likely your only choice if your kid needs overnight care since public schools do not provide such services. There are over 300 secondary schools in France that now provide full boarding for their students (internet).


International schools in France


In France, one may pick from a wide variety of educational options, including numerous kinds of foreign schools and programs. This applies to schools where English is used as the primary language of teaching, as well as schools that provide a fully bilingual curriculum in a variety of languages and schools in France that include an international division. The latter provides students with the opportunity to learn a few hours each week of any one of 17 different languages.


Some international schools adhere to the educational standards of the United Kingdom or the United States and provide students with the opportunity to earn English or American educational qualifications such as the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) or the American High School Diploma. Students attending foreign schools often have the opportunity to participate in the International Baccalaureate (IB) or to take a variety of coursework and examinations from a variety of educational programs.


Find a French international school in our directory


The application process and enrollment requirements might vary, however, it is ideal to submit your information as early as you possibly can. Schools often require students to attain a certain level of knowledge, and for kids to enroll, they must provide previous school records and test scores.


A list of CIS members and authorized international schools in France is available on the website of the Council of International Schools (CIS). You may also get in touch with the English Language School Association (ELSA), which is located in Paris and represents international and bilingual schools across France.


The advantages and disadvantages of attending an international school in France


Some advantages of enrolling your child in an international school include:


● They provide a wider variety of extracurricular activities as well as improved facilities.

● They create a community of multilingual educators and students from all over the world.

● Put a significant amount of focus on multiculturalism as well as languages.

● Maintain a high teacher-to-student ratio together with decreased class sizes.

● In most cases, parents can interact with their children on their tongue.

● It could be simpler for students to continue their education inside an educational system that they are already acquainted with and that is taught in a language that they can comprehend.

● They provide a curriculum that is recognized all around the world and might be useful for university applications.

● Their educational approaches may place a greater emphasis on the cultivation of individual creativity and self-awareness than on academic achievement and memorization.


Some disadvantages of enrolling your child in an international school:


● The costs of attending an international school might be prohibitively costly; however, financial aid in the form of scholarships, bursaries, and payment plans is often accessible. Additionally, some businesses provide tuition reimbursement programs.

● There is a possibility that children may assimilate into the local culture and language less.

● Because of the frequent relocation of students' families, the student population at foreign schools is often unstable, which may make maintaining connections challenging.

● A kid's academic talents may be evaluated through an entrance exam during the admissions process; as a result, your child may feel added pressure as a result of this.

● Since the vast majority of schools are concentrated in and around Paris and other large cities, none may be situated in your immediate vicinity.


High school exams in France


Students often take the general, technical, or professional baccalauréat examinations around the conclusion of their high school (lycée) careers, at an average age of 18. These end-of-year examinations have been reorganized as a result of a reform that is scheduled to take effect in 2021. Now, the student's final grade will be determined by the results of three written and one oral examinations. The remaining forty percent is a direct reflection of the results of ongoing evaluation. The objective of the reform is to provide students with a greater range of options in the courses they take and to promote continuity of effort and interest throughout the academic year.


At the moment, around 85 percent of pupils graduate from high school with a grade on their baccalaureat that qualifies them to continue their education at a French university. Almost half of the students, or 44%, go on to get a degree from an accredited institution. The sole qualification needed to enroll at a university in France is the possession of a "bac," which is the country's equivalent to a high school diploma earned in another country.


Getting into one of France's most prestigious "grandes écoles," on the other hand, often requires taking extra preparation coursework that may last anywhere from one to three years after graduating from high school. Students are prepared for the rigorous admission examinations required by France's most prestigious high schools by participating in these academically rigorous and demanding sessions.


The International Baccalaureate (IB) in France


The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a curriculum that is acknowledged all over the world as being of the highest quality. IB programs are offered to students in over 5,400 schools located in 159 different nations. 23 schools in France have earned the authorization to provide IB programs to their students. Education may be provided in either English and another language or just in English. Students have the option of enrolling in either a Diploma Program or a Career-related Program once they reach the age of 16. The International Baccalaureate (IB) is acknowledged as a qualification equivalent to that required for entry into universities all across the globe.


The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma requires students to study a total of six distinct disciplines for two years, and each subject area offers a variety of classes. The arts, literature, foreign languages, mathematics, science, and humanities are some of the subjects that are studied at school. In addition to this, students are required to take an extra course in philosophy, participate in either creative activity or community service, and compose an extended essay that is 4,000 words long. In this guide, you'll discover additional information regarding the International Baccalaureate diploma.


Trade schools in France


When they reach the age of 16, students in France have the option of enrolling in a lycée professionnel rather than continuing their studies at a lycée general. These are vocational schools that are open to the general public and are run by the Ministry of Education. There are approximately a thousand different schools known as "lycées des métiers" that provide this kind of vocational education. Students may also pursue more vocational-style courses at a lycée technical.


The lycées des métiers train students for several degrees, inluding the bac professionnel (BAC PRO), certificat d'aptitude professionnelle (CAP), brevet professionnel (BP), brevet des métiers d'arts (BMA), and brevet de technicien supérieur (BTS). These programmes typically run between two and three years and may either serve as a stepping stone to a degree programme at a university or as a straight road into the workforce.


There are professional lycées that concentrate their teaching on certain fields of the economy. For instance, the lycée des métiers de l'hôtellerie et du tourisme prepares students interested in tourism and hotel management. Students interested in pursuing careers in the agricultural industry have the option of enrolling in a vocational training programme at a centre de formation d'apprentis (CFA) or a lycée d'enseignement général, technologique et professionnel agricole (LEGTPA). Both of these types of schools offer courses.


The method of registering for classes is quite similar to that of a standard lycée. After finishing their time at the collège, students are often advised to continue their education at either a lycée technical or lycée professionnel. After having conversations with a job advice counselor, we will next proceed with this. Location is the determining factor in attributing places.


Useful resources


The official website of the French Ministry of Education may be found at France Education International.


The administrative processes section of the Ministry of the Interior's website is called Démarches Intérieur.


The official website of the International Baccalaureate (IB) may be found here.


The community of people involved in international education is known as the Council of International Schools (CoIS).


OECD is an organization that collects international data on educational systems and makes comparisons between them.


Enseignement Privé is the name of a website in French that focuses on private education.


ELSA, or the English Language Schools Association, has a website that may be accessed here.



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