Guide to French School Education

1. Overview of School Education in France

France is no longer simply a country to which many retire, or buy a holiday home.

It is also a country where an increasing number of younger families from abroad choose to live and work.

One of the most important issues for them is the education of their children.

So we dedicate a large number of pages to a review and description of the French education system.

It will be of some comfort to these families to report that education has always been a key priority of any French government, whatever their political colour.

By the standards of many European countries, the achievements of the French educational system compare very well.

Over 90% of children leave school with an educational qualification, including two-thirds at baccalaureate level.

The level of government expenditure on education is one of the highest in the OECD, and the education budget exceeds all other departmental budgets by a large margin.

Most schools are run directly by the State and even most private schools are subsidised and regulated by the State.

The system is free, the competence of teachers high, and the general ethos of schools strongly academic.

One reason for the prominence of education is that it is unashamedly used as a vehicle for social indoctrination. It is through the education system (and the school system in particular) that a citizen of la Republique becomes truly French!

Whether, in practice, this objective is realised may be open to debate, but it is certainly true to say that the education system reflects the way the country is governed – centralised, prescriptive, uniform and secular.

Indeed, secularity is one of the cornerstones of the French constitution, as it is used as an instrument for social cohesion and integration. Accordingly, there is no religious teaching in French public schools.

There are many commentators who also consider the system is rather too focused on the acquisition of knowledge at the expense of the development of analytical skills or the personality of the child.

Certainly the curriculum is very wide, the child is subject to regular testing and this does tend to oblige many teachers to adopt a ‘learning by rote’ teaching style.

Moreover, although it is changing, there is very little group-work in the school system, with children are expected to take a lot of individual responsibility and teachers do not play a major role in pastoral care.

It is also clear the system is failing many children in the inner cities, and there is a need to make a stronger connection between education and the world of work.

In recent years, French governments have recognised that some modernization of the system is needed, and they have made some tentative steps in this direction.

Thus, those children with particular difficulties are being given a more personalised programme of schooling, the teaching of modern languages has been increased, there is greater emphasis on information technology and a stronger orientation to preparation for work.

Schools are being given some limited autonomy for greater experimentation in the content of the curriculum and management arrangements.

The status of vocational lycées and qualifications is also being upgraded in order to meet the need for qualified tradesman and cater better for the needs of the less academically gifted.

There are also specific measures to assist with the integration and education of handicapped children in mainstream schools.

Naturally enough the French language will continue to be the highest priority in the curriculum, with more hours devoted to it than any other subject.

Nevertheless, if you and your family are relocating to France, that should suit you should it not?

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