Studying in France

There is no information about higher studies in France on this site, but the site Study in France would be a good place to start.

Schooling in France

In France, the Code de l'éducation Article L131-1 stipulates that education is mandatory from the age of 6 to 16 unless other laws or regulations prescribe a longer period.

The public schools are free and secular. It is forbidden to wear symbols of religious character. They are obliged to accept pupils in the ages of mandatory education resident in the respective school zone regardless of nationality. The school zones relate schools with geographic areas. Starting 2007, the school zones are being gradually abolished to the effect that parents can freely choose the public school regardless of geographic location.

Parents are free to choose their method of education. The most frequent alternative is private schooling. Parents also have the option of educating their children themselves if certain conditions are respected.

The School Years Explained

The way the school years are named in France is a perfect example of the French motto: why make it simple if you can make if complicated?

Education Level School Type Cycle / Option Name of class Diploma Age of child at start
École primaire = premier degré de l'enseignement

Primary school = first degree of education
École maternelle
= pré-élémentaire
= pré-scolaire

Maternal school
= pre-elementary
= pre-school
Cycle I - Apprentissages premiers

Cycle I - first learnings
  Toute petite section de maternelle (TPS)
Very small maternal section
(Note 1)
Petite section de maternelle (PS)
Small maternal section
Moyenne section de maternelle (MS)
Middle maternal section
Cycle II - Apprentissages fondamentaux

Cycle II - Fundamental learnings
Grande section de maternelle (GS)
Big maternal section
(Note 2)
École élémentaire

Elementary school
 Cours préparatoire (CP)
Preliminary course
Cours élémentaire 1ère année (CE1)
Elementary course 1st year
Cycle III - Approfondissements

Cycle III - Deepenings
Cours élémentaire 2ème année (CE2)
Elementary course 2nd year
Cours moyen 1ère année (CM1)
Middle course 1st year
Cours moyen 2ème année (CM2)
Middle course 2nd year
Études du second degré = enseignement secondaire

Second degree studies = secondary education
Premier cycle = collège

First cycle = collège (Note 3)
(Note 4)
Cycle d'adaptation

Adaptation cycle
(Note 7)
Cycle central

Central cycle
Cycle d'orientation

Orientation cycle
diplôme national du brevet 14
Second cycle = Lycée ou CFAI

Second cycle = Lycée or CFAI
(Note 5)
(Note 6)
Option 1 Seconde
(Note 8)
Option 2 Seconde pro
Second pro
Première pro
First pro
(Note 8)
Terminale pro
Final pro
Baccalauréat professionnel
Professional baccalaureate. Somewhat equivalent to A-levels or high school diploma
Option 3 Seconde générale et technologique
Second general and technological - shared with option 4
Baccalauréat technologique Technological baccalaureate. Somewhat equivalent to A-levels or high school diploma 17
Option 4 Seconde générale et technologique
Second general and technological - shared with option 3
Baccalauréat général
General baccalaureate. Somewhat equivalent to A-levels or high school diploma

Note 1: The TPS is not available everywhere.

Note 2: To confuse matters further, grande section de maternelle (GS) is both part of Cycle I and Cycle II although it is one and the same identical year.

Note 3: At the start of secondary education, the pupil will in most cases move to another type of school known as collège.

Note 4: The closest equivalent of collège is secondary school (UK) or junior high school (US).

Note 5: At the start of the second cycle of secondary education, the pupil will in most cases move to another type of school known as lycée or centre de formation d'apprentis de l'industrie (CFAI).

Note 6: The closest equivalent of lycée is secondary school (UK) or high school (US).

Note 7: From this stage, the French system counts backwards from 6 to 0. This is a necessary part of the complication mentioned above to assure that the system doesn't resemble anything in the Anglo-Saxon world. The result is the following unorthodox way, sometimes referred to in general as "French logic" of numbering the school years, starting at the age of 6:


Note 8: CAP: Certificat d'aptitude professionnelle. Literally: Certificate of professional aptitude. Vocational training certificate. It gives a qualification of worker or qualified employee in a determined occupation.

The above presentation are just the basics. Reality as far too complex to describe on one web site.

To further distinguish French schools from every other country's schools, there are no classes on Wednesdays, only Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Until a few years ago, there were classes on Saturday mornings, but it spoiled families' weekend excursions and was thus scrapped. As a result, the school days became even longer than they were already. Until 10 years, the school day is typically 8:30 to 11:30, then 13:30 to 16:30. Starting with collège, the school day is stretched from 8:00 to 12:00, then 14:00 to 17:00. After this, pupils are expected to do homework (devoirs), meaning they have a longer working day than adults and their 35-hour working week.

