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Primary and Secondary Education

Published on November 13, 2007

In France, school is compulsory from six to sixteen years old. From nursery school to higher education, families have the option of sending their children to free and coeducational public schools, or to pay for private ones.

The French school system

If you choose a state-run school for your child, you must choose one in your neighborhood. The local city hall (mairie) will tell you what your options are.

From the age of 2 or 3 children can attend the local kindergarten (maternelle), which is state run and administered by the local authorities.

Comparison of the educational system in France and in the U.S.

In France

In the U.S.

2-3 yrs old Maternelle (petite section) 2-3 yrs old Preschool (Daycare)
3-4 yrs old Maternelle (petite section) 3-4 yrs old Preschool (Daycare)
4-5 yrs old Maternelle (moyenne section) 4-5 yrs old Preschool
5-6 yrs old Maternelle (grande section) 5-6 yrs old Kindergarten



6-7 yrs old (CP) 6-7 yrs old 1st grade
7-8 yrs old (CE1) 7-8 yrs old 2nd grade
8-9 yrs old (CE2) 8-9 yrs old 3rd grade
9-10 yrs old (CM1) 9-10 yrs old 4th grade
10-11 yrs old (CM2) 10-11 yrs old 5th grade


High School

11-12 yrs old Sizième 11-12 yrs old 6th grade
12-13 yrs old Cinquième 12-13 yrs old 7th grade
13-14 yrs old Quatrième 13-14 yrs old 8th grade
14-15 yrs old Troisième



14-15 yrs old 9th grade
15-16 yrs old Seconde 15-16 yrs old 10th grade
16-17 yrs old Première 16-17 yrs old 11th grade
17-18 yrs old Terminale 17-18 yrs old 12th grade

At 15 or 16 the more academic children go to the "lycée" to prepare for the "baccalauréat" (commonly called the bac). Less academically inclined students attend a vocational/technical school or get practical training.

The baccalauréat is the French national high school diploma taken at 17 or 18. The baccalauréat gives access to French universities and is widely recognized by American as well as Canadian colleges (it gives credits).

There are 450 schools with French program in 140 countries and in the US, 40 schools, most of them are bilingual, French-English.

For more information

How to register your child to a public school?

Contact the Service des Ecoles at the City Hall (mairie) or the school directly. When you apply to a school you must bring along your passport, your child’s birth certificate, a recent electricity bill (EDF/GDF), and proof of your child’s immunizations. Applications should be made in the Spring before the Fall Term.

Private schools

Private schools are either subsidized by the government or not. Sponsored schools therefore have much lower tuition fees than non- sponsored ones. You should apply as soon as possible.

American Schools in France

Please refer to the website of the American Embassy in Paris for a listing of American schools in France.

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