The presented data comes from EURYPEDIA.

At central level, the French education system is regulated by two departments: the Department of National Education, Youth and Community Life – which oversees the school system – and the Department of Higher Education and Research – which is responsible for higher education and research. They govern within the framework defined by the Parliament, which states the fundamental principles of education (Law no. 89-486 of 10 July 1989 and law no. 2005-380 of 23 April 2005). The State plays a major role in governance, as, by long tradition, the French education system is centralised. Nevertheless, at local level, and since the start of a process of decentralisation of competences in the administration of the educational system in the 1980s, local authorities have been playing an increasingly significant part in governance, ensuring the material operation of the system (construction and maintenance of school buildings, school transport, supply of educational materials, etc.).

Education is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16 years. The French education system is organised into several levels of education:

  • Pre-primary education (ISCED 0)*, which is dispensed at “nursery schools” and take children from 2/3 up to 6 years of age. Almost all children attend nursery school from the age of three, even though it is optional. Such schools therefore form – together with the elementary level - an integral part of the French “primary level of education”, which is under the aegis of the Department of National Education.
  • Primary education (ISCED 1), which is provided in “elementary schools” and admits children between the ages of 6 and 11. It marks the start of compulsory schooling, and is secular and free of charge when dispensed in State schools. At the end of this 5-year-course, pupils automatically access to the secondary level of education (there is neither standardised tests nor guidance procedures);
  • Lower secondary education (ISCED 2), which is provided in collèges for 4 school years (pupils between the ages of 11 and 15 years). Education in collèges is compulsory and common to all pupils. A national diploma (the brevet) is awarded at the end of collège schooling. Admission to upper secondary level is not conditional upon success in the brevet. At the end of collège schooling (15 year-old pupils), the school recommends the appropriate scholastic path to families, basing its recommendation on the pupil’s school reports and particular interests. Children will continue their schooling either in general, technological or professional education, provided at upper secondary level;
  • Upper secondary education (ISCED 3), which is dispensed in “general and technological lycées” or in “professional lycées”, which extends over 3 years (pupils between the ages of 15 and 18 years). Upper secondary education provides three educational paths: general path (which prepares pupils for long-term higher studies), technological path (which mainly prepares pupils for higher technological studies) and professional path (which leads mainly to active working life, but also enables students to continue their studies in higher education). A national diploma is awarded at the end of secondary schooling: the baccalauréat. It which is both a sign of successful completion of secondary studies and the first step in university education, access to higher studies being conditional upon its obtention. Pupils at professional lycées can prepare the CAP (Certificat d’aptitude professionnelle), a course of study extending over 2 years, after what they can either integrate active working life or prepare the professional Baccalauréat after 2 additional years of studies.
  • Higher education (ISCED 5 and ISCED 6), which is dispensed in higher educational institutions. These institutions have a wide variety of legal statuses that are listed in the French Code of Education (book VII). Courses dispensed at these institutions have different aims and conditions for admission, but most of them are structured into three study cycles (Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and Doctorate) and in ECTS credits, in compliance with the principles of the Bologna Process.  

In 2009 (and 2010), the French education system provided schooling for around 15 million schoolchildren, students and apprentices (representing about 23% of the national population); the total budget was of 132.1 billion euro, in 2009 (the equivalent of 6.9% of the Gross Domestic Product). (RERS, 2011)

The official language for education is French.

* The educational structure of the country is presented according to the national organisation and the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED – 1997 edition).

Mikolaj Sobocinski,
May 9, 2012, 9:19 AM
Mikolaj Sobocinski,
May 9, 2012, 9:20 AM