French Schools - an Experience in Mental Sadism

Marquis de Sade was French and lived in a castle perched over the village of Lacoste in the Luberon, Provence. He is the origin of the word sadism and its derivative forms. While there is no direct link between Mr. Sade and the French school system, it is almost uncanny how French schools honour the name of Marquis de Sade by practising a mental form of sadism.

The French school system is extremely authoritative and totally unsuitable for educating children to the needs of the 21st century. 19th century factory workers needed to obey authority and orders like sheep, but we won't get very far with that in the 21st century.

Punishments are handed out for the slightest incidents, such as chatter during sport or accidentally pushing another pupil during basketball, or even when the pupil hasn't done anything wrong. There is no trace of the presumption of innocence in French schools. The sole fact that they are children means that they are guilty, as it is perceived by the sick minds of the teachers. If the parents ask for an explanation, the school refuses to answer, brushing all criticism off and saying that parents should have confidence in the teachers and not inquire about anything. French education law obliges teachers to inform parents about every punishment, but the teaching that those in power don't have to obey the law starts at school. Children are thus taught that if they ever obtain a position of responsibility later in life, they don't have to obey the law, and that those below them in the rigid, old-fashioned French hierarchy can be treated like dirt. Maybe if parents had paid more attention to what was going on in catholic schools everywhere, the paedophile priests' sexual abuse of children would have been stopped much earlier.

French teachers themselves have of course been brainwashed never to contest authority and to blindly obey orders, so when they get to a position of power, they abuse it. Parents are verbally aggressed by angry teachers who are too stupid to handle children, and who think parents have a remote control to make their children do what the teacher says. It reminds me of what one can read about teachers in Aksel Sandemose's book about his childhood in Denmark in the beginning of the 20th century, A Fugitive Crosses his Tracks, not to mention the better known Oliver Twist.

The mentality of French teachers is old-fashioned, obdurate, and entrenched. They are an awfully self-righteous bunch who think they can dish out orders not only to the children but also to the parents. They don't see themselves as equals to the parents but as superiour. If you dare criticising them, all hell brakes lose, as they see it as lese-majesty. That has never held me back from criticising them for their sadistic methods that serve to demolish the children's spirit rather than to educate them, so I have been in major rows with several teachers including the head teacher who isn't very intelligent and who is clearly not qualified for her job. A week ago, they said to my wife that if I don't shut out, they would expel my son. The most recent development is that because I dared to criticise their methods, they have started an official disciplinary procedure with the aim of expelling my son. We're talking about mafia methods mostly seen in dictatorships. They have broken nearly all the legal requirements for the disciplinary procedure, so it will have to be thrown out sooner or later. They are obliged to write clearly what it is they reproach the pupil for having done, but they haven't even bothered with that. He hasn't done anything serious, so it is a mystery how they think they can expel him. Yet, the disciplinary procedure is exclusively there to sanction something the pupil has done, not the parents. The official accusation letter simply says that because I don't agree with them, they intend to expel my son. They haven't even notified my son although that is also a legal requirement.

Once, my son was told by a dimwit guest teacher from Brazil that he was "fat" after he fall off his chair because he tilted it too much. He was ridiculed in class and ran out crying. I had a major row with both the teacher and the head teacher to complain that it is not their job to humiliate the pupils. It is also clearly written in the law that such behaviour is illegal. They were incapable of understanding what the problem was. They consider themselves above the law and their own rules.

Discussing with a French teacher is like what I imagine it must have been to convince a USSR apparatchik that communism is a bad idea. They are driven by prejudice, not common sense or logic. The parents are for them nothing more than a nuisance. I suspect that many of them are not intelligent enough to even think logically.

If you write a critical message in the correspondence book, you are told that the school regulation limits use of the book to information, requests for appointments, and justification of absence. However, teachers act as if that limitation doesn't apply to them and fill up the book with negative comments about the children. The "equality" part of the French slogan is not to be taken seriously. When you ask for the regulation to be equally applied to teachers and parents, they are incapable of understanding why it is a problem that teachers can practice mudslinging in the book while parents are told off if they criticise. It's like if the insides of their heads had been scooped out and replaced by talking dolls.

Encouragement of the children only seldom happens, but the negative comments from the teachers flow freely. These experiences are from a catholic school that is supposed to have a higher level, but even they are so fucked up in their heads that they are incapable of normal, logical reasoning. The atmosphere is somewhere between a prison, a police interrogation, a court, and the military. It is a mystery how any pupil can learn anything in such a toxic atmosphere. 

My son's school uses a web site where the teachers can post the pupils' homework. But they don't always mention all the homework, so this site may or may not be complete. It is terrible to teach pupils in the 21st century that online media are just some less important accessory that are not up to date. They grow up not taking modern technology seriously, being disadvantaged compared to other countries.

