UK Schooling system explained

The French System: In All Its Gloire

Ask any French adult if he looks back on his schooldays with warmth and affection, nine times out of ten the answer will be puzzled perplexity - that’s not what schools are for, they proclaim. Inflexible education, especially in reading, writing and arithmetic, describes the French education system. It does, therefore, have the reputation of being one of the most thorough systems in the world.

As a resident in France and paying taxes, you are entitled to benefit from this thoroughness. Public or state education is free at primary and secondary levels and attendance from the age of six to sixteen is compulsory. Universities are public and tuition fees are nominal. Two systems exist: ecoles publiques (public schools) which are staunchly republic and definitely non-denominational, and ecoles prives (private schools) many of which are run by the Catholic Church and actively encourage Christian values.

A recent report in The Economist revealed that out of the top 29 schools (Lycees) in France, all but one were private. The majority (85%) of schools in France are public and free. The partially subsidised private schools, whose teachers are paid by the state, charge a very small fee for attendance, ( for example 55- 60 euros per month at college and 45 - 50 euros at primary school in our local gersoise town). Religious instruction does not feature on the curriculum of either type of school although traditionally this is what Wednesday mornings were reserved for.

Education can begin at the age of two in La Maternelle (Nursery School) where the children are grouped by age into three sections. Due to the high percentage of women in the workforce 88% of French children are placed in La Maternelle, thus learning to adapt to social norms very early on in life. At six, they leave La Maternelle well prepared for the rigorous work to come in primary school.

The main objective of the primary school is for the children to achieve a standard for acceptance into the first year of the Middle School or College. The primary school lasts for five years and from ages 6 – 11. Writing from my own (British) family’s experience, it can be a very happy and fulfilling time, in spite of the steep learning curve as a foreigner. However, in line with everything in the French administration, the government aims to achieve uniformity of education throughout the country and no consideration is given to local needs or peculiarities. A child from the south of France in CM2, the last year of primary school for example, will be studying exactly the same thing at approximately the same time as his or her counterpart in the north of France.

Primary school gives way to the College (equivalent to secondary school) for the ages of 11 – 15. Subjects are taught by specialist teachers, foreign languages are offered and daily homework becomes serious. In the second year of college, Latin is offered to the brighter students and physics and chemistry are introduced. The third and fourth years of college culminate in the Brevet a national examination which it is necessary to pass to continue into the Lycee and Seconde.


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