and secondary schools
in France -
"maternelle" to "lycée"
It used to be commonly accepted that the French Education system
was one of the best in the world. Today, though any such a bold overall
affirmation must be open to question, it is still true to say that the
French education system is one of the more successful in the world, and
that in certain fields it remains a world leader. According to the
OECD, France's education system is average, compared to other developed
Education is compulsory in France from the ages of 6 to 16, but a large
majority of children start school well before the minimum age, often as
young as two years old, and over 50% of 18-21 year olds in France are
still in full-time education, or else following a vocational training
course. Some 64% of all school pupils in France complete their
secondary education, and take the high-school leaving certificate
examinations, known as the baccalauréat or the
professionnel. The official target - estimated as necessary for the
needs of the nation - is 80%.
The different types of
school: (taken by age of pupils):
Maternelle (kindergarten) and creches ;
Kindergarten or pre-school. Ecoles Maternelles take pupils
from age 2
to age 6, and prepare them for entry into primary school. The French
école maternelle is more than just a playschool; the
includes reading and writing, numeracy and even sometimes a foreign
language, as well as artistic and creative activities. There are three
classes, "les petits", "les moyens" and "les grands".
Prior to nursery schools, there are also a lot of private and public
nurseries, called crèches.
These daycare centers keep babies from 2 months to 3 years old, until
they can attend the Ecole Maternelle. There ares everal types of
crèches (Crèches Collectives,
Crèches Parentales, etc.) providing different services
temporary child care), size (from 10 to 60 children) and management
(crèches Parentales require the parents to help).
There are more
than 11,000 Crèches in France, but getting a slot can be
mothers are advised to look for a slot as soon as they are pregnant.
Other alternatives exist, Assitantes Maternelles can keep 3 or 4 babies
at their home and are recognized by the French State.
Primary school, grade school. Five classes, ages 6 to 11. The
school curriculum in France is similar to that in other countries, and
includes literacy and numeracy, with classes in French, arithmetic, but
also geography and history, the arts, and more and more frequently a
foreign language, usually English. Until 2008, the school week was
Monday to Saturday morning, with Wednesday free. From September 2008,
there are no more classes on Saturday morning. Pupils have an average
of 28 hours classes per week. The five classes in the Ecole Primaire
are, in order, CP, CE1, CE2, CM1, and CM2 : CP is Cours
preparatory class, CE means cours élémentaire -
elementary class - ,
and CM is cours moyen, middle class; the two middle classes are a
preparation for the next level, which is middle school.
school. Four levels, normally for pupils aged 11 - 15. The
unique" is the backbone of the French school system. All pupils go to
collège, usually at age 11, but sometimes at an older age,
if they have
been made to repeat a year in primary school. The collège is
to provide all pupils with a fundamental secondary education, after
which a certain degree of specialisation will be introduced. In
practice, pupils are frequently oriented during their
either towards general classes, from which they will be expected to
continue their education in a traditional lycée, or towards
technical classes, after which they will be expcted to take an exam
called the "brevet"
(a kind of GCSE), and then either stop their secondary education (if
they have reached school leaving age), or continue in a
professionnel" or vocational high school. The programme in
includes French, maths, history, geography, technical education,
art/music, physical education, civic education, some science, and at
least one foreign language. The four classes, corresponding to grades 6
to 9, are called sixième, cinquième,
quatrième and troisième.
traditional French lycée covers the last three years of
education. There are two main types of traditional lycée,
général or lycée
In big towns and cities, there will be a mix of both types; in smaller
towns, there may not be a lycée tehnique. The main function
lycée is to prepare pupils to sit the baccalauréat
(or bac) exam, the equivalent of British A levels. Classes in a
traditional lycée cover the same range as in
collège, with the addition
of philosophy (for all) in the final year. The three classes (grades 10
to 12) are known as seconde, première and terminale.
In theory, all public lycées offer the same quality of
the framework of of the national education system, and private
same quality; in practice, this is not strictly true, and "league
tables" published each year highlight the very high performance levels
of a number of lycées that are commonly recognised as
shools: these include the Lycée Louis-le-Grand or
Lycée Henri-IV in
Paris, the Lycée Fermat in Toulouse, and a handful of other
public lycées. However, in recent years, more and more of
positions in the league tables have been taken by private
as the Collège Stanislas in Paris, France's largest private
In 2010, the French lycée league table
by the Figaro newspaper had
only 6 state lycées in the top twenty, while that published
magazine l'Etudiant had only five state lycées among the top
and the league table published by L'Internaute had eight public
as against 12 private schools in the top twenty. At secondary school
(high school) level, about 20% of pupils are in private schools,
against slightly less than 80% in public state school. See
and private schools
Pupils in a lycée technique may begin to specialise in a
technical field, in addition to their general
secondary studies. There
are technical lycées specialising in fields such as
or aeronautics. Technical lycées that provide training in
specialised fields are usually boarding schools, since they recruit
pupils from a large catchment area, and even on occasions from all over
Vocational high school.
they are commonly known, provide an essentially non-academic syllabus
for young people intending to work in manual or clerical jobs. Pupils
will either work towards a "baccalauréat professionnel" (bac
which they will need to continue taking classes in the main acaemic
subjects - French, maths, and frequently a foreign language), a BEP
(Brevet d'enseignement professionnel), or a CAP (certificat d'aptitude
professionnel). One common type of Lycée pro, found in most
the "lycée du bâtiment" or building trades
lycée, where pupils
specialise in one of the many trades of the building and construction
sector. There are also a good number of agricultural high schools,
"lycées agricoles" and even horticultural high schools,
horticoles", providing the increasingly technical ducation required by
tomorrow's farmers and gardeners.
