Guide to French School Education

4. General Operation of French Schools

  1. Services for Overseas Arrivals
  2. School Term Dates
  3. School Transport
  4. Boarding Your Child
  5. Discipline & Attendance
  6. Costs & Insurance
  7. School Lunches

4.1. Services for Overseas Arrivals

In many areas of France schools make a substantial effort to integrate new arrivals from abroad into the school system.

The new arrival process is known as l'accueil à l'école des élèves primo arrivants.

In some cases special arrangements may be made for your child to be taught the French language on an intensive basis with other new arrivals before they join the main class.

In other cases arrangements may be made for special French lessons to be given out of school hours, or in lieu of other subjects.

Thus, where there are at least three pupils in a school who do not speak French as their mother tongue, a school is able to request special teaching assistance, called Français Langue Etrangère (FLE), to assist with the integration of these children.

The school may also have teachers who speak English and who are able to give certain lessons in English.

Nevertheless, you may also be simply left to your own devices, and you will need to make your own arrangements for ensuring your child is competent in the French language!

You may well come across schools that include ‘International’ or 'European' Sections in a school.

The role of International Sections is, in part, to facilitate the introduction of those from abroad into the French school system, which has the double effect of helping French children get a better understanding of a foreign language.

On the other hand, the purpose of European Sections is to introduce French children more widely to European languages, culture and history. Not only will there be additional teaching of a foreign language, but some teaching of another subject (normally history-geography) in the foreign language.

Thus, whilst they each have a slightly different purpose, the effect is much the same, i.e. some teaching in a foreign language.

However, whilst both tend to offer additional teaching in a foreign language, it need not necessarily be English language based. It may be German, Spanish or another language.

Moreover, the amount of teaching in a foreign language is not substantial, so do not be misled by the nomenclature.

European Sections are offered at collèges (from 4eme) and lycées, where pupils take additional classwork in modern languages and the history and geography of European countries.

International Sections may be offered from primary schools through to upper secondary school.

One of the advantages of your child going to a lycée (upper secondary school) offering a European or International Section, is that there are specific tests held in the foreign language (ideally English!), which contribute towards the exam marks for the baccalaureate.

However, whether or not there are specialist sections in your local school, it would be imprudent to rely on the school to meet all your needs.

The best advice that can be given in considering your child’s schooling in France is not to rely on the school to sort the problem for you.

Try and start your child in a French school as young as possible, and arrange for them to receive private French language lessons prior to your departure to France and during at least the initial months of you becoming resident.

Opinions differ on the latest you can leave the entry of your child into a French school because all children are different and school practices differ.

However, in our opinion, sending a child to a French school beyond the age 8 years without any prior knowledge of the language would make it very difficult for them.

Even at this age special language classes are going to be imperative. One of the major risks your child will face is in having to resit their year, or being placed in a lower year, because of insufficient academic or language competence.

If this occurs then they are going to be faced with the double jeopardy of not only failing to adjust to a new language and culture, but also the risk of suffering a sense of failure and ridicule from other pupils.

If your child then becomes unhappy about living in France your own dreams may be placed in jeopardy, as might be the future career opportunities of your children.

For older children, probably the best solution would be to relocate to an area where there are International Schools, such as Paris, Nice, Toulouse or Bordeaux. You can read more at International Schools in France.

Your feedback on this whole topic would be most interesting to receive as your own experiences can only benefit those who follow you.

Next: School Term Dates

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