Navigating the French Education System for English-speaking Expats: Enrolment, Choices, and Adaptation

education system

Moving to a new country can be both exciting and challenging, and for families with children, navigating the local education system is a critical aspect of the relocation process. For English-speaking expats relocating to France, understanding and adapting to the French education system can be a complex and daunting task. In order to ensure a successful educational experience for your children and a smooth integration into their new learning environment, it is imperative to familiarise yourself with the various aspects of the French education system, the enrolment process, and the available choices for schooling, as well as the language support options and adaptation strategies.

In this comprehensive guide, we aim to provide you with vital insights into the French education system, focusing on topics such as the general structure and organisation of the system, the enrolment procedures for public and private schools, international and bilingual school options, and language support for expat students. Furthermore, we will highlight the indispensable support offered by French Connections HCB in managing education-related administration, ensuring that the transition to the French education system is stress-free and seamless for both you and your children.

Overview of the French Education System

Structure and Organisation

The French education system is highly structured and centralised, with the Ministry of National Education overseeing all levels of education, from nursery schools to higher education institutions. Education is compulsory for children aged 6 to 16, and the system is divided into three main stages: primary education (école), lower secondary education (collège), and upper secondary education (lycée), culminating in the Baccalauréat diploma.

Quality and Standards of Education

France is known for its high-quality education and rigorous academic standards. The French curriculum emphasises a strong foundation in core subjects, such as mathematics, French, science, and history, as well as the development of critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. Both public and private schools adhere to the national curriculum guidelines set by the Ministry of National Education.

Enrolment Procedures for the French Education System

Establishing Residency

The first step in accessing the French education system is to establish residency in France. To qualify as a legal resident, individuals from non-EU countries must hold a valid visa, obtained prior to their arrival. EU citizens are typically considered residents after living in France for three months.

Public School Enrolment

Once residency is established, parents can enrol their children in the local public school, known as the école de secteur, which is determined by the family’s address. Registration typically takes place at the local town hall (mairie) or directly at the school, and parents must provide documents such as proof of address, identification, and vaccination records.

Private School Enrolment

Enrolling in a private school in France typically involves contacting the school directly, attending an interview or information session, and submitting the required documentation, such as school transcripts and any relevant language proficiency test results. Private schools may also have their own specific enrolment criteria and deadlines.

Public, Private, and International School Choices

Public Schools in France

The vast majority of students in France attend public schools, which are free and funded by the government. Public schools in France offer a high-quality education and adhere to the national curriculum standards set by the Ministry of National Education. Parents may choose to enrol their children in public schools for a variety of reasons, including proximity, access to a diverse student population, and the opportunity to gain proficiency in the French language.

Private Schools in France

Private schools in France are another option for expat families; these schools may be secular or faith-based, and they typically charge tuition fees. However, many private schools are partially funded by the government and must adhere to the national curriculum. These ‘sous contrat’ schools tend to have smaller class sizes and often provide additional services, such as language support for non-French-speaking students.

International Schools in France

For families seeking an English-speaking or bilingual education, international schools offer a viable alternative. These schools typically follow an international curriculum, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) or a specific national curriculum, such as the British or American system. International schools can provide a unique cultural and linguistic experience, with students representing various nationalities and backgrounds. However, tuition fees at international schools can be quite expensive, and demand often exceeds available spaces.

Language Support and Adaptation

French Language Programmes

English-speaking expat students who enrol in French public or private schools will need to adapt to the French language. Many schools offer French as a Second Language (FSL) or Français Langue Etrangère (FLE) programmes to support non-French-speaking students in acquiring the language skills necessary to succeed in the French education system.

Bilingual Programmes

Some schools in France, particularly private and international schools, offer bilingual programmes that integrate both French and English instruction. These programmes provide a balanced educational experience while facilitating the development of proficiency in both languages.

Adaptation Tips for Expat Students

1. Encourage language-learning through immersion in the local community and exposure to French-language media.

2. Connect with otherEnglish-speaking families for support and guidance in adapting to the French education system.

3. Be patient and maintain open communication with your child’s teachers and school administrators.

The Role of French Connections HCB in Education-related Administration

Assistance with the various administrative tasks related to enrolling and integrating into the French education system is an invaluable service provided by French Connections HCB. Their expertise and support can streamline the enrolment process, ensure compliance with local regulations, and provide valuable insights into choosing the most suitable educational path for your children.


Navigating the French education system can present several challenges for Americans living in France, but with the comprehensive insights provided in this guide and the expert assistance of French Connections HCB, parents can make well-informed decisions and help their children adapt and flourish in their new learning environment. As you embark on this new chapter in your family’s life, rest assured that your children’s education is in good hands – both in the French education system and with the ongoing support of French Connections HCB.

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