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Unlocking French Schools: Ultimate Guide for Expat Parents

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Moving to France with children? Here we’ll tackle all the questions you might have about enrolling your child in school in France.

French School Essentials

If you’re thinking about relocating your family to France, you probably have a lot of questions: How is French schooling different from my home country? How do I begin the enrollment process for my child in French schools? Will my child need to speak fluent French? Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about getting enrolled in French schools. 

In 2019, a law was passed in France that helps ensure all children have access to early childhood education. This makes attending school mandatory for all children starting from the age of 3.

Educational levels in France are structured into four primary stages:

Primary Education (Primaire), ages 3-5

Kindergarten (Maternelle), ages 6-10

Middle School (Collège), ages 11-14

High School (Lycée), ages 15-18

The process of school enrollment might seem challenging, but we're here to help. Photo by Freepik.

The process of school enrollment might seem challenging, but we’re here to help. Photo by Freepik.

Most enrollment periods for French schools begin 9 months before the start of the school year. For more information you can check out the official government site: A typical week in French Schools consists of 5 days of classes, Monday through Friday. Wednesday is a shorter day, usually ending around 11:30 or noon, which allows children to have lunch with their families or attend extracurricular activities. Depending on the particular school and the age group, school usually starts between 8:00 and 9:00 in the morning, and ends between 4:30 and 5 PM, with a break for lunch in between. 

Private School vs. Public School

One of the major considerations for expat parents is whether or not their child will need to be fluent in French to attend school, and if classes will be conducted exclusively in French. This will ultimately depend on whether you want your child to attend a private school, or a public French school. 

Let’s compare private schools and public schools in France:

Private school

There are many options for private schools in Paris, as well as in other larger cities in France. Fifty percent of them offer instruction exclusively in English. The other half are bilingual, with half of the lessons conducted in English and the other half in French. If you choose for your child to attend private school, you’ll need to write a letter of motivation stating why you are interested in sending your child there. You will also need to get recommendations from past teachers, schools, or community members. Although private schools do come at a cost, they generally have lower tuition fees compared to those in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Public school

Public French schools give their classes entirely in French. Your child will need to pass a math and French exam at a dedicated center. Once they pass and receive their grade, they’ll be registered to the school nearest to them. In Paris and other major cities, they’ll also be given the opportunity to meet up with other expat families and provided with French language and culture courses. Outside of Paris, similar classes are also available, but they’ll be enrolled in the closest school offering these courses, which can sometimes be far from home. 

Homeschooling your children is generally not permitted, except for rare circumstances, in which you would need to get explicit authorization.

The decision on whether your child needs French fluency for school depends on choosing between private or public education. Photo by Pavel Danilyuk.

The decision on whether your child needs French fluency for school depends on choosing between private or public education. Photo by Pavel Danilyuk.

Once you’ve decided between public and private school, you’ll need to reach out to them. If you opt for a private school, you’ll contact them directly. If you choose to go with public French school, you’ll reach out to your regional academy. Each region has their own designated Academy, such as the Academy of Paris and the Academy of Bordeaux. Find out which Academy is responsible for your area and contact them. For instance, here is the contact information for the Academy of Paris:

While the process of school enrollment might seem challenging, you can count on us to help guide you through it with confidence. Send us a request by filling out the form below, and we’ll assist you every step of the way.

Further Reading

Want to know how to secure a French Guarantor or “Garant”? Read how here.


We're Here to Help

The French Way is a relocation and expat support agency located in Paris helping expats to make the most out of their relocation to France at any stage of their life. Contact us today and we'll be happy to help!

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