Education and Schools in France
The education system in France may be more complicated than most expats may be accustomed to, but it is generally nevertheless of a high standard. There are a variety of school types in France, including public, private, bilingual and international schools. Parents will need to consider the language barrier, cost and curriculum before deciding which type of institution will be best for their children.
Public schools in France
Education in France is highly centralised, with most public and private schools following the national curriculum mandated by the Ministry of Education. Public school in France is free for citizens and for those who can show proof of residence in the form of a signed lease or a utility bill. Public schools attendance is based on catchment areas.
School attendance is compulsory for students between six and 16, but parents often enrol their children in a maternelle (kindergarten) from the age of two. Students generally spend two or three years at this level before advancing.
Many expat parents choose to send their younger children to their local nursery school, as it is practical and free of charge. Children of this age tend to overcome the language barrier quickly and as there are few formal educational demands, the difficulties of reading and writing in French are irrelevant.
As in most destinations, schooling standards can vary immensely from one neighbourhood or city to the next. Certain public schools in France run a curriculum geared towards teaching French to non-Francophone students, known as a Section Internationale, with the aim of eventually integrating the students into the French system. Few primary schools offer this programme. It is largely reserved for middle and high schools in France's large cities.
Private schools in France
Private schools in France are either state-sponsored or privately funded. These tend to afford smaller class sizes, more individualised instruction, better facilities and improved access to teachers. Most private schools in France are Catholic, meaning that the curriculum incorporates a faith-based value system.
Expats should note that state-sponsored private schools have a better reputation than their privately funded counterparts.
French is the primary teaching language in most private schools. However, expats will find that there are more bilingual options in this category than in public schooling. Private schools are also more likely to make an effort to hold special classes for non-Francophone students. Parent associations tend to be stronger and more prevalent in private schools.
Admission requirements and tuition fees of private schools in France may vary considerably. Proof of residence is not usually required, but some schools may request previous school records and entrance exams. Tuition for state-sponsored schools is generally significantly less than that of privately funded schools.
International schools in France
There are many international schools in France, though most are located in its large commercial centres such as Paris. These schools generally either uphold the teaching language and curriculum of an expat's home country or subscribe to the International Baccalaureate curriculum and teach in English.
Turnover rates for both teachers and students tend to be high in international schools in France, though this is largely the result of expat families not living in a country for more than a few years at a time.
While educational standards and school size tend to vary, high tuition fees are generally constant. Nevertheless, international schools in France are ideal for expat families who would like to maintain consistency in their child's education, who plan to stay in France for a short time, or who have high school-aged children looking to attend university in their home country.