Essay About French Education

This guide to education in France, from primary school to higher education, will help you enrol your child into the French education system.

If you're living in France, your child will be entitled to free French education, which has generally been considered of a high standard. The French education system is split into several stages, and your child's academic level and grades will dictate which specialist streams they can follow in their final years in the French school system. After completing compulsory French education, a student can consider higher education courses in France. Below is an outline of the French education system – including nursery, primary, secondary and university education in France – plus an introduction to the French educational philosophy.

French education standards

The French education system long enjoyed a reputation for having one of the best education systems in the world, with a nationally set curriculum, traditional methods of learning, high academic standards and strict discipline. However, in recent years some bemoan a perceived slip in French education, and according to the latest OECD/PISA world rankings (2012), France dropped three places for educational standards for 15 year olds. It is now placed 25 out of 65 countries, with 43 percent of students having difficulty in mathematics and with a widening equality gap within the school population.

The French educational philosophy emphasises:

  • the authority of the teacher;
  • individual competition including an absolute grading system (no grading 'on the curve');
  • stress on analytical thought and rote learning as opposed to creativity;
  • generally high academic expectations.

The French don't necessarily expect children to have 'fun' at school. Sports and creative activities are encouraged but generally organised by community or private associations, not by the schools.

French schooling is free and mandatory from ages six to 16, although the majority of French children start earlier. Another two years of study are required if a student is to sit the baccalauréat exam, which they must pass to enter university. Class sizes tend to be large, with one teacher for some 30 or more students.

Education reforms in France

In 2015 the French government is proposing controversial educational reforms to the collége system (middle school for ages 11–15), to make it less elitist and give all pupils, whatever their background, the same educational opportunities. These involve the teaching of modern languages and history, encouraging teachers to work together to teach topics across different themes in interdisciplinary classes  (the traditional French way is one teacher-one subject), reinforcing secular values and allowing schools to set part of the curriculum themselves. Teaching unions and right-wing political parties oppose the changes, and have enacted strikes against these reforms.

Local and international schools in France

Most students in France attend local schools, which are free. However, foreign families may consider an international school to ease their child's transition by continuing education in a familiar language and curriculum. Your child's age and length of time in France are just some factors to consider. For more information on how to choose a school in France, see Expatica's guide to French schools: local, private, bilingual and international schools.

Compulsory education in France

Although French education is compulsory for children resident in France between the ages of six and 16, many children enter preschool at the age of three and more than 50 percent of 18–21 year olds in France are in full-time higher education. Around 64 per cent of students complete their secondary education by taking the baccalauréat (le bac) or the baccalauréat professionnel (le bac prof) examinations.

State education is free for French citizens and others who have proof of residence, although parents have to pay for stationery and school trips. Allocation de rentrée scolaire (ARS) is a means-tested grant available to help parents with the cost of schooling for children aged six to 18. To find out more or download an application form, contact Caisses D’Allocation Familiales (CAF).

Schools are mixed sex and secular. While the majority of schools are state-run (ecoles publiques), there are also private schools under contract (sous contrat) to the French government, whereby the government pays the teachers' salaries, the school follows the national curriculum, and fees are reasonably low. There are also private schools (ecoles prives) that are fully independent (hors contrat), some of which are international schools. Schools affiliated to a particular religion are also usually private and thus fee paying. There are public schools with bilingual programmes but in most cases bilingual education is only available in a private school. For more information about different types of school in France, see Expatica's guide on how to choose a school in France.

Most French schools follow a national curriculum set by the Ministry of Education but the French government published reforms in May 2015 that would allow schools to set 20 percent of the curriculum themselves.

There is no school uniform at most schools in France, and your child's grade is determined by the calendar year of birth (so all children born between 1 January and 31 December of a particular year will be in the same grade).

The school year in France

The school year starts at the beginning of September. French schools have long holidays – a two-month summer holiday starting in July, two or three weeks at Christmas and Easter, as well as half term breaks. Dates vary according to where you live; France has been divided into three zones for school holidays and you can find your zone and check school term dates and school holidays in your area. You can also ask at your local mairie. Private schools set their own dates.

The school week in France

Students go to school between 24 and 28 hours a week, spread over four, four and a half, or five days depending on the region. Students preparing the baccalauréat may have as many as 40 hours per week. Some schools close on Wednesday afternoons and older pupils may have lessons on a Saturday. Although Saturday classes were once a common practice in French primary schools, this has been phased out and replaced by a longer school year.

