Young children typically adapt well to the French system, becoming comfortable within a matter of months. For older students, the adjustment takes longer and a year or more in a foreign system is likely to have a much greater impact on their reintegration into schools at home, or qualifications for college entrance.
The teaching at most international schools is based on the American or English education system while giving an overlay of French or other European content. Many offer the International Baccalaureate.
Each school needs to be evaluated on its curriculum and the educational history of your student. Most short- to medium-term expats choose international schools for the ease of adjustment and continuity. A particular advantage of the international schools when compared to the French public schools is that they typically offer a wider range of after-school and enrichment programmes.
All children in France are entitled to a free public education from the age of six to 16. Almost all schools are co-educational. Age groups are as follows:
- écoles maternelles: 2 – 6 years
- écoles elementaires: 6 – 11 years
- Colléges: 11 – 15 or 16 years
- Lycées: 15 or 16 – 18 years.
Foreign children living in France have a legal right to be educated at French public school. Students in any given public school must live in the designated ‘catchment area’ or residential zone for that school. If you intend to send your children to a French public school, it is important to identify the school you prefer and locate your new home in the appropriate area. A list of local schools can be obtained from the town hall, or mairie, where you plan to live.
The national curriculum is determined by the French government, and includes little or no foreign language teaching. School hours are longer and homework more time-consuming by comparison with many other countries. There are five terms in each school year, separated by four vacations. Much of the classroom learning is by rote.
Documentation you will be expected to provide before obtaining a place at a French public school will include:
- Proof of residence
- Child’s birth certificate
- Parents’ marriage certificate
- Transfer letter from the child’s previous school.
Preschools, or écoles maternelles, including Montessori or similar schools, are widely available. Most have an excellent reputation. Those outside major cities may not cater to foreign language speakers. Your mairie will have information on day-care facilities and nurseries or créches.
French private schools are religious, most often Catholic, or secular. Most follow the national curriculum, and some are state subsidised. Private schools can be attractive alternatives to public schools if they offer more flexibility in curriculum and scheduling, higher quality of teaching, or smaller class sizes. You may also encounter much more stringent disciplinary measures.
Bilingual schools offer a balance between French and English as the language of tuition. Curriculum content may be adjusted also to accommodate students from other, mostly English-speaking countries. Some revert to French as the main language after an initial adjustment period.
There are two English-speaking organisations in Paris that have experience with special needs children and bilingual students: SPRINT – Sharing Professional Resources, Ideas and New Techniques – and SPAN – Sprint Parent Action Network. SPRINT is a referral network that puts special needs students and their families in touch with area professionals and specialists. SPAN is an English-speaking support group for parents of special needs children in France.
- Information courtesy of Living Abroad, www.livingabroad.com