Public and private schools in
It is commonly believed, outside France, that virtually all
France are state schools, i.e. in the public sector. This is a
misconception. Over 80% of school pupils are in state schools, but this
leaves a substantial (and growing) minority of almost 20% who attend
private schools - far more, for instance, than in the United Kingdom or
private schools are run by the Catholic church
However the private/public divide is not as clear as it is in other
countries. Private schools in France are essentially (about 90%)
catholic schools, in which there is religious instruction in the
curriculum; they select their own teachers, but must follow the same
curriculum as state schools if they wish to remain under contract
to the state education system. This is a very important point for
almost all private schools, as it means that the state pays the
teachers. Consequently, private schools in France only charge symbolic
or low fees, and are accessible to pupils from all sectors of society,
not just to those whose parents are well-off. There are only a handful
of fee-paying boarding schools in France, similar to English "public
The state education system attaches great importance to the principle
of secularism (la laïcité),
and there is no formal teaching of religion
in state schools in France. In theory, religion has no
place in state
schools in France. However, recent events in France have led to a
growing demand for schools to teach religious awareness, this being
seen by some as necessary for the development of greater understanding
between people of different religions, notably with regard to France's
Islamic minority. Religious instruction is not banned from state
schools in France; it can take place after hours, for pupils who wish -
or at least, that is the legal position. School chaplains (aumoniers)
are officially appointed by the "recteur" (Chairperson) of the
"académie" (Local Education Authority).
English "A levels" or Scottish "highers", the baccalaureate is a
unitary exam, that pupils pass or fail. It is impossible to pass in one
subject and fail in others. The only mark that counts is the final
weighted average, which must be at last 10/20 for a pupil to pass.
Pupils who achieve just under 10/20 are often passed by the exam board,
whose decision is final. Pupils achieving betwen 8 and 10 can resit
their bacalaureat as an oral exam a few weeks later. Those who get
under 8/20 must retake their year, and try again.
The general Baccalaureate is organised in different "series". In their
final year, all pupils specialise in function of the "series" they have
chosen, of which currently there are three; the "L" series (literary
studies), the "ES" series (economic et social studies), and the S"
series (sciences). Each "series" includes different specialities. The
role of lycées in post-baccalaureat studies is discussed on
the higher education
There is much discussion among academics and teachers, and in the
media, on the question of the "level" of today's baccalaureate. In
recent years, the success rate at the Baccalaureat has been betwen 75
an 80% (with top lycées achieving 100%). Many academics
the baccalaureate these days is given away, and that this is a major
cause of the high failure rate in the first year of university.
Ministers and civil servants claim that this is not the case. This
polemic, however, is not confined to France, and the arguments over the
academic level of high-school leavers is one that is frequently
highlighted in the media in many countries, even in Switzerland!
in the French education system is entirely standardized. All marks or
grades for assignments, tests, or exams are out of twenty, and the pass
mark is 10/20. This goes from junior school through to postgraduate
Grade inflation is not as big a problem in
France as in some countries, and a mark of over 15/20 remains
exceptionally good. However, grade inflation at the Baccalaureate has
become an issue since the late 1990s, as figures from the French
Ministry of Education show.
The grading system was
first set up in for the Baccalaureate in the year 1830, and has not
changed in over 170 years - surely a world record! The grades
: "passable" or a simple pass.
getting an average mark of between 8 and 9.99 on their Baccalaureate
exam are entitled to resit the exam a few weeks later.
12-13.99 : "mention assez bien", or a good pass
14-15.99 : "mention bien", or a pass with merit
16 or higher : "mention très bien", or pass with distinction.
Grade distribution and grade inflation
Back in 1967,
68.2% of those who passed the traditional Baccalaureate
(Baccalauréat général) were awarded a
27.1% got a good pass, and less than 5% got a mark of 14 or more
– a pass with merit or distinction.
remained pretty similar until the mid 1990s, but by 2004 over 14% of
successful candidates were getting a mark of 14 or more, and a pass
with merit or distinction – three times more than in 1967.
over half of all successful candidates got some kind of a
"mention" (i.e. a grade of 12/20 or higher), and in 2014 almost 27% of
successful candidates got a merit or a distinction (a mark of 14 or
higher). 10.7% got the coveted "mention très bien"
with distinction.... up from just 0.3% in 1967.
Still, with only about 1 candidate out of ten achieving the
grade, a top grade at the French Baccalaureate continues to carry a lot
of weight – far more so than in countries where the top grade
obtained by up to 30% of candidates. In the UK for instance, 26.3% of
A-level grades obtained the equivalent top grade (A or A*) in 2013, and
in the USA data suggests that top "A grades" are being
over 40% of students. (There can be no clear comparable national
statistics for the USA, as high school graduation is not based on final
exams and grading systems or not always the same.)