The school day starts around 8.30am and ends at 4.30pm (later for older students), with two breaks (récré) and at least an hour and a half for lunch. Students can return home for lunch or stay and eat in the school cantine. School lunch usually consists of a starter, main meal, dessert and cheese; costs for this vary. After the school day ends students can go home – with their parents’ permission – or go to etudes (study lessons).

Many schools have a fee-based childcare system, service de puériculture, available before and after school and during vacations. These services, as well as la cantine, must be signed up for separately and fees are often means-tested.

Students, even younger children, are expected to do homework most evenings – older pupils can have two or more hours every day.

How to register your child into a French school

If you are enroling your child in a public school for the first time, contact the service des écoles at your local mairie or arrondissement. Children are generally expected to attend the school near their place of residence. In Paris, a child aged six or more who does not speak French may be sent by the local town hall to a school where French-language courses for beginners are available, if available.

To enrol in a collège or lycée, you can contact the establishment of your choice directly. If your child is arriving from outside France and is entering collège or lycée for the first time, you will need to contact the educational district's administrative head or education authority (inspection académique, service de la division des élèves, or rectorat) in your area. Your child may have to take a French-language test.

The structure of the French education system

After nursery school or kindergarten (école maternelle), which is optional, the French compulsory education system is divided into three stages or ‘cycles’:

  • primary school (école)
  • middle school (collège)
  • high school (lycée)

Preschool/nursery (école maternelle)

Preschools or nursery schools – écoles maternelles – provide care for children from two and three years old until they are six. While children are not obliged to attend, state facilities are free and are an excellent way for young children of expat parents to learn French quickly and easily. The curriculum aims to prepare children for primary school, and includes reading, writing, numeracy and sometimes even a foreign language. For more information on maternelles and other preschool nurseries and daycare options, see Expatica's guide to preschool options in France, French daycare and childcare options in France.

Primary school (ecole primaire)

Children in France attend primary school from the age of six to 11 years old. Unless your child attended the maternelle, you should apply to the school through your local mairie. You’ll need your child’s birth certificate, proof of residence and an up-to-date vaccination certificate. For more information on applying to primary school, see Expatica's guide on how to choose a school in France.

There are five levels:

  • Cours préparatoire (CP) or 11ème – age 6 to 7 years old
  • Cours élémentaire (CE1) or 10ème – age 7 to 8 years old
  • Cours élémentaire (CE2) or 9ème – age 8 to 9 years old
  • Cours moyen 1 (CM1) or 8ème – 9 to 10 years old
  • Cours moyen 2 (CM2) or 7ème – 10 to 11 years old

The school week is around 24 hours; primary schools often close for all or part of Wednesday. There are lessons on literacy, numeracy, geography/history and commonly a foreign language, often English. Your child must be enrolled by the June prior to the September start of the school year.

If a child needs to repeat a year, redoubler, it is most often suggested at the end of a cycle. This decision can be determined by a group of school directors and teachers, conseil de cycle, although parents may appeal their decisions. However, there isn't the same negative stigma attached to repeating as in English-speaking countries, and some 30 percent of students may repeat at least once in their schooling life.

The administrator, usually a member of the teaching staff, is known as the directeur or directrice; teachers are referred to as maître or maîtresse.

Middle school (collège)

Between the ages of 11 and 15, students in France attend a middle school or collège. All pupils are accepted; there is no entrance exam or requirements for state schools. You must enroll through your local mairie by the June before the September start of the school year. Read more about the application process in Expatica's guide on how to choose a school in France.

There are four levels:

  • 6ème – 11 to 12 years old
  • 5ème – 12 to 13 years old
  • 4ème – 13 to 14 years old
  • 3ème – 14 to 15 years old

The syllabus aims to give all pupils a general education and consists of French, mathematics, history/geography, civics, biology, physics, technology, art, music, and physical education. Over the four years in the college, the more academic students tend to choose to take more general classes while the less academic tend to take more vocational classes.

In collège, marks (notes) become an important aspect in a child’s schooling, with tests (controles) becoming commonplace. During the year students are tested every week and at the end of the year have to pass with an average of 12 marks out of 20. Scoring under 10 may mean repeating the year, although no stigma is attached to this. Parents can appeal a decision for their child to repeat (redoubler), but rarely do.