Here is what a Czech expat living in the USA told me about his two years in France:

"It is bad for your health to live, work and go to school in France. It amazed me to no end to see the miserable French attitude in a beautiful place like the South of France??!!? The endless sunny days, gorgeous countryside, blue sea, vivid colors, you look out of your window and you are happy to be alive, that is, until you step outside and have it all crushed sooner or later by some French self-centered unhappy asshole. My kids break out in hives whenever we mention the French school that they went to for a couple of years. And this was one of the 'better" catholic schools in the area. I shudder to think what it's like in some of these public schools. The teacher's job is to beat any kind of self-expression and creativity out the kids, they think that to belittle the young and to demean them in front of the class is something positive, or is it just a power trip and ignorance of the teachers? The only reason I let them go to school the second year was to improve their French otherwise we would have home-schooled them for sure. The influence on the French school system on my kids' psyche after only two years is so significantly negative that it is worrisome. They are so afraid of authority now, so afraid to make mistakes that it prevents them from learning freely. Yes, when I go through their school papers as we are in the middle of packing everything for our return to the US, I am amazed at the amount of 'stuff' they did in school..... but at what price, NOT worth it. I am glad they learned a new language, experienced a different culture, but I don't want them to be exposed to the 'French way of life' any more, ever, as it is counter-productive to say the least."

The following is an extract from US expat Adrian Leeds' ParlerParis March 28, 2013 newsletter:

"I watched my daughter go through the French educational system which is rigorous and demanding. Teaching methods use humiliation and intimidation as a way of encouraging academic excellence (instead of our 'gold star' method of encouragement). In fact, Peter Gumbel, a British expat who teaches at Sciences Po, France’s elite Institute of Political Studies, lambasted the French education system for humiliating children, neglecting teamwork, character-building, and positive reinforcement, and fostering pervasive low self-confidence. Gumbel wrote: "There were obvious symptoms [witnessed in my two daughters]: tummy aches and other signs of stress, an unhealthy phobia about making mistakes and flashes of self-doubt. "I’m hopeless at math," my eldest daughter declared one day. "No, you’re not, you just need to work at it harder," was my reply. "No, daddy, you don’t understand anything. I’m hopeless." No question, my daughter's childhood in France was 180 degrees from her free-spirited childhood Stateside, where knowledge was taught by teachers sometimes called by their first names using creative methodology, open free discussion of ideas and the American idea that 'you can be anybody you want to be' -- even the President of the United States."

Despite all this time spent at school, it is well known that the resulting capability in foreign languages is miserable. As the Germans say: viel Geschrei und wenig Wolle ...

French schools are a punishment most Western parents would not want for their children.

International Schools European Council of International Schools.

French School Holidays

 French Ministry of Education: School holidays (vacation).

Physical and Moral Violence in French Schools

The British expat site Survive France highlighted the problem of violence by teachers in French schools in the forum post Violence in Schools - Advice Needed. KidsinFrance further elaborated on the subject in February 2012. It is impossible to know how widespread the problem is based on so limited a circle, but it is worrying. As a parent, you would do will keeping in contact with other parents to try to get to know if your child is subject to humiliation or physical violence by the teacher. You cannot trust that the child will mention it him- or herself.

Here are some key quotes from the discussion on Survive France:

"our 16 year old daughter was kicked in the leg by her sports teacher"

About a 4-year old: "the teacher had pushed his head and it banged on the table and made his nose bleed. When my son was 4, he did 4 months in petite maternelle which was a disaster, they just left him on his own in a corner and then complained he didn't do as he was told, the teacher was simply unable to understand he couldn't speak or understand French"

"it happened to a colleague whose 12-year-old boy was kicked in the back by the headmaster because he was walking faster at 9 o’clock"

"A teacher said to one of my boys that he was not welcome here, neither his brother or his parents"

"our elder son aged 11 was teased by his sports teacher for not being able to run fast, "must be cos you are English" "

KidsinFrance provides further examples of violence by French teachers. It is illegal, and it is not something you should put up with.

Many French teachers seem to lack the pedagogical knowledge, education, training, capacity, and tools to manage a class of sometimes unruly school children. To fill the gap in their own capacities, they sometimes take themselves very seriously instead, as if a school were a military academy, or use the crudest methods available, including physical violence.

Violence by pupils against teachers and other pupils is another problem in some areas. You would do well to assure that the school you have chosen is not plagued by such violence.

Diploma Recognition in France

If you need your diploma recognised in France, go to ENIC-NARIC France (European Network of Information Centres – National Academic Recognition Information Centres) for further information in English.

You will also find information on the EU's portal for the European Qualifications Framework.

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