All educational programmes in France are regulated by the Ministry of National Education (officially called Ministère de l'Éducation nationale, de la Jeunesse et de la Vie associative). The head of the ministry is the Minister of National Education.
The school year starts
at the beginning of September. French schools have long holidays – a two-month summer holiday starting in July, two or three weeks at Christmas and Easter, as well as half term breaks. Over the year primary school children attend school for 140 days over 36 weeks
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. School types
Over 80% of school pupils are in state schools, but this leaves a substantial minority of almost 20% who attend private schools. Private schools in France are essentially (about 90%) Catholic schools, in which there is religious instruction in the curriculum. Ecole primaire, or Ecole élémentaire
Primary school, grade school. Five classes, ages 6 to 11. The primary 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. Collège
Middle school. Four levels, normally for pupils aged 11 - 15. The "collège 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 had to repeat a year in primary school. The collège is designed to provide all pupils with a fundamental secondary education, after which a certain degree of specialisation will be introduced. The programme in collège 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. Lycée
High School. The traditional French lycée covers the last three years of secondary education. There are two main types of traditional lycée, the lycée général
or lycée classique
, and the lycée technique
. 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. Pupils in a lycée technique may begin to specialize in a fairly narrow technical field, in addition to their general secondary studies. There are technical lycées specializing in fields such as microtechnologies or aeronautics. Technical lycées that provide training in very specialized fields are usually boarding schools, since they recruit pupils from a large neighborhood area, and even on occasions from all over France.
The Baccalaureate is the final exam of a school pupil's life: the diploma that acts both as an assessment for the three years of secondary school (lycée) and as a doorway to higher education.
Today it is divided into three sectors: General, Technological and Vocational.
For entrance to regular universities within France there are some restrictions as to the type of baccalauréat that can be presented. In some cases, it may be possible to enter a French university without the bac
by taking a special exam, the diploma for entrance to higher education
. Though most students take the bac
at the end of secondary school, it is also possible to enter as a candidat libre
(literally, "free candidate") without affiliation to a school. Students who did not take the bac upon completion of secondary school (or did not manage to pass it) and would like to attend university, or feel that the bac would help them accomplish professional aspirations, may exercise this option. Education policies
In 2015 the French government proposed controversial educational reforms to the collége
system (middle school for ages 11–15), to make it less elitist and give all pupils, whatever their background, the same educational opportunities. These involve the teaching of modern languages and history, encouraging teachers to work together to teach topics across different themes in interdisciplinary classes (the traditional French way is one teacher-one subject), reinforcing secular values and allowing schools to set part of the curriculum themselves. Specifics
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 the English "public schools".
The state education system attaches great importance to the principle of secularism, and there is no formal teaching of religion
in state schools in France.
The French don't necessarily expect children to have 'fun' at school. Sports and creative activities are encouraged but generally organized by community or private associations, not by the schools.
The teachers in public primary and secondary schools are all state civil servants, making the ministère the largest employer in the country. Professors and researchers in France's universities are also employed by the state.