The education system
The French education system is characterised by strong State presence in the organisation and funding of Education. The State defines the details of curricula at all education levels; it organises the teachers’ admissions procedure, defines content, recruits teachers who become civil servants, provides them with in-service training; it recruits and trains inspectors, responsible for controlling the quality of the education system; it is the main funding body of the public education system and subsidises “private schools under contract” which receive approximately 20% of school pupils.
Education is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16.
Since a 1975 Act, french pupils are taught the same subjects until the age of 15 within a “collège unique” (ISCED 2). The first stage of specialisation occurs at the end of collège (lower secondary education): pupils are streamed to attend either a general and technological lycées or a professional lycées. Both types of school prepare pupils to take the baccalauréat in three years, marking the end of secondary education: pupils who pass it obtain the State-issued baccalauréat diploma (general, technological or vocational) which opens up access to higher education and entitles them to enrol at university.
Higher education is characterised by the coexistence of two systems: universities, – public institutions that have an open admissions policy, except for instituts universitaires de technologie (IUT – technological university institutes) or some classes préparatoires intégrées (integrated preparatory classes) – and a non-university sector, including, in particular, Grandes Ecoles (Elite Schools), with a highly selective admissions policy open to baccalauréat holders having attended two years of classes préparatoires, themselves highly selective on entry and during the course.
The French education system is organised into several levels of education:
• Pre-primary education (ISCED 0*), which is dispensed at “nursery schools” and take children from 2/3 up to 6 years of age. Almost all children attend nursery school from the age of three, even though it is optional..
• Primary education (ISCED 1), which is provided in “elementary schools” and admits children between the ages of 6 and 11. It marks the start of compulsory schooling, and is secular and free of charge when dispensed in State schools. At the end of this 5-year-course, pupils automatically access to the secondary level of education (there is neither standardised tests nor guidance procedures).
• Lower secondary education (ISCED 2), which is provided in collèges for 4 school years (pupils between the ages of 11 and 15 years). Education in collèges is compulsory and common to all pupils. The end of the lower secondary education is sanctioned by the Diplôme national du brevet; however, admission to upper secondary level is not conditional upon success in the brevet. At the end of collège schooling (15 year-old pupils), the school recommends the appropriate scholastic path to families, basing its recommendation on the pupil’s school reports and particular interests. Children will continue their schooling either in general, technological or professional education, provided at upper secondary level.
• Upper secondary education (ISCED 3), which is dispensed in “general and technological lycées” or in “professional lycées”, which extends over 3 years (pupils between the ages of 15 and 18 years). Upper secondary education provides three educational paths: general path (which prepares pupils for long-term higher studies), technological path (which mainly prepares pupils for higher technological studies) and professional path (which leads mainly to active working life, but also enables students to continue their studies in higher education). The end of upper secondary education is sanctioned by the baccalauréat which is both a sign of successful completion of secondary studies and the first step in university education, access to higher studies being conditional upon its obtention. Pupils at professional lycées can prepare the CAP (Certificat d’aptitude professionnelle), a course of study extending over 2 years, after what they can either integrate active working life or prepare the professional baccalauréat after 2 additional years of studies.
• Higher education (ISCED 5 and ISCED 6), which is dispensed in higher educational institutions. These institutions have a wide variety of legal statuses that are listed in the French Code of Education (book VII). Courses dispensed at these institutions have different aims and conditions for admission, but most of them are structured into three study cycles (Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and Doctorate) and in ECTS credits, in compliance with the principles of the Bologna Process
Structure of the national education system
Age of students Programme duration (years)