Education in France

Families relocating to France will find a wealth of education options, from state-funded schools and bilingual schools to fee-paying private and international schools, each with its own advantages.

Mougins School France

Mougins School, France

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Currently it is compulsory for all children resident in France to attend school between the ages of six and 16 but in March 2018 the French government announced reforms that will make it compulsory from September 2019 for all children to attend school from the age of three. The country’s education system is divided into Kindergarten (école maternelle), primary level (école), elementary or middle school (collège) and high school (lycée).Parents can choose between a French state school, a state-contracted private school or an independent school, which includes international and foreign schools. Home schooling under the guidance of the schools inspectorate is also an option.Martina Meinhold, founder and owner of Paris-based (among other European cities) Management Mobility Consulting, the current winner of Relocate’s award for Best International Destination Services Provider, says, “Choosing the right school is essential for a child’s successful integration into life in France. Depending on the length of the assignment and the family’s budget, the choice is likely to fall between state-run local schools and fee-paying private or international schools.“The integration of expat children into the French system can prove challenging, not only due to language issues but also as a result of teaching methods that are more rigorous than those found in many other countries. The long school days and a different perception of the teacher’s role and authority can also be difficult for children to accept.“In our experience, very few expat families choose a French school for their child unless the school has adopted a strong bilingual or international approach. For ambitious and hardworking students with good language skills, however, such schools can provide excellent opportunities for a successful transition to French life and culture.“When selecting a state-run school, parents are usually required to send their child to the school nearest to their home. It is occasionally possible to apply for a place in a state-run school outside the family’s chosen residential area, but authorisation must be obtained from the town hall (the mairie).”

International schools

International schools, Martina Meinhold says, prepare students for the globally transferable and globally recognised International Baccalaureate (IB), the American High School (AHS) Diploma, the British GCSE and A Levels, or the French Baccalaureate (FB) International Option.“The IB is a very popular choice among our globally mobile clients, especially if their stay in France is of limited duration,” she explains. “Families who plan to stay for a short period, or parents who would like their children to continue being taught in their mother tongue, often choose international schools.“In Paris and the western suburbs, parents have a large choice of international schools, but this is not the case in every region of France. IB Schools can be found in Lyon, Nice, Aix-en-Provence and Sophia Antipolis, near Nice.”

Bilingual schools

Bilingual schools usually follow the French curriculum and offer a balance between a child’s mother tongue and the French language. Being taught the different subjects in both languages, says Martina Meinhold, enables globally mobile children to make quick progress, not only in their mother tongue but also in French.“Most of the subjects are taught in French, but some can be chosen in English,” she continues. “The purpose of the bilingual school is to enable children to integrate as fast and as easily as possible. If they choose a bilingual school, parents are advised to make sure that the end-of-school diploma will be recognised in other countries if there are plans to move into higher education.”

French schools with an international section

French schools with a dedicated international section follow the French curriculum but have several private areas of tuition, which teach in the corresponding country’s language and curriculum.“It is worth noting, though,” advises Martina Meinhold, “that French schools with international sections do not automatically offer the International Baccalaureate.”

National schools

In Paris and, more precisely, its western suburbs, a number of places are available in a large choice of schools offering an academic programme based on a foreign national model of education.The American School of Paris, located in Saint Cloud, Marymount School, in Neuilly, and the British School of Paris are three very popular options for expatriate families, Ms Meinhold says, while German relocatees have a choice between the German school, in Saint Cloud, and the French–German Lycée, in Buc, near Versailles.“As these schools provide a harmonised programme all over the world, they are particularly attractive to expatriates who have to move frequently, such as embassy and government personnel,” explains Ms Meinhold.

Meeting individual needs

In the end, says Martina Meinhold, the decision will depend on the needs of the family and the individual child.“In our experience, it is difficult to make any generalisations when advising on schooling in France, because the choice depends on the specific situation and a number of factors, such as the age of the child on arrival in France, the family’s ability to learn a new language, the expected duration of their stay in France, where they choose to live, and their financial situation.“After making an informed choice, however, there is no reason why any family moving to France will not be able to take advantage of the rich and rewarding experience that comes with making an international move.”Sue Dunnachie, marketing consultant at Mougins School, on France’s Côte d’Azur, adds, “Any choice of school needs careful thought, as the repercussions of both good and bad decisions can have an impact on all the family.“Receiving an education in an international environment teaches a child that there should be no racial barriers or discrimination, that it is our differences that make each and every one of us special. The experience opens up the world, as children learn about cultures other than their own and become the ‘global nomads’ of today.”David Johnson, Director of the International School of Nice, adds, “A good school is one that has a ‘buzz’ that permeates the school. Visiting parents can feel it in the hallways and corridors, in meeting students and other parents, and observe it in the display boards and other visual materials that the school uses to communicate, both inside and outside the school community.“The fact that a school offers creative arts, sports and other extracurricular activities allows new students to immediately become part of the community and take part in a wide range of activities, both in and out of school. Most international schools place a high degree of importance on a holistic approach to education.”
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