Education in France – Introduction
Since 1967, school has been obligatory for all children between the ages of 6 and 16. The school going community of about 13 million pupils is educated through a unified system, the general structure of which (schools, lower secondary schools and lycées) was gradually established in the 1960s and 1970s. Since the 1970s, France has also witnessed a salient development in pre-school education; all children aged between three and five years can attend nursery schools
The French system is complemented by a comprehensive network of private schools including international schools. Most of the private schools are supervised by the Ministry of Education and account for about 15% of pupils in primary education and 20% in secondary education, the bulk of which has remained stable in the past decade. Many schools are run by the Catholic church in partnership with the State (which pays the teachers). Private schools with no such contracts account for less than 50,000 pupils and depend on considerable financial contributions by families.
Although the curriculum and processes in French schools are reformed regularly, the system does excel from a high degree of consistency across the country, and children of the same age can be expected to be studying the same subjects and textbooks at the same time. The new introduction of the seven skills ensures a systematic approach to education.
Reforms introduced in 1989/90 divided nursery and primary schools into cycles (cycles pedagogique). There are three cycles, each of which are three years period. These are designed to supply the ability for pupils to become better at their own speed and reduce the number of repeat years. The current programmes are:
Cycles des Apprentissages Premier. This relates to the first three years at Nursery School (Maternelle) , age 3 to 6
Cycles des Apprentissages Fondamentaux. This relates to the last year at Nursery School and the first 2 years of Primary. The courses are called CP (Cours Preparatoire) and CE1 (Cours Elementaire1)
Cycles des Approfondissements. This cycle includes the rest of time spent at Primary School and includes the course CE2 (Cours Elementaire2), CM1 (Cours Moyen1) and CM2 (Cours Moyen2)
Facilities have been built into the courses so that a child can move on to the next cycle even before the typical three year period has expired, or indeed, take longer if need be.
In In 2005 the government introduced the seven skills or compétences that support teaching in primary and secondary schools.
Children are expected to have a grasp of these competences when they leave collège.
The seven skills are:
• Mastery of the French language
• Practical Knowledge of a living, modern language
• The basic elements of maths, science and technology
• Familiarity with the common techniques of communication and obtaining information
• The humanities
• Social and civic responsibility
• Autonomy and initiative
If pupils obtain these skills, then as well as being successful at school, once they leave the system, they should cope well in working life, and fulfill their potential.
This is the first time since the Jules Ferry laws of 1882 that the State is specifying precisely what children should be learning at school. To see the job through, Robien has appointed a Committee of Orientation. Each competence is overseen by a member of the committee. Especially during the coming years the congress of seven experts will create the framework for introducing the entire project successfully into schools.
There will be evaluations to assure that students are understanding the competences, the first at the end of CE1 which will be looking mostly at the standard of reading and writing; the second at the close of primary education, examining grammar, elementary calculations and the four basic operations (addition, subtraction, division and multiplication) and the third in college where the brevet will assess pupils on all seven aspects. A personal record will allow the pupil, his or her family and the teachers to evaluate the progressive acquisition of the competences.
The French education system is highly oriented towards structured learning, with emphasis on traditional teaching techniques designed to help pupils complete the required standards and pass exams. With the French government’s concerns about basic literacy and numeracy standards amongst school-leavers, the emphasis on maths, reading, writing, science and French language is not likely to change.
Criticism of the system from British parents tends to focus on the rigidity of teaching methods and the lack of opportunities for creative self-expression when compared to some of the more liberal education systems accepted by the UK.
Children are likely to receive more homework and high expectations from teachers. Meanwhile, children in Nursery Schools and Primary schools enjoy the benefits of small ‘family atmosphere’ classes with children of different ages, learning and playing together in a supportive environment.
The discovery class (‘class de découverte’)
Discovery Class is a uniquely French experience where the school class moves to a new venue, perhaps to the ski-slopes or the sea-side for a week or longer in order to expand the children’s horizons.
Inevitably in a stricter learning environment it will be noticed more quickly when some children are falling behind. It has been said by some that children who fall behind are not given as much attention by their teachers, although one should be aware that most schools can arrange special learning programmes for children experiencing difficulties.
Children who fall behind may also have to repeat a year so as to catch up, although there is now more flexibility in nursery and primary schools with the introduction of the latest reform-based Educational Cycles. One of the long-term benefits of the emphasis on exams and results is that almost all children will end up with the opportunity to study for a trade, diploma or degree.
In general schools, the direction taken (repeating a year, moving to a higher class, changing streams) involves a path based on conversation, in each school, between the school institution (teachers and administration) and the families and pupils. Teachers make known their opinions at staff meetings (the ‘conseil de classe’), and parents of pupils can appeal a decision with which they do not agree.
Depending on the level of education, parents can request that a pupil be moved to another stream rather than repeat a year, or ask that he/she renew the year, rather than going to an unwanted stream. Every school has a specialised group of career guidance instructors to help pupils, parents and teachers solve the problems from which they suffer.
Although effective in many ways, French state schools tend not to furnish the same level of extra-curricular activities that children from the UK and other European countries might expect. This is particularly so with Arts, Drama, Music, and Sports. It is up to the parents to decide in which direction they wish their children to spend time (and their money) to develop such activities. Fortunately there are many clubs and associations outside of school which cater for this demand. Parents should ask at the Mairie or the Syndicat D’Initiative (or Tourism Office) for the names of local groups and associations to establish what is available. In some areas the use of sports facilities such as tennis and football is subsidised.
The French education system is sub-divided into Nursery Schools (Ecole Maternelle), Primary Schools (Ecole Primaire) and Secondary Schools commencing with College (College) until age 15 when the next step is decided by examination. The top students are encouraged to attend a High School (Lycée) to study for the Baccalaureat. Those who don’t attain the necessary grades at this point may follow more vocation educational options – see Secondary Schools. Around 80% children continue their schooling beyond the age of 16.
Most pupils attend schools supervised by the Ministry of Education, but approximately 100,000 pupils (mainly those suffering various forms of disablement) attend Ministry of Health medical-social institutions (technical and vocational courses) and some 300,000 others, of at least 16 years of age, experience apprenticeships (employment contracts) which, since the 1987 reform, prepare pupils for all types of vocational diplomas.
There is also specialised or adapted education which is minded to integrate children into primary and secondary schools, for instance school integration classes (CLIS) and adapted general and vocational sections (SEGPA), which are available in special schools such as those in health institutions. This form of education concerns approximately 5 per cent of children in a given generation and is aimed at allowing them to establish a minimum level of qualification, the vocational training certificate (CAP).
Parents wishing to move their child into the French system may need to be prepared for the challenge of dealing with learning a new language for everyday use. See Language Issues
The Education section of this blog covers Primary and Secondary education leading to attendance at a Lycée or Vocational College. Questions about your local education should be directed to your Mairie in the first instance.
More information (in French) on French education can be found at French Education web site or by contacting your French embassy.
If you wish to get your information right from the top you can always contact the Ministry!
For state schools: Ministêre de l’Education Nationale Bureau d’Information et d’Orientation
61/65, rue Dutot
Tel 00 33 1 40 65 65 40
For Private Schools: Centre d’Information et de Documentation de l’Enseignement Privé
6, rue Monsigny
Tel: 0033 1 44 55 34 80