Going Private

The notion of private schooling in France is very different from that in, for example, the UK. The first thing to remember is that, in France, private school does not equal better school so you will not be making this choice in order to give your child a 'better' start in life or a 'better' education.

Miracle baby - IVF in France

Since France’s first live IVF birth in 1982, on average 1 in 100 French babies are now born via IVF. France’s social security policy on assisted fertility treatments is recognised as being more generous than the UK or the USA. The news gets better: France even has higher success rates than its UK neighbours.

France admits bullying

A UNICEF investigation has revealed that one in ten children in France suffer harassment or bullying at school, prompting French ministers – finally – to take action.

Wednesday afternoons

While French schools tend to provide very little non-academic education, such as music, art or sport, extra-curricular activities are generally very well catered – and subsidized  across the country.

Bilingualism: it's child's play!

Children who grow up speaking more than one language also develop other skills faster than their peers

Complaining about schools and teachers

It is far better, if you can, to sort out any problems amicably with the teacher or school concerned, but if this isn’t possible, there is a formal complaints system. 

Special needs in education

Recent legislation means that there is a general policy of trying to integrate special needs children (including those with behavioural difficulties) into mainstream schools wherever possible. 
Children with special needs may be taught in special classes or receive extra one to one help. Where mainstream education is not appropriate, there are also specialist establishments.

Child benefits etc.

The various family and child benefits, including some of the education grants available (see Education Grants) come via the CAF - Caisse d’allocations familiales). Some are means tested and others paid to all families.

Dr Ruth Dennis: smoking

We moved to France 4 years ago and my son has settled well at school, making lots of friends. However, last week I saw a group of them, 14-16 year olds, lighting up as soon as they got out of lycée. I don’t think my son smokes, but it seems likely that he will soon if all his friends do. I really don’t want him to start – is there anything I can do? 

Calendar of vaccinations

There are some differences in the dates certain vaccinations are given in in France and other countries so if your child was born outside France you will need to compare their vaccination records (which hopefully you still have!) to the French system in order to make up any gaps. 
For adults, just pick up the French system at whatever age you arrive.

Obligatory vaccinations: (vaccins)

diphtheria (dipthérie) and tetanus (tétanos)

The first vaccination at two months and the booster at 18 months are obligtory.

polio - poliomyélite

The first vaccination at two months and boosters up to the age of 13 are obligatory.

Obligatory vaccinations are reimbursed by your social security – la Sécurité sociale aka the sécu.
NB - it is up to parents to ensure children receive their vaccinations - you will not necessarily get reminders. Remember also, that you will need an appointment with your GP to get a prescription for the vaccine which you then need to buy at the chemist before returning to your GP for the actual injection.

Recommended vaccinations:

BCG (tuberculosis) - 100% reimbursed by the Sécu

coquelouche - whooping cough –100% reimbursed by the Sécu

rougeole -  measles - 100% reimbursed by the Sécu up to age 17

oreillons – mumps – 100% reimbursed by the Sécu up to age 13

haemophilus type b (covers 8 out of 10 meningitis bacterias) –  100% reimbursed

méningites à méningocoque C - rarer meningitis bacteria - 
reimbursed in areas where it is officially recommended 

As in the UK, teenage girls are now routinely offered vaccination against cervical cancer, Papillomavirus humains (HPV). Ideally, this is given at 14 but can be given up to the age of 23 so long as the girl/woman is not yet sexually active

Here is the full calendar, by age, of vaccinations in France

At Birth
BCG : for children deemed at risk from tuberculosis.
This vaccination can be given up to thé âge of 15yrs
Hépatite B : babies whose mother is a carrier are vaccinated within 24 hours of birth with boosters at 1 and 6 months and a test between 7 and 12 months. 

At 2 months
Diphtérie, tétanos, poliomyélite, coqueluche (whooping cough), Haemophilus influenzae b (HIB): 1st injection.
Hépatite B: 1st injection.
Pneumococcique, Pn7 (Streptococcus pneumoniae): 1st injection.
At 3 months
Diphtérie, tétanos, poliomyélite, coqueluche (whooping cough), Haemophilus influenzae b (HIB): 2nd injection.
Pneumococcique, Pn7 (Streptococcus pneumoniae): extra injection only for babies deemed at increased risk of infection.  
At 4 months
Diphtérie, tétanos, poliomyélite, coqueluche (whooping cough), Haemophilus influenzae b (HIB): 3rd injection.
Hépatite B: 2nd injection.
Pneumococcique, Pn7 (Streptococcus pneumoniae): 2nd injection. (3rd for those at higher risk.)
At 9 months
Rougeole, oreillons, rubéole, ROR (this is the MMR: measles, mumps and rubella, aka German measles): 1st dose, only for breast-feeding babies being cared for with other children, in which case a 2nd dose is recommended between 12 and 15 months.
At 12 months
Rougeole, oreillons, rubéole ROR, (MMR): 1st dose. (2nd dose at least 1 month after the first and if possible before 24 months.) 
Pneumococcique, Pn7 (Streptococcus pneumoniae) : 3rd injection. (4th for those at increased risk) 
Between 12 et 15 months
Rougeole, oreillons, rubéole, ROR/MMR : 2nd dose for those who hd the first dose at 9 months. 
Between 13 and 24 months
Rougeole, oreillons, rubéole (ROR/MMR) : 2nd dose.
Between 16 and 18 months
Diphtérie, tétanos, poliomyélite, coqueluche (whooping cough), Haemophilus influenzae b (HIB): 4th injection (ie first booster).
Hépatite B: 3rd injection.
At 6 years
Diphtérie, tétanos, poliomyélite: booster.
Between 11 and 13 years
Diphtérie, tétanos, poliomyélite et coqueluche (whooping cough): booster.
Hépatite B : 3 injections for those who did not have the vaccination when they were little. The second should be given one month after the first and the third between 5 and 12 months after the second. 
At 14 years
Papillomavirus humains (HPV) - vaccination against cervical cancer for girls.
Between 15 and 23 years
Papillomavirus humains (HPV, cervical cancer): for those who did not get vaccinated at 14, but only effective for girls/women who are not yet sexually active or within 12 months of their first sexual relations. 
Between 16 and 18 years, and then every ten years
Diphtérie, tétanos, poliomyélite : booster.
Coqueluche (whooping cough): for adolescents who didn't have their booster between 11 and 13.
18 years onwards
Diphtérie, tétanos, poliomyélite: booster every 10 years.
Rubéole (rebella) for women of childbearing age who were not vaccinated when young.
Coqueluche (whooping cough): for adults likely to become parents who haven't had a booster for over ten years. 
Between 26 and 28 years
Coqueluche (whooping cough): for adults who have not had a booster for over ten years.
From 65 years
Annual flu vaccination. 

Sexy clothes for kids?

A report commissioned by the French government has called for a ban on "Mini-Miss" beauty pageants and children’s lingerie in the wake of worldwide controversy over a 2010 Vogue magazine cover featuring a provocative image of a 10-year-old girl.
The parliamentary report entitled “Against hyper-sexualisation, a new fight for equality,” calls for regulations that would ban child-sized adult clothing, including padded bras and high-heeled shoes, and see an end to beauty pageants for under-16s.
“This phenomenon is a real concern for society,” says report author, UMP senator Chantal Jouanno.Her report outlines the psychological effects sexualisation can have on children, especially girls. Damage is irreversible in 80% of cases, and can also lead to disorders such as anorexia, the report says.
Jouanno recommends restricting beauty pageants to girls aged over 16 or 18 and banning advertisers from dressing underage models in adult attire.
She also advocates the reintroduction of uniforms in primary schools.

Should sexy clothing for pre-teens be banned? Would reintroducing school uniforms be a good idea?

Education: overview, structure, exams, costs

We move to France for wine and sunshine, bigger houses and gardens or that elusive 'quality of life'. Now, an increasing number are adding education to this list. 

With its emphasis learning, tests and discipline, French education is likened to education 'as it used to be' or akin to a UK private eduction – without the fees.

Another plus is that almost all children attend their local school so that you don't find that the bright or middle class pupils have been creamed off by the private sector. This also means that you don't have to jump through hoops to get your child into the 'right' secondary school! (More about private schools here)

The government spends one of the highest proportions of its budget on education in the OECD and schooling culminates in the baccalaureate – the bac – which some 62% of students achieve while a full 90% leave school with some kind of educational qualifications.

But while education and testing are rigorous, the system can be accused of being too top down with children expected to take in information rather than learning to question and analyse.

The emphasis on academic results also means that non-academic subjects such as music and art are largely absent – although they are well catered for outside the school system (see extra curricular).

That said, children who are less academically inclined can start taking vocational courses and apprenticeships from around the age of 14. 

Although the system is rigorous on testing, children are nevertheless expected to learn to work autonomously as they move through the system – there is far less handing in and marking of homework, for example, and by lycée they are expected to organise their own files and notes.

'Redoubling' – repeating a year – is an integral part of the system). It is sold as a 'privilege', in that children who have done badly but are not likely to benefit from repeating a year will not be invited to do so. However, the subject is under constant discussion with many questioning the value of redoubling which can leave children a couple of years older than the rest of their class.

Children can also be invited to skip a year. Remember, in France, children are put into classes according to the year of their birth from January - December, not September - August as in the UK so that children moving from the UK into the French system who were born between iSeptember and the end of December may find themselves skipping a year.

Finally, all state education is strictly secular – no religious teaching, assemblies or  Marys, Josephs or donkeys in the December school play. And no wearing religious symbols to school.

Class structures:
Ages 2-6: Maternelle (Nursery School)
Ages 6-11: Primaire (Primary School)
Ages 11-15: Collège (Lower Secondary)
Ages15-18: Lycée (Upper Secondary)

And in detail:

17-18: Terminale (T) 
16-17: Première (1ère) 
15-16: Seconde (2nde) 

14-15: Troisième (3e) 
13-14: Quatrième (4e ) 
12-13: Cinquième (5e) 
11-12: Sixième (6e)

10-11: Cours Moyen 1 (CM1) 
9-10: Cours Moyen 2 (CM2) 
8-9: Cours Elémentaire 2 (CE2) 
7-8: Cours Elémentaire 1 (CE1) 
6-7: Préparatoire (CP) 
5-6: Ecole Maternelle Grande Section 
4-5: Moyenne Section 
3-4: Petite Section


Children sit the Diplôme national du Brevet (DNB), more commonly known as the brevet, at the end of collège. This is very roughly equivalent to GCSEs, although  taken a year earlier. Marks are accorded according to both continuous assessment during the final two years of college as well as the final exams. The continuous assessment counts for a large portion of marks which means that children who have done continuously well may find that they have already passed their brevet before the final exams – the extra marks they get in the exam going towards better grades. 
10/20 is a pass, 12/20 a mention assez bien, 14/20 mention bien and 16/20 mention très bien.
Children who pass their brevet are entitled to go on to a lycée course of their choice.

Students sit their baccalauréat, or bac at the end of lycée: There are two types of bac – the academic bac general and the more vocational bac pro (professional). For a full breakdown of the many lycée options see here.

Administrative structure

Schools are run at regional level by a series of Académies, each headed by a recteur who is a government appointed civil servant and also de facto Chancellor of universities in the region.

School heads are: the Directeur at Primary School, the Principal at college and Proviseur at lycée. 

All schools have a School Council, comprising parent representatives, teachers, the education authorities and, at secondary schools, pupils. The council meets three times a year to discuss budgets, rules and regulations and discipline procedures. 

In secondary schools there is also a Conseil de classe, including pupil representatives elected by the pupils, which discusses teaching issues including how each pupil is progressing and whether or not a child should repeat a year. 

At secondary schools there is also a Conseil de discipline, which deals with serious disciplinary cases, involving the possible temporary or permanent exclusion of a child from the school. Again, both parents and pupils are represented on this committee.

NB: At collège, a child's attendance and behaviour is marked and included in their end of term report – and this mark is counts towards their brevet. There is much debate about the fairness or otherwise of  a child's behaviour influencing their academic results.


Although state schooling is free, there are a number of costs that the parents are expected to bear. In many cases there are grants available to help cover these costs – see education grants.  

Books: Course books are provided at prima ire and college but parents are expected to buy many of the manuals at lycée. Some regions subsidise book buying and there is generally a good sec on-hand market in manuals. (Remember to sell yours off when you have finished with them!) 
Tip: although you will be presented with a list of necessary manuels at the beginning of the school year, some teachers don't actually use them so it is worth finding out which these teachers are to avoid buying unnecessary books as they are quite expensive. 

Stationary: from college upwards you are expected to buy your child's stationary and you will receive a baffling and extensive list of what is needed at the beginning of each academic year.

Tip: if you can't face battling through the supermarkets looking for exactly the correct squared paper, you can give the list to a stationary shop and they will prepare it for you.
By lycée, children are generally expected to work out what stationary they need by themselves.

Clothing and equipment: you may also need to buy overalls for science,art.

Lunches: expect to pay around €5 per meal. NB your child can either eat in the school cantine or at home but there is generally no provision for children to bring packed lunches to school.

Transport: The costs of the school bus vary from region to region – in some areas it is free, in others highly subsidised and yet others it can be quite expensive. 

Insurance: all children must be insured to attend school and you have to provide a certificate at the beginning of the year. This is to cover both damage or injury to your child or their effects as well as damage or injury caused by them to others and to insure them for out of school trips. 
This might be covered by your home insurance so double check first. School insurance costs roughly around €30 per year per child. 

School trips: You may be expected to contribute towards day trips and longer, often overseas, visits and exchanges. Most schools have funds set aside to help parents who cannot afford such trips, see here, to ensure that children are not deprived for financial reasons.


school holiday dates 2012 – 2013

Caen,  Clermont-Ferrand,  Grenoble,  Lyon,  Montpellier,  Nancy-Metz,  Nantes,  Rennes,  Toulouse

La Rentrée: Tuesday 5 September 2012
Toussaint half term: 27 October  – 12 November
Christmas holidays:  22 December – 7 January 2013
Winter half term: 23 February – 11 March
Easter holidays: 20 April – 6 May
Summer holidays:  6 July 2013

Aix-Marseille,  Amiens,  Besançon,  Dijon,  Lille,  Limoges,  Nice,  Orléans-Tours,  Poitiers,  Reims,  Rouen,  Strasbourg

La Rentrée: Tuesday 4 September 2012
Toussaint half term: 27 October – 12 November
Christmas holidays: 22 December – 7 January 2013
Winter half term: 16 February – 4 March
Easter holidays: 13 April – 29 April
Summer holidays:  6 July 2013

Bordeaux,  Créteil,  Paris,  Versailles

La Rentrée: Tuesday 4 September 2012
Toussaint half term: 27 October – 12 November
Christmas holidays: 22 December – 7 January 2013
Winter half term: 2 March – 18 March
Easter holidays: 27 April – 13 May
Summer holidays: 6 July 2013

Autism: a personal story

Kate Davenport writes movingly about her long struggle to get her son Louis diagnosed as autistic and then to get the help he was entitled to in order to enter mainstream schooling