Whether you’re already living in France, or you’re about to start a new life there with your family, your child will be entitled to free French education, which is renowned to be of a very high standard. The French education system is split into stages, and your child’s academic level and grades will determine what streams they can follow in their final years in the school system. Similar to the UK, French education is compulsory, so once your child has completed this, they will be able to choose to continue with higher education courses in France.

Below are a few things you will need to know about how to enroll your child in French education. 

School year in France 

The school year starts in early September and finishes for a long summer holiday in July, so be mindful of this as you will need to arrange further childcare if you work full time. The school year never changes, however, the beginning and end dates of the school year can vary, as dates are set by the region the school is situated in. In the case of private schools, the dates are set by the school themselves.

Primary schools in France enjoy a 24-hour work week, with some schools opting for a four-day week with six hours of classes per day and Wednesday off. In contrast, some schools opt for a four-and-a-half-day week taking Wednesday afternoon off. The school day hours for primary schools vary from region to region, however, they generally are between the hours of 08:30-16:30 with two breaks. The school days for collège and lycée are slightly longer and also depends on additional subject options the students take. Another element of the student day that varies by region, are the school lunch hours, but as a rule, they usually last for an hour and a half or two hours. Students can either stay at schools and spend their lunch time in the cantine or they have the freedom to return home. As in the UK, state schooling is free as are books, however, the stationary is not included so parents will have to supply this as well as additional funds for school trips, etc.

Unlike the UK, French schools ask parents to insure the children to cover potential risks at school and on school trips. Once you have settled in your new French home, check with your insurance provider as your child might be covered on your household insurance and they might be able to issue you with an insurance certificate if your child’s school requires it. 

How to register your child in a French school 

If you would like to enroll your child in a primary school for the first time, you will need to contact the services des écoles at the local mayoral office (mairie). Children are usually expected to attend the school closest to their place of residence. However, if your child is over the age of six, they may be sent to a school by the town hall where French language courses for beginners are available.  To enroll in either a collège or lycée, you can contact the school of your choice directly. If it’s your child’s first time in the French education system, you will need to contact the education district’s administrative head or education authority in your area. Additionally, your child may have to take a French language test. 

Compulsory education in France 

Although French education is compulsory for children residing in France between the ages of 6 and 16, many children enter pre-school at the age of three and more than 50% of 18-21 year olds in France are enrolled in further education. 

As in the UK, state education is free in France for citizens and those with a permanent residence. State schools are also mixed and in the same way as in other European countries, no uniform is worn.  While most of the schools in France are state run, there are also private schools under contract to the French government. Contract schools work by the government paying the teachers’ salaries, the school follows the national curriculum, and fees aren’t as high as private schools.

Private schools, on the other hand, are fully independent, and some are international schools. Schools that are affiliated with a particular group are also usually private, so expect to pay fees for your child there too. There are state schools with bilingual programmes but in most cases, bilingual education is only available in private schools. 

Lessons taught in French 

As your child will be living in France, you would be safe to assume that in most French schools, lessons will be taught in French, and you’d be right. Although, some schools in larger cities may offer intensive language classes, provide a teaching assistant, or have international or European sections to help new students integrate. However, in most cases, many schools expect non-French speaking pupils to do the same work as their French peers without support. Taking this into account, expat students can find it hard to adjust and some might need to repeat a school year. Repeating a school year is commonplace in France and there isn’t any stigma attached like there is in UK schools.

In order to avoid your child having trouble at their new school, using a French language tutor outside of school hours might help as it can be difficult to adjust and make friends without a common language.

French schools teach modern foreign languages such as German and Spanish as part of their curriculum. In May 2015, the French government published education reforms that abolished modern foreign language classes for only academically proficient students at 11 years old, making them compulsory for all students at 12 years old.  

Special needs schools in France 

If you are looking to move to France and have a child with special needs then don’t worry, just as in the UK, France also has special needs schools and some have specialised departments. Before you make your move, be sure to check what services are in your area. You can contact SESSAD (services d'éducation spéciale et de soins à domicile) for more information about schooling and out of school treatments. Additionally, Service-Public has more information about special needs education in France. 

Home schooling in France 

If your child was previously home-schooled in the UK and you want to continue with this in France, then you’re in luck. It’s legal in France to home school your child. All you need to do is make an annual declaration at your local mayoral office and at the rectorat (school inspectorate). As you would do with your child in the UK, you will also need to make sure that you cover roughly the same curriculum, subjects and levels as mainstream schools. You will also be subject to an annual inspection by the school’s inspector, and every two years by the mayoral office (the local mairie). If for any reason they deem that the education standards are inadequate, the inspectors may order you to send your child to school.