Education in France
Education in France is organized in a highly centralized manner, with many subdivisions. It is divided into the three stages of primary education (enseignement primaire), secondary education (enseignement secondaire), and higher education (enseignement supérieur).
|Ministry of National Education|
|Post secondary||2.3 million3|
|1As of 2004, literacy rates are no longer collected within INSEE censuses.|
2Includes private education.
3Includes universities, CPGE, and technical schools.
In French higher education, the following degrees are recognized by the Bologna Process (EU recognition): Licence and Licence Professionnelle (bachelor's degrees), and the comparably named Master and Doctorat degrees. In France, it does not include online school.
Napoleon began the French university and secondary educational systems. Guizot started the elementary system. Intense battles took place over whether the Catholic Church should play a dominant role. The modern era of French education begins at the end of the 19th century. Jules Ferry, a Minister of Public Instruction in 1841, is widely credited for creating the modern school (l'école républicaine) by requiring all children between the ages of 6 and 12, both boys and girls, to attend. He also made public instruction mandatory, free of charge, and secular (laïque). With those laws, known as French Lubbers, Jules Ferry laws, and several others, the Third Republic repealed most of the Falloux Laws of 1850–1851, which gave an important role to the clergy.
All educational programmes in France are regulated by the Ministry of National Education (officially called Ministère de l'Éducation nationale, de la Jeunesse et de la Vie associative). The head of the ministry is the Minister of National Education.
The teachers in public primary and secondary schools are all state civil servants, making the ministère the largest employer in the country. Professors and researchers in France's universities are also employed by the state.
|A||Besançon, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Grenoble, Limoges, Lyon, Poitiers|
|B||Aix-Marseille, Amiens, Caen, Lille, Nancy-Metz, Nantes, Nice, Orléans-Tours, Reims, Rennes, Rouen, Strasbourg|
|C||Créteil, Montpellier, Paris, Toulouse, Versailles|
At the primary and secondary levels, the curriculum is the same for all French students in any given grade, which includes public, semi-public and subsidised institutions. However, there exist specialised sections and a variety of options that students can choose. The reference for all French educators is the Bulletin officiel de l'éducation nationale, de l'enseignement supérieur et de la recherche (B.O.), which lists all current programmes and teaching directives. It is amended many times every year.
In Metropolitan France, the school year runs from early September to early July. The school calendar is standardised throughout the country and is the sole domain of the ministry.
In May, schools need time to organise exams (for example, the baccalauréat). Outside Metropolitan France, the school calendar is set by the local recteur.
Major holiday breaks are as follows:
- All Saints (la Toussaint), two weeks (since 2012) around the end of October and the beginning of November;
- Christmas (Noël), two weeks around Christmas Day and New Year's Day;
- winter (hiver), two weeks starting in mid February;
- spring (printemps) or Easter (Pâques), two weeks starting in mid April;
- summer (été), two months starting in early July. (mid-June for high school students).
Schooling in France is not mandatory (but instruction is). Most parents start sending their children to preschool (maternelle) when they turn 3. Some even start earlier at age 2 in toute petite section "TPS". The first two years of preschool (TPS and petite section "PS") are introductions to community living; children learn how to become students and are introduced to their first notions of arithmetic, begin to recognize letters, develop oral language, etc. The last two years of preschool, moyenne section and grande section, are more school-like; pupils are introduced to reading, writing and more mathematics.
A preschool can have its own school zone (mostly true in towns) or be affiliated to an elementary school (mostly in villages). As in other educational systems, French primary school students usually have a single teacher (or two) who teaches the complete curriculum.
After kindergarten, the young students move on to the école élémentaire (elementary school). In the first 3 years of elementary school, they learn to write, develop their reading skills and get some basics in subjects such as French, mathematics, science and the arts, to name a few. Note that the French word for a teacher at the primary school level is professeur or professeure des écoles (previously called instituteur, or its feminine form institutrice).
Children stay in elementary school for 5 years until they are 10–11 years-old. The grades are named: CP (cours préparatoire), CE1 (cours élémentaire 1), CE2 (cours élémentaire 2), CM1 (cours moyen 1) and CM2 (cours moyen 2).
Middle school and high school
After primary school, two educational stages follow:
- collège (middle school), for children during their first four years of secondary education from the age of 11 to 15.
- lycée (high school), which provides a three-year course of further secondary education for children between the ages of 15 and 18. Pupils are prepared for the baccalauréat (baccalaureate, colloquially known as le bac) or the CAP (Certificat d'aptitude professionnelle). The baccalauréat can lead to higher education studies or directly to professional life.
- CFA (centre de formation des apprentis, apprentice learning center), which provides vocational degrees: le Certificat d'aptitude professionnelle.
Primary and secondary private schools in France are divided in two categories:
- Private schools under contract with the State are private institutions at every level, except for the teaching which is following the same national curriculum than in public schools. Teachers in private schools have the same recruitment and roughly the same status than in public schools. They are also employed directly by the State, but they are not permanently assigned and may not return to a public school position. The great majority of private schools in France are under contract.
- Private schools without contract are employing directly their teachers and might teach their own curriculum. Most of them are giving religious education. However, the State is still controling their educational standards.
- Since according to the French law only education is mandatory for all children, and not necessarily attendance to a school, families can provide teaching themselves, provided that they comply to the educational standards set by the law and monitored by the State.
As of January 2015, the International Schools Consultancy (ISC) listed France as having 105 international schools. ISC defines an 'international school' in the following terms: "ISC includes an international school if the school delivers a curriculum to any combination of pre-school, primary or secondary students, wholly or partly in English outside an English-speaking country, or if a school in a country where English is one of the official languages, offers an English-medium curriculum other than the country’s national curriculum and is international in its orientation." That definition is used by publications including The Economist.
France has its own international school regulator, the AEFE (Agence pour l'enseignement français à l'étranger).
Higher education in France is organized in three levels, which correspond to those of other European countries, facilitating international mobility: the Licence and Licence Professionnelle (bachelor's degrees), and the Master's and Doctorat degrees. The Licence and the Master are organized in semesters: 6 for the Licence and 4 for the Master. Those levels of study include various "parcours" or paths based on UE (Unités d'enseignement or Modules), each worth a defined number of European credits (ECTS). A student accumulates those credits, which are generally transferable between paths. A licence is awarded once 180 ECTS have been obtained; a master is awarded once 120 additional credits have been obtained.
Licence and master's degrees are offered within specific domaines and carry a specific mention. Spécialités, which are either research-oriented or professionally oriented during the second year of the Master. There are also professional licences whose objective is immediate job integration. It is possible to return to school later by continuing education or to validate professional experience (through VAE, Validation des Acquis de l’Expérience).
Higher education in France is divided between grandes écoles and public universities. The grandes écoles admit the graduates of the level Baccalauréat + 2 years of validated study (or sometimes directly after the Baccalauréat) whereas universities admit all graduates of the Baccalauréat.
A striking trait of French higher education, compared with other countries, is the small size and multiplicity of establishments, each specialised in a more-or-less broad spectrum of areas. A middle-sized French city, such as Grenoble or Nancy, may have 2 or 3 universities (focused on science, sociological studies, engineering, etc.) as well as a number of other establishments specialised in higher education. In Paris and its suburbs, there are 13 universities, none of which is specialised in one area or another and many smaller institutions that are highly specialised. It is not uncommon for graduate teaching programmes (master's degrees, the course part of PhD programmes etc.) to be operated in common by several institutions, allowing the institutions to present a larger variety of courses.
In engineering schools and the professional degrees of universities, a large share of the teaching staff is often made up of non-permanent professors; instead, part-time professors are hired to teach one specific subject. Part-time professors are generally hired from neighbouring universities, research institutes or industries.
Another original feature of the French higher education system is that a large share of the scientific research is carried out by research establishments such as CNRS or INSERM, which are not formally part of the universities. However, in most cases, the research units of those establishments are located inside universities (or other higher education establishments) and jointly operated by the research establishment and the university.
Since higher education is funded by the state, the fees are very low; the tuition varies from €150 to €700 depending on the university and the different levels of education. (licence, master, doctorate). One can therefore get a master's degree (in 5 years) for about €750–3,500. Additionally, students from low-income families can apply for scholarships, paying nominal sums for tuition or textbooks, and can receive a monthly stipend of up to €450 per month.
The tuition in public engineering schools is comparable to universities but a little higher (around €700). However, it can reach €7,000 a year for private engineering schools, and some business schools, which are all or partly private, charge up to €15,000 a year.
Health insurance for students is free until the age of 20 and so only the costs of living and books must be added. After the age of 20, health insurance for students costs €200 a year and covers most of the medical expenses.
Some public schools have other ways of gