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Childcare and Education in France

Life in France may be full of joie de vivre, but it is best to come prepared. The French are very proud of their culture, so get informed before starting your new life to avoid any faux-pas! Our expat guide to France will equip you with essential info on the locals, the language, and healthcare, and more.
France is a good place to live for expatriates with children.

Taking Care of Your Children

Childcare facilities in France are excellent, which might explain why the percentage of working mothers in France is one of the highest in Europe. 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 second option is to hire a professional nanny (known as a nounou) 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 (in French).

Education in France: 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, and decide on whether the children will attend a lycée (a secondary school) with a general, technical or professional focus. Parents do not get to choose which lycée their child will attend — it is allocated to them based on the carte scolaire (school map) and is usually the nearest one.

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 also 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 (in French).

Private Schools: A Big Sector

There is a big private education sector in France, catering to around 20% of French pupils of all age groups. The majority of private schools (which are called écoles privées or écoles libres) have a religious base, as religious education is not a part of the state curriculum in France. There are also many bilingual or international schools available.

Private schools can either be subsidized by the government (meaning they are sous contrat, under contract) or wholly independent (they are hors contrat, outside of contract). If a school is subsidized, it will still follow the national curriculum and is under government guidelines to an extent. This allows for comparatively moderate tuition fees for non-boarding pupils as well as boarding students, ranging from about 400 to 5,000 EUR per year.

In contrast, hors contrat schools are wholly independent and do not adhere to the national syllabus or teaching methods. Often, these schools use a non-traditional teaching method, such as Montessori or Waldorf, or they offer bilingual education. As they are not subsidized, their tuition fees can be much higher — often between 8,000 and 20,000 EUR per year.

The majority of 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 (in French only). Parents requiring information in English should consult the France International Schools Directory.


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