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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Starting school in France

Dear Readers,

Deciding to move to France with children can be a hard decision to make. Will they find it too hard? Will they be able to keep up in school? Will they struggle to make friends? In this article, we’ll try help you make that decision wisely.

1. Getting into a French school

To get into a collège or lycée in France, you can do it through an exam. This exam tests your abilities in maths and French. You can easily pass this exam and get into the class you want to get into. The aim of it is to be able to give your future school an idea of what kind of student you are, and how you are in maths and French. The French test might be a few lines of translation or some questions on a document. This exam determines what class you’ll go into. Not all schools will want this done, so it’s better to arrange an appointment with the school and meet the principle to talk about it. The exam option isn’t worth doing unless the school require it. In any case, the school will arrange the exam for you, so you could find it hard to organise it when you have no official papers from the school to say they’re interested.

If your school doesn’t want you to pass an exam, they’ll probably still want to see your results from the previous school. In any case, make sure that from the first meeting onwards, you have your latest school report from your current school, some form of ID could be useful (passport, driving licence…), you may want to ask your current school’s principal for your records etc. as this may be asked for. With this paperwork, you should be ready for your first meeting with the French school’s principal.

2. Which is best? ‘Privé’, ‘public’ or international school?

If you are unsure whether public or privé is better, click here to read our article which explains the two and compares one to the other.

For the list of more common, everyday schools, funded by the government, click here.

Here is a directory of private international schools in France: link on

In addition to the International Schools listed in the directory you may also be interested to learn about the international sections within certain French lycées. There are 12 British sections and 7 American. In addition to teaching the French curriculum students are also taught to A level standard in English. This allows successful students to go on to study for the ‘Option Internationale Baccalaureate’ (not the same thing as the International Baccalaureate). A full list of these lycées can be found on the official government CIEP site (Centre International d'Etudes Pédagogiques). Here are the direct links to lists of the international schools in France: Primaire (Primary); Collège (Secondary); Lycée (College).

3. How will my children get on in a French school?

The answer to this question varies quite a lot and it really depends on how willing they are to integrate. New foreign students have to make big efforts (especially in their first year), to be accepted by the native students as ‘willing’ and also to learn the language. It’s all too easy to just stay in a group of English-speaking students and if you do this, you’ll be at a massive disadvantage later down the line, moving on to lycée or university with a level of French that could have been better had you spoken to more French students.

Some schools participate in the FLE (Français Langue Etrangère) program. This is basically French classes for English-speaking students during school hours, in the school. However, if you have GCSE level French, you may not benefit from it a lot, but it’s definitely worth going to. The more French you can listen to and speak, the better you’ll get on.

You’ll have to bear in mind that there’s always that minority that will reject a foreigner at first sight, no matter what your level of French is. This is experienced by anyone, of any age, moving to any foreign country (Britain included). It’s an unavoidable situation and you’ll have to learn to cope with it. Showing you’re willing to learn the language and try to speak it can help you to be accepted by the majority of these people. You just need to prove their prejudices wrong.

Article by The Editor


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