Living in France?
Childcare and Education in France
Taking Care of Your Children
Childcare facilities in France are excellent, which might explain why the percentage of working mothers is higher in France than in other European countries. Working expat women have the choice between two government-supported childcare options: the crèche collective or the crèche familiale.
The former is a sort of kindergarten for children aged between three months and three years, where up to 30 children are looked after by eight to ten professional childcarers. Opening hours are usually from 07:30 to 18:30, and waiting lists may be long.
The other possibility is to hire a professional nanny who will take care of your kid(s) at her home. This crèche or accueil familial accommodates up to four children, and hours are more flexible.
All forms of public childcare are funded by the state department for Allocations Familiales, and fees are calculated on an individual basis, taking into account the financial means of the family in question. The website of Allocations Familiales provides a guide to different childcare options, including a search function for nearby facilities.
From École Maternelle to Lycée
French state schools are free and open to every child legally residing in France. As opposed to some other European countries, the French preschool, or école maternelle, is an integral (though optional) part of the school system, catering to children aged three to six. Children aged six then proceed to their local école élémentaire (primary school), where they stay for five years. Primary education is followed by four years of comprehensive schooling at a collège.
The successful completion of the first nine years leads to a national diploma called brevet. Before the students embark on the next step in their educational career, families and teachers get together in orientation sessions to discuss further education options. Here they try to reconcile the family´s ideas about the future of their child with his or her academic achievements. Most children go on to the lycée, a higher secondary school, which has a general, technical, or professional focus.
State Schools: The Most Common Solution
Parents who decide to send their child to a French state school should contact their local town hall for information on schools and the enrollment procedure. Preschools and elementary schools are tied to catchment areas: depending on where you live, the communal administration will assign your child to a certain school.
If you want to send your child to a different state school outside your catchment area, you must seek authorization from the mayor's office. Documentation needed in order to enroll your child at a school in France includes proof of identity and residence, and an up-to-date vaccination certificate. For detailed information, please consult the website of the Ministère de l’Éducation nationale, de la Jeunesse et de la Vie associative.
Private Schools: A Big Sector
There is a big private education sector in France, catering to nearly 15% of French pupils of all age groups. Private schools are called écoles privées or écoles libres and are divided into schools sous contrat and hors contrat. The former are private institutions committed to following the national curriculum and national standards of education, equality, and personal freedom.
In exchange for government control, contracted private schools receive financial support. This, in turn, allows for comparatively moderate tuition fees for non-boarding pupils as well as boarding students, ranging from about 400 EUR to 5,000 EUR per year.
Non-Contracted Private Schools: The Last Option
Less than 0.5% of all students attend non-contracted private schools. However, these schools still need to be registered with the Ministère de l’Éducation nationale. As they are not eligible for government support, the financial burden rests on students and their families, who need to pay between 8,000 EUR and 20,000 EUR on average per year. Many Montessori schools and international schools that offer bilingual tuition fall under this category.
Most international schools can be found in and around Paris, Strasbourg, and Lyon. There are several websites containing information on the private school sector in France which allow you to search for a school by location, type of school, etc. The best are CIDE Information & Orientation, Fabert, and L’Annuaire officiel d’enseignement privé. People requiring information in English should consult the France International Schools Directory.
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