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The French education system: from nursery school to high school

Studying in France

The French education system is split into three stages: primary school (école), secondary school (collège) and high school (lycée). Primary and secondary education is free, neutral, secular and compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16. However, there are some private schools that are not subject to these obligations and particularities of the French education system.

Infographie présentant le système scolaire français

Nursery school classes accept toddlers at 2 or 3 years of age, starting in September. The children develop their basic faculties, improve their speaking skills and are introduced to the world of reading and writing, numbers and other key areas of learning. From age 6 to 11, the children attend elementary school which is mixed and freein the case of public (state) schools. 

The 'collège' accepts all pupils after elementary school without the need to pass an entrance exam. The teaching is structured by subject: French, mathematics, history-geography, 'civics' or civil education, biology and earth sciences, technology, art, music, PE, physics-chemistry. The objectives are fixed by national programmes.

After the 'collège', pupils continue their education in a general and technological 'lycée' or a professional 'lycée'. The latter enables them to acquire a professional diploma in order to pursue further vocational studies or integrate the workplace. Links between the professional and the general and technological study programmes and between the C.A.P. (Certificate of Professional Aptitude) and the professional baccalaureate are facilitated. 

The C.A.P. gives access to manual worker or qualified employee jobs and aims to provide direct access into the world of work. Pupils can also take a 2-year course of studies towards a professional qualification called a B.E.P. (Certificate of Vocational Proficiency) in one of four fields (social and health careers, driving jobs and road transport services, the catering and hotel industry, and the optics-eyewear sector). In a professional lycée, the BEP course is integrated into the three-year programme of the professional baccalaureate.

The general baccalaureate and the technological baccalaureate are organised into 'series' or streams (ES - economic and social studies, L - literary and S - scientific) for the general 'bac', and STG (Management), STI (Industrial), STL (Laboratory), STSS (Health and Social), STAV (Agronomy), TMD (Music and Dance) and Hotel Management for the technological 'bac'. Each stream is structured by a coherent core of key subjects. The professional baccalaureate requries 3 years of study and certifies the capacity to work in a highly qualified professional activity.