If you’re considering buying a home in the South of France and have school-age children, you’ll need to know how the education system works. Despite being a close neighbour to the UK, France has a different approach to schooling and you might be surprised by some of the adjustments you’ll have to make. Just see how your little ones react with the dreaded words: school on a Saturday.


Types of School in France

The majority of French schools are free state schools. There are also fee-paying private schools which around 15% of French children attend.


Private schools fall into two categories; state-contracted, which are partially funded by the government and must adhere to the French national curriculum, and non-contracted, which are entirely independent. These independent schools are free to set their own curriculum and do not have to follow the rules and regulations imposed on government-funded institutions. As such, any religious schools will fall into this category due to France’s stance on the strict separation between church and state, known as laïcité.


There are also bilingual and international schools which offer lessons taught in other languages. These are almost always fee-paying.


If your children are older and have little knowledge of the French language, it may be worth placing them at an international school where they can continue their education in English whilst receiving intensive French tutoring. The facilities and education standards at international schools tend to be very high and some even offer boarding. If you’re hoping to have your child attend, apply as early as possible, and ensure that you have past school reports and exam results to hand as many admissions offices will need to see them.


The French Educational Philosophy


In France, school is not considered a place to embrace your creativity and “have fun”. Although athletic and artistic pursuits are encouraged, these activities are not organised by the school, and are instead considered something you do privately or with your local community.


France places an emphasis on analytical thought, rigorous testing and individual competition. From middle school (ages 11 and up) tests are arranged at the end of every week, with students marked out of 20. At the end of the year, those with an average score below 12 are usually instructed to repeat the year. Unlike in the western world, this isn’t an unusual situation and isn’t looked down upon. Parents have a right to appeal against the decision but this is rarely exercised.


How French Schooling is Structured


Education is mandatory between the ages of six and 16. Many French parents will place their children in free nurseries from the age of two or three and most students will remain in school until 18 in order to take the baccalaureat, which is an examination required for entry to university.


You may be surprised to find that your child’s school year has changed, as it is determined by birthdays within a calendar year, rather than the academic year as it is in the UK. Despite this, the academic year still runs from September to July and French students enjoy similarly long Summer and Christmas holidays and half term breaks. The dates of these holidays will vary based on your location in the country, so be sure to check the French government website to find out when yours are.


The school week is between 24-28 hours a week, usually taking place over five days between 8.30am and 4.30pm. Students will be pleased to know that many schools have two-hour long lunch breaks and Wednesday afternoons off. They may be less pleased to know that some schools make up this lost afternoon with school on a Saturday morning. (Quelle horreur!)


The French school lunch is a lavish affair compared to the school dinners or packed-lunches you probably enjoyed as a child. There are three courses and cheese is sometimes included alongside dessert.


Homework is very common, with many older students having to do two or more hours a day in addition to study lessons, to prepare for the baccalaureat.


Hopefully you now feel well-informed and ready to approach the French education system with confidence!


If you would like advice on buying a home in the South of France and beginning a new life for you and your family, chartered surveyor Charles Mackintosh would be happy to help. Please get in touch through his online contact form, send an email to charles@mackintoshfrance.com, or give him a call on +33 (0) 493 421 083.