French Education is regulated by the Ministry of National Education (called « Ministère de l’Éducation nationale, de l’enseignement supérieur et de la recherche »). Even if education is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16 (law of the 28 March 1882), France has a long tradition of pre-primary education, most children go to school since the age of 3.

French education system

Source : the official Website of France,

The French education system is organised into four levels of education :

  • Pre-primary education (« école Maternelle« ) : for children from 2/3  up to the age of 6. Even though it is optional, almost all children attend nursery school from the age of three.
  • Primary education (« école élémentaire« ) :  which is provided in “elementary schools” and admits children between the ages of 6 and 11 (5 classes). It is the start of compulsory schooling.
  • Lower secondary education (« collège« ):  which is dispensed in collèges for 4 school years for pupils between the ages of 11 and 15 years. Education in collèges is compulsory and common to all pupils since 1975. The end of the lower secondary education is sanctioned by the Diplôme national du brevet even ifadmission to upper secondary level is not conditional upon success in the « brevet ».
  • Upper secondary education (« lycée »): which is dispensed in “general and technological lycées” or in “professional lycées”, for pupils between the ages of 15 and 18 years during 3 years. There are three educational paths : general path (which prepares pupils for long higher studies), technological path (which mainly prepares pupils for higher technological studies) and professional path (which leads mainly to workplace, but also enables students to pursue further vocational studies). The end of upper secondary education is sanctioned by the baccalauréat.

The Common Core of Knowledge and Skills

Nursery school, elementary school and lower secondary education have the goal to allow children to acquire the Common Core of Knowledge and Skills (Socle commun de connaissances et de compétences). It is based on the recommendation of the European Parliament and the European Council on « key competences for education and lifelong learning ».

It is organised aroud seven key competences. According to the ministery, each of these is intended « to be a combination of basic knowledge, skilles to be uses in various contexts and essential attitudes throughout life ».

The seven key competences are :

1. command of the French language ;
2. proficiency in a modern foreign language ;
3. the key elements of mathematics, scientific culture and technology ;
4. mastery of ordinary information and communication skills ;
5. humanist culture ;
6. social and civic skills ;
7. autonomy and initiative.

Lower secondary school

Lower secondary schools take all pupils from elementary school without an entrance exam from the age of 11.
Its primary objective is to help all to master the Common Core of Knowledge and Skills. It also prepares pupils for the rest of their general, technological or vocational schooling.

Pupils who experience serious academic difficulties when starting college can, through referral units, the “sections d’enseignement général et professionnel adapté” (SEGPA), over four years of collège – benefit from tailored support, adapted timetables and vocational familiarisation

Upper secondary school

Pupils attend at the secondary school at the end of the last year of lower secondary school (la troisième) for three years. They can chose between three differents paths :

  • the general route
  • the technological route
  • the vocational route

To access to the general and technological route and prepare a « baccalauréat » exam, pupils attend a « Seconde générale et technologique », then, at the end of the year, they chose between the general or the technological path. The general baccalaureate and the technological baccalaureate are organised into ‘series’ or streams. There are three general baccalaureate :

  • « ES » : economic and social studies,
  • « L » : literary
  • « S »  : scientific

And there are six technological baccalaureate :

  • STMG « Sciences et technologies du management et de la gestion » (Management)
  • STI2D « Sciences et technologies de l’industrie et du développement durable (Industrial)
  • STL « Sciences et technologies de laboratoire » (Laboratory)
  • ST2S « Sciences et technologies de la santé et du social » (Health and Social)
  • STD2A « Sciences et technologies du design et des arts appliqués » (Design and art)
  • STAV « Sciences et technologies de l’agronomie et du vivant » (Agronomy) – which depend on the Ministery of Agriculture

And two technological baccalaureate more which can be chosen just after the last year of lower secondary school :

  • TMD « Techniques de la musique et de la danse » (Music and dance)
  • STHR « Sciences et technologies de l’hôtellerie et de la restauration (Hotel management)

Vocational route

The vocational route « enables pupils to learn a trade by gradually moving from the school environment to the world of work in particular through dual training courses with some time spent in the workplace and other periods at school. These diplomas can be prepared through schooling at a vocational high school or through an apprenticeship in a Centre de Formation pour Apprentis (CFA apprenticeship training centre)« .  More information in the website « ma voie pro Europe« .

Qualifications :

  • Le certificat d’aptitude professionnel (CAP)- Vocational Training Certificate : level V, 2 years of study, over 200 specialisms for artisanal trades, production and services
  • Le baccalauréat professionnel – vocational baccalaureate : level IV, 3 years of study, 70 specialisms in very diverse sectors (commerce, services, catering, maintenance, accounting, construction, agriculture, fashion…)

Vocational education

  • Le brevet professionnel (BP) : level IV, (only through apprenticeship) 2 years of training after a CAP, 68 specialisms ;
  • La mention complémentaire (MC) – additional mention: level V or IV, one year after the CAP or baccalauréat professionnel, 57 specialisms ;
  • Le brevet des métiers d’art (BMA : arts vocational qualification) : level IV, 2 years after a CAP in the vocational arts, 26 specialisms.

French qualification framework :

French qualification framework

More information in the government website.

Useful websites

Study in France :

Vocation training :

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