At the end of the four years, at the age of 15, all students must sit the brevet, the Diplôme National du Brevet (or Brevet des Collèges). Students are tested on French, mathematics and history/geography (choosing which one they want to answer on the day) but they must also have passed their B2i (computer/internet skills) during the year and have reached a level A2 in a foreign language. There are proposed changes to the history element.

The brevet is also marked on continuous assessment (including general attitude and behaviour) during the last year of college (3ème) – so some students may have already passed the brevet before they even sit the exam. Students have to get 10 marks out of 20 to pass; 12 for a Mention Assez Bien, 14 for a Mention Bien and 16+ for a Mention Très Bien.

After the brevet, students may leave the education system altogether if they are 16 (though most do not), or continue their education in a lycée. Academic pupils will move onto a lycée général or lycée technique, while less academic may go to a lycée professionnel.

High school or lycée

The last three years of secondary education – from 15 to 18 years old – are spent at a lycée general, a lycée technique or a lycée professionnel. Students take the same core curriculum of some eight or nine subjects but are offered three electives and an artistic workshop. At the end of this year, the key decision is made as to which baccalaureat the student will pursue. Contact the individual school for enrolment requirements and procedures.

The levels are:

  • Seconde (CAP, BEP) – 15 to 16 years old
  • Première (CAP, BEP) – 16 to 17 years old
  • Terminale (BAC) – 17 to 18 years old

> Lycée general
and lycée technique

Students start to specialise with the aim of sitting the Baccalauréat (le bac), which is the qualification to enter university at 18 years old. Students choose different ‘series’. The general bac consists of the L series (literary studies), ES series (economic and social studies) or S series (sciences). The S bac is considered the toughest.

There are also some seven baccalauréat technologique, diplomas based on specific technical skills. The technology bac series include Science and Industrial (STI), Science and Laboratory (STL), Health and Social Sciences (STSS), Science and Management (STG), Music and Dance (TMD), Agronomy (STAV) and Hotel Management. If the lycée has an International or European section there may be tests taken in English that count towards the marks.

Students have to pass all subjects in the series (getting 10/20 in the exam) to pass; those getting 8/20 or under have to retake the year and sit again. Those who pass can get a place at one of France’s universities.

Sitting for the tests can be a nail-biting experience and many students may add a series of practice tests to their regular studies during the final two years. However, many complain that the testing level has decreased and is one reason why many students fail their first year of university, although ministers and civil servants disagree.

Theoretically, the lycées offer the same standard of education for all; in practice, in league tables published in the main newspapers, certain lycées (mainly private) consistently top the rankings.

> Lycée professionnel

At a lycee professionnel (lycées pro), students work towards qualifications to help them get a manual or clerical job or pursue further vocational studies. These qualifications are the baccalauréat professionnel (bac pro), CAP (certificat d'aptitude professionnel) and BEP (Brevet d'enseignement professionnel), which focus on one of four fields: social/health, driving/transport, catering/hotels, and optics. Lycées du bâtiment and lycées agricoles specialise in building trades and agriculture. The professional baccalaureate requires three years of study and certifies the student to work in a qualified professional activity.

International and European sections

Certain French schools also offer an International Section leading to an international baccalauréat (Option Internationale du Baccalauréat – OIB). There are British and American sections as well as a number of others, where additional subjects are taught and examined in the relevant language to a level comparable to the equivalent exam in the home country (for example, A levels in the UK, or AP in the USA).

They are intended to integrate foreign students and make it easier for them to eventually return to schools in their home country, but some French students also attend to take advantage of the advanced language training.

The curriculum is offered on top of the normal French-language baccalauréat course load, and offers instruction in language, literature, geography and history at higher levels than the normal French curriculum.

European sections also offer higher-level language instruction, but whereas the curriculum for international sections is agreed upon by administrators in France and the country of origin, the European section is intended to better integrate French students into a multilingual European environment. Students who pass the additional language tests for their baccalauréat earn a diploma with a mention section européenne.

Both of these programmes add significant additional work onto an already demanding curriculum; your child's overall scholastic aptitude rather than their bilingualism should determine whether or not they enrol.

Alternatively, to gain an international diploma, a student could opt to transfer to an international school in their final years and take the exam of their home country instead of France's baccalauréat.

Higher education in France

A baccalauréat or foreign equivalent guarantees access to a publicly funded university, although the very best students take another one or two years of private studies, prepatory classes, or prépas, so they can sit for an entrance exam (concours) into the handful of prestigious schools known collectively as les grandes écoles for engineering, business, and politics or administrative studies. Read more in Expatica's guide to French higher education and universities in France.

To enter higher education in France, students need to prove their French is at a level that will enable them to undertake the course of their choice; this might be done via a written and oral test. 

Lessons are taught in French

The lessons in most French schools will be taught in French. Some schools in larger cities may offer intensive language classes, provide a special teaching assistant (Français Langue Etrangère or FLE), or have ‘International’ or ‘European’ sections to help new arrivals integrate. However, many schools expect non-French speaking pupils to do the same work as their French peers without support.

Expat pupils can find it difficult to adjust and some may need to repeat a year. Repeating a year  – redoublement – is actually quite common in French schools and there is no real stigma attached. Lessons with a French language tutor may help. Bear in mind that it can be difficult to make friends without a common language so be prepared to support your child.

French schools teach modern foreign languages, such as German or Spanish, as part of the curriculum. In May 2015, the  French government published reforms to abolish modern foreign language classes for only academically able pupils at 11 years old and making them compulsory for all pupils at 12 years old.

Special needs schools in France

There are special needs schools in France and some schools have dedicated departments. You will need to check what’s available in your own area. Contact SESSAD (services d'éducation spéciale et de soins à domicile) for information about schooling and out of school treatments. Service-Public has more information about special needs education in France.

Home schooling in France

It’s legal in France to home school your child. You have to make an annual declaration at your local mairie and at the rectorat (school inspectorate). You have to be able to cover roughly the same topics and to the same levels as in a French school. You will also be inspected every year by the schools inspector, and every two years by the mairie. If they decide that standards are inadequate then you may be ordered to send your child to school. Les enfants d’abord is a French national organisation for home-educating families.

For more information



The French educational system is highly centralized and organized, with many subdivisions. It is divided into the three stages of enseignement primaire (primary education), enseignement secondaire (secondary education), and enseignement supérieur (higher education). In French higher education, the following degrees are recognized by the Bologna Process (EU recognition): Licence and Licence Professionnelle (bachelor's degrees), and the comparably named Master and Doctorat degrees.


Main article: History of education in France

While the French trace the development of their educational system to Napoléon, the modern era of French education begins at the end of the nineteenth century. Jules Ferry, a Minister of Public Instruction in the 1880s, is widely credited for creating the modern school (l'école républicaine) by requiring all children between the ages of 6 and 12, both boys and girls, to attend. He also made public instruction mandatory, free of charge, and secular (laïque). With these laws, known as French Lubbers, Jules Ferry laws, and several others, the Third Republic repealed most of the Falloux Laws of 1850–1851, which gave an important role to the clergy.


This article needs to be updated. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information.(April 2016)

All educational programmes in France are regulated by the Ministry of National Education (officially called Ministère de l'Éducation nationale, de la Jeunesse et de la Vie associative). The head of the ministry is the Minister of National Education.

The teachers in public primary and secondary schools are all state civil servants, making the ministère the largest employer in the country. Professors and researchers in France's universities are also employed by the state.

ABesançon, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Grenoble, Limoges, Lyon, Poitiers
BAix-Marseille, Amiens, Caen, Lille, Nancy-Metz, Nantes, Nice, Orléans-Tours, Reims, Rennes, Rouen, Strasbourg
CCréteil, Montpellier, Paris, Toulouse, Versailles

At the primary and secondary levels, the curriculum is the same for all French students in any given grade, which includes public, semi-public and subsidised institutions. However, there exist specialised sections and a variety of options that students can choose. The reference for all French educators is the Bulletin officiel de l'éducation nationale, de l'enseignement supérieur et de la recherche (B.O.) which lists all current programmes and teaching directives. It is amended many times every year.[1]

School year[edit]

In Metropolitan France, the school year runs from early September to early July. The school calendar is standardised throughout the country and is the sole domain of the ministry.

In May, schools need time to organise exams (for example, the baccalauréat). Outside Metropolitan France, the school calendar is set by the local recteur.

Major holiday breaks are as follows:

  • All Saints (la Toussaint), two weeks (since 2012) around the end of October and the beginning of November;
  • Christmas (Noël), two weeks around Christmas Day and New Year's Day;
  • winter (hiver), two weeks starting in mid February;
  • spring (printemps) or Easter (Pâques), two weeks starting in mid April;
  • summer (été), two months starting in early July. (mid-June for high school students).

Primary school[edit]

Schooling in France is mandatory from age 6. Most parents start sending their children at age 3, at kindergarten classes (maternelle), which are usually affiliated to a borough's primary school. Some even start earlier at age 2 in pré-maternelle or très petite section classes, which are essentially daycare centres. The last year of kindergarten, grande section ("big form") is an important step in the educational process, as it is the year in which pupils are introduced to reading.

After kindergarten, the young students move on to the école élémentaire (literally the "elementary school"). It is in the first year that they will learn to write and develop their reading skills. Much akin to other educational systems, French primary school students usually have a single teacher (or perhaps two) who teaches the complete curriculum, such as French, mathematics, science and humanities to name a few. Note that the French word for a teacher at the primary school level is maître, or its feminine form maîtresse (previously called instituteur, or its feminine form institutrice).

Children stay in elementary school for 5 years until they are 10-11 years-old. The classes are named : CP (cours préparatoire), CE1 (cours élémentaire 1), CE2 (cours élémentaire 2), CM1 (cours moyen 1) and CM2 (cours moyen 2). [2]

Middle school and high school[edit]

Further information: Secondary education in France

After primary school, two educational stages follow:

  • collèges (middle school), which cater for the first four years of secondary education from the ages of 11 to 15
  • lycées (high school), which provide a three-year course of further secondary education for children between the ages of 15 and 18. Pupils are prepared for the baccalauréat (baccalaureate, colloquially known as le bac). The baccalauréat can lead to higher education studies or directly to professional life.

International education[edit]

As of January 2015, the International Schools Consultancy (ISC)[3] listed France as having 105 international schools.[4] ISC defines an 'international school' in the following terms "ISC includes an international school if the school delivers a curriculum to any combination of pre-school, primary or secondary students, wholly or partly in English outside an English-speaking country, or if a school in a country where English is one of the official languages, offers an English-medium curriculum other than the country’s national curriculum and is international in its orientation."[4] This definition is used by publications including The Economist.[5]

Higher education[edit]

See also: List of colleges and universities in France and Academic ranks in France

Higher education in France is organized in three levels or grades which correspond to those of other European countries, facilitating international mobility: the Licence and Licence Professionnelle (bachelor's degrees), and the Master's and Doctorat degrees.[citation needed] The Licence and the Master are organized in semesters: 6 for the Licence and 4 for the Master.[6][7] These levels of study include various "parcours" or paths based on UE (Unités d’Enseignement or Modules), each worth a defined number of European credits (ECTS); a student accumulates these credits, which are generally transferable between paths.[citation needed] A Licence is awarded once 180 ECTS have been obtained; a Master is awarded once 120 additional credits have been obtained.[6][7]

Licence and master's degrees are offered within specific domaines and carry a specific mention. Spécialités which are either research-oriented or professionally oriented during the second year of the Master. There are also Professional Licences whose objective is immediate job integration. It is possible to later return to school through continuing education or to validate professional experience (through VAE, Validation des Acquis de l’Expérience[8]).

Higher education in France is divided between grandes écoles and public universities. The grandes écoles admit the graduates of the level Baccalauréat + 2 years of validated study (or sometimes directly after the Baccalauréat) whereas universities admit all graduates of the Baccalauréat.

A striking trait of French higher education, compared with other countries, is the small size and multiplicity of establishments, each specialised in a more-or-less broad spectrum of areas. A middle-sized French city, such as Grenoble or Nancy, may have 2 or 3 universities (focused on science or sociological studies) and also a number of engineering and other establishments specialised higher education. In Paris and its suburbs there are 13 universities, none of which is specialised in one area or another, and a large number of smaller institutions that are highly specialised.

It is not uncommon for graduate teaching programmes (master's degrees, the course part of PhD programmes etc.) to be operated in common by several institutions, allowing the institutions to present a larger variety of courses.

In engineering schools and the professional degrees of universities, a large share of the teaching staff is often made up of non-permanent professors; instead, part-time professors are hired to teach one only specific subject. The part-time professors are generally hired from neighbouring universities, research institutes or industries.

Another original feature of the French higher education system is that a large share of the scientific research is carried out by research establishments such as CNRS or INSERM, which are not formally part of the universities. However, in most cases, the research units of those establishments are located inside universities (or other higher education establishments) and jointly operated by the research establishment and the university.

Tuition costs[edit]

Since higher education is funded by the state, the fees are very low; the tuition varies from €150 to €700 depending on the university and the different levels of education. (licence, master, doctorate). One can therefore get a master's degree (in 5 years) for about €750-3,500. Additionally, students from low-income families can apply for scholarships, paying nominal sums for tuition or textbooks, and can receive a monthly stipend of up to €450 per month.

The tuition in public engineering schools is comparable to universities, albeit a little higher (around €700). However it can reach €7000 a year for private engineering schools, and some business schools, which are all private or partially private, charge up to €15000 a year.

Health insurance for students is free until the age of 20 so only the costs of living and books have to be added. After the age of 20, the health insurance for students costs €200 a year and cover most of the medical expenses.

Some public schools have other ways of gaining money. Some do not receive sufficient funds from the government for class trips and other extra activities and so these schools may ask for a small (optional) entrance fee for new students.

Universities in France[edit]

See also: List of public universities in France and University reform in France

The public universities in France are named after the major cities near which they are located, followed by a numeral if there are several. Paris, for example, has thirteen universities, labelled Paris I to XIII. Some of these are not in Paris itself, but in the suburbs. In addition, most of the universities have taken a more informal name which is usually that of a famous person or a particular place. Sometimes, it is also a way to honor a famous alumnus, for example the science university in Strasbourg is known as "Université Louis Pasteur" while its official name is "Université Strasbourg I" (however, since 2009, the three universities of Strasbourg have been merged).

The French system has undergone a reform, the Bologna process, which aims at creating European standards for university studies, most notably a similar time-frame everywhere, with three years devoted to the bachelor's degree ("licence" in French), two for the Master's, and three for the doctorate. French universities have also adopted the ECTS credit system (for example, a licence is worth 180 credits). However the traditional curriculum based on end of semester examinations still remains in place in most universities. This double standard has added complexity to a system which also remains quite rigid. It is difficult to change a major during undergraduate studies without losing a semester or even a whole year. Students usually also have few course selection options once they enroll in a particular diploma.

France also hosts various branch colleges of foreign universities. These include Baruch College, the University of London Institute in Paris, Parsons Paris School of Art and Design and the American University of Paris.

Grandes écoles[edit]

Main article: Grandes écoles

The grandes écoles of France are elite higher-education establishments. They are generally focused on a single subject area (e.g., engineering or business), have a small size (typically between 100 and 300 graduates per year), and are highly selective. They are widely regarded as prestigious,[9][10] and most of France's scientists and executives have graduated from a grande école.

National rankings are published every year by various magazines.[11][12][13][14] While these rankings slightly vary from year to year, the top grandes écoles have been very stable for decades:

Preparatory classes (CPGEs)[edit]

Main article: Classe préparatoire aux grandes écoles

The Preparatory classes (in French "classes préparatoires aux grandes écoles" or CPGE), widely known as prépas, is a prep course with the main goal of training students for enrollment in a grande école. Admission to CPGEs is based on performance during the last two years of high school, called Première and Terminale. Only 5% of a generation is admitted to a prépa. CPGEs are usually located within high schools but pertain to tertiary education, which means that each student must have successfully passed their Baccalauréat (or equivalent) to be admitted in a CPGE. Each CPGE receives applications from hundreds of applicants worldwide[citation needed] every year in April and May, and selects students based on its own criteria. A few CPGEs, mainly the private ones (which account for 10% of CPGEs), also have an interview process or look at a student's involvement in the community.

The ratio of CPGE students who fail to enter any grande école is lower in scientific and business CPGEs than in humanities CPGEs.

Scientific CPGEs[edit]

The oldest CPGEs are the scientific ones, which can only be accessed by scientific Bacheliers. Scientific CPGE are called TSI ("Technology and Engineering Science"), MPSI ("Mathematics, Physics and Engineering Science"), PCSI ("Physics, Chemistry, and Engineering Science") or PTSI ("Physics, Technology, and Engineering Science") in the first year, MP ("Mathematics and Physics"), PSI ("Physics and Engineering Science"), PC ("Physics and Chemistry") or PT ("Physics and Technology") in the second year and BCPST ("Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Life and Earth Sciences").

First year CPGE students are called the "Math Sup"—or Hypotaupe—(Sup for "Classe de Mathématiques Supérieures", superior in French, meaning post-high school), and second years "Math Spé"—or Taupe—(Spés standing for "Classe de Mathématiques Spéciales", special in French). The students of these classes are called Taupins. Both the first and second year programmes include as much as sixteen hours of mathematics teaching per week, ten hours of physics, two hours of philosophy, two to four hours of (one or two) foreign languages teaching and two to three hours of minor options: either SI, Engineering Industrial Science or Theoretical Computer Science (including some programming using the Pascal or CaML programming languages, as a practical work). With this is added several hours of homework, which can rise as much as the official hours of class. A known joke among those students is that they are becoming moles for two years, sometimes three. This is actually the origin of the nicknames taupe and taupin (taupe being the French word for a mole).

Business CPGEs[edit]

There are also CPGE which are focused on economics (who prepare the admission in business schools). These are known as "Prépa EC" (short for Economiques et Commerciales) and are divided into two parts ("prépa EC spe mathematics", generally for those who graduated the scientific baccalaureat and "prépa EC spe éco", for those who were in the economics section in high school).

Humanities CPGEs (Hypokhâgne and Khâgne)[edit]

The literary and humanities CPGEs have also their own nicknames, Hypokhâgne for the first year and Khâgne for the second year. The students are called the khâgneux. These classes prepare for schools such as the three Écoles Normales Supérieures, the Ecole des Chartes, and sometimes Sciences Po.

There are two kinds of Khâgnes. The Khâgne de Lettres is the most common, and focuses on philosophy, French literature, history and languages. The Khâgne de Lettres et Sciences Sociales (Literature and Social Sciences), otherwise called Khâgne B/L, also includes mathematics and socio-economic sciences in addition to those literary subjects.

The students of Hypokhâgne and Khâgne (the humanities CPGE) are simultaneously enrolled in universities, and can go back to university in case of failure or if they feel unable to pass the highly competitive entrance examinations for the Écoles Normales Supérieures.


The amount of work required of the students is exceptionally high. In addition to class time and homework, students spend several hours each week completing exams called colles (sometimes written 'khôlles' to look like a Greek word, this way of writing being initially a khâgneux's joke[clarification needed]). The colles are unique to French academic education in CPGEs.

In scientific and business CPGEs, colles consist of oral examinations twice a week, in French, foreign languages (usually English, German, or Spanish), maths, physics, philosophy, or geopolitics — depending on the type of CPGE. Students, usually in groups of three or four, spend an hour facing a professor alone in a room, answering questions and solving problems.

In humanities CPGEs, colles are usually taken every quarter in every subject. Students have one hour to prepare a short presentation that takes the form of a French-style dissertation (a methodologically codified essay, typically structured in 3 parts: thesis, counter-thesis, and synthesis) in history, philosophy, etc. on a given topic, or the form of a commentaire composé (a methodologically codified commentary) in literature and foreign languages. In Ancient Greek or Latin, they involve a translation and a commentary. The student then has 20 minutes to present his/her work to the teacher, who finally asks some questions on the presentation and on the corresponding topic.

Colles are regarded as very stressful, particularly due to the high standards expected by the teachers, and the subsequent harshness that may be directed at students who do not perform adequately. But they are important insofar as they prepare the students, from the very first year, for the oral part of the highly competitive examinations, which are reserved for the happy few who successfully pass the written part.

Recruitment of teachers[edit]

Decades ago[when?], primary school teachers were educated in Ecoles Normales and secondary teachers recruited through the "Agrégation" examination. The situation has been diversified by the introduction in the 1950s of the CAPES examination for secondary teachers and in the 1990s by the institution of "Instituts Universitaires de Formation des Maîtres" (IUFM), which have recently been renamed Écoles Supérieures du Professorat et de l’Éducation (ESPE). University teachers are recruited by special commissions, and are divided between:

  • "teachers-researchers" (enseignants-chercheurs), with at least a doctorate: they teach classes and conduct research in their field of expertise with a full tenure. They are either Maître de Conférences (Senior lecturers), or Professeurs (Professors). Only a Professor can be the director of studies for a PhD student. The net pay is from 2300 to 8800 (with extra duties) euros per month. Net salaries of over 4000 euros per month (2011 level) are however very unusual, and limited to the small minority of teacher-researchers who have held the grade of first class full professor for at least seven years, which is rare. The maximum possible net salary for second-class full professors and chief senior lecturers (maître de conférence hors classe)—the end of career status for most full-time teacher-researchers in French universities—is 3760 Euros a month (2011)—and only a minority of this group ever reach this level.
  • Secondary school teachers who have been permanently assigned away from their original school position to teach in a university. They are not required to conduct any research but teach twice as many hours as the "teachers-researchers". They are called PRAG (professeurs agrégés) and PRCE (professeurs certifiés). Their weekly service is 15 or 18 hours. The net pay is from 1400 to 3900 euros per month.
  • CPGE teachers are usually "agrégés" or "chaire sup", assigned by the Inspection Général according to their qualifications and competitive exam rank as well as other factors. Their weekly service is about 9 hours a week, 25 or 33 weeks a year. Net pay : from 2000 to 7500 euro (extra hours)
  • Primary school and kindergarten teachers (Professeurs des écoles), educated in "Instituts Universitaires de Formation des Maîtres" (IUFM), have usually a "master" (Bac+5). Their weekly service is about 28 hours a week.


Religious instruction is not given by public schools (except for 6- to 18-year-old students in Alsace-Moselle under the Concordat of 1801). Laïcité (secularism) is one of the main precepts of the French republic.

In a March 2004 ruling, the French government banned all "conspicuous religious symbols" from schools and other public institutions with the intent of preventing proselytisation and to foster a sense of tolerance among ethnic groups. Some religious groups showed their opposition, saying the law hindered the freedom of religion as protected by the French constitution.

See also: French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools


The French Republic has 67 million inhabitants, living in the 13 regions of metropolitan France and four overseas departments (2.7 million). Despite the fact that the population is growing (up 0.4% a year), the proportion of young people under 25 is falling. There are now[when?] fewer than 19 million young people in metropolitan France, or 32% of the total population, compared with 40% in the 1970s and 35% at the time of the 190 census. France is seeing a slow aging of the population—less marked however than in other neighbouring countries (such as Germany and Italy), especially as the annual number of births is currently increasing slightly.

Eighteen million pupils and students, i.e. a quarter of the population, are in the education system. Of these, over 2.4 million are in higher education.[16] The French Education Minister reported in 2000 that 39 out of 75,000 state schools were "seriously violent" and 300 were "somewhat violent".[17]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

The different Académies and school zones in France
  1. ^"Le Bulletin officiel". Ministère de l'Éducation nationale, de l'Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche. 
  2. ^
  3. ^"International School Consultancy Group > Home". Retrieved 2016-07-07. 
  4. ^ ab"International School Consultancy Group > Information > ISC News". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2016-07-07. 
  5. ^"The new local". The Economist. 17 December 2014. 
  6. ^ ab"La Licence". (in French). 2016-07-19. Retrieved 2016-07-19. 
  7. ^ ab"Le Master". (in French). 2016-07-19. Retrieved 2016-07-19. 
  8. ^"Validation des acquis de l'expérience (VAE)". (in French). 2011-05-02. Archived from the original on 2012-07-11. Retrieved 2012-06-22. 
  9. ^Understanding the "Grandes Ecoles", retrieved 2009-06-07 
  10. ^"grande école". French to English translation by Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 11th Edition. Retrieved November 02, 2012. 
  11. ^L'Étudiant, Palmarès des grandes écoles de commerce.
  12. ^L'Étudiant, Palmarès des écoles d'ingénieurs.
  13. ^Le Figaro, Classement des écoles de commerce.
  14. ^L'Usine nouvelle, Palmarès des écoles d'ingénieurs.
  15. ^"Classement SIGEM des écoles de commerce | Bloom6". Retrieved 2016-04-21. 
  16. ^Kabla-Langlois, Isabelle; Dauphin, Laurence (2015). "Students in higher education". Higher education & research in France, facts and figures - 49 indicators. Paris: Ministère de l'Éducation nationale, de l'Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche. Retrieved 23 November 2015. 
  17. ^Lichfield, J. (2000, January 27). Violence in the lycees leaves France reeling. The Independent. London.

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