Education and Schools in France
Public schools in France
Education in France is highly centralised, with most schools (both public and private) 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 (such as a signed lease or a utility bill). Public schools are attended based on catchment areas.
School attendance is compulsory for students between six and 16, but parents often enrol their children in a Maternelle (kindergarten), akin to nursery school or pre-primary school, from the age of two. Students generally spend two or three years at this level before advancing.
Many expat parents choose to send their children (three to six years old) to their local nursery school, as it is practical, in close proximity to the home and free of charge. Children this young 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.
Again, it is vital that parents speak to those in the area who send their children to public schools. As in most destinations, schooling standards can vary immensely from one neighbourhood or city to the next. Certain public schools in France claim a Section Internationale (international section) - a curriculum geared towards teaching French to non-Francophone students before integrating them into the French system. Few primary schools offer this programme; it is largely reserved for middle (College) and high (Lycée) schools, most of which are found only in the large cities.
Private schools in France
Private schools in France are either state sponsored or privately funded, and tend to afford smaller class sizes, more individualised instruction, better facilities and improved access to teachers unique to this category. Most private schools in France are Catholic, meaning that the curriculum incorporates a faith-based value system. Expat parents will need to decide if this is a characteristic they'd like included in their child's education.
Expats should note that state-sponsored private schools claim a better reputation than their privately funded counterparts. That said, state-sponsored schools will also emphasise the French national curriculum, and will leave less room for extra-curricular activities or alternative teaching styles that may be particularly appealing to expats.
French is the primary teaching language in most private schools; however, there are more opportunities in this category for expats to find a bilingual institution, or one that makes more of an effort to hold special classes for non-Francophone students. Parent associations also 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.