3. Structure of French School Education

  1. School Structure
  2. Class Structure
  3. Key Stages of Education

3.1. French School Structure

The basic structure of school education in France is shown on the following table.

Table: School Structure

Age Type of School
2-6 Nursery School (Ecole Maternelle)
6-11 Primary School (Ecole Primaire)
11-15 Lower Secondary School (Collège)
15-18 Upper Secondary School (Lycée)

3.2. Class Structure of French Schools

The class structure of the system by age is shown on the following table.

One of the notable features is the descending numerical sequence of the secondary school years, whereas UK residents, in particular, will be familiar with an ascending scale.

Table: Class Structure

Age School Class/Form
17-18 Lycée Terminale (T)
16-17 Lycée Première (1ère)
15-16 Lycée Seconde (2nde)
14-15 Collège Troisième (3e)
13-14 Collège Quatrième (4e )
12-13 Collège Cinquième (5e)
11-12 Collège Sixième (6e)
10-11 Ecole Primaire Cours Moyen 2 (CM2)
9-10 Ecole Primaire Cours Moyen 1 (CM1)
8-9 Ecole Primaire Cours Elémentaire 2 (CE2)
7-8 Ecole Primaire Cours Elémentaire 1 (CE1)
6-7 Ecole Primaire Préparatoire (CP)
5-6 Ecole Maternelle Grande Section
4-5 Ecole Maternelle Moyenne Section
3-4 Ecole Maternelle Petite Section

Those years at nursery and primary school are referred to as Enseignement du premier degré, whilst the secondary school years are referred to as Enseignement du second degré.

3.3. Key Stages of French School Education

In your reading and IN meetings with teachers you may also come across references to the cycles de l’education. These are what might otherwise be commonly understood as the 'key stages' of education.

One of the main purposes of the cycles is to emphasise the continuity of education between years and between schools.

Thus, you can see from the table below how the cycles overlap between nursery and primary schools. In a similar manner, how the first year of collège emphasises the transition from primary school and how the final year of collège is meant to be preparation for lycée. Whether the practice matches the theory is an issue of regular debate.

Table: Cycles of Education

Class/Year Cycle
Petite Section Cycle des apprentissages premier
Moyenne section Cycle des apprentissages premier
Grande section Cycle des apprentissages fondamentaux
Cours préparatoire Cycle des apprentissages fondamentaux
Cours élémentaire 1 Cycle des apprentissages fondamentaux
Cours élémentaire 2 Cycle des approfondissements
Cours moyen 1 Cycle des approfondissements
Cours moyen 2 Cycle des approfondissements
Sixième (6e) Cycle d’adaptation
Cinquième (5e) Cycle Central
Quatrième (4e) Cycle Central
Troisième (3e) Cycle d’orientation
Seconde Cycle de détermination
Première Cycle terminale
Terminale Cycle terminale

Next: General Operation of Schools

Back: Structure of Responsibility

The Guides to France are published for general information only.
Please visit our Disclaimer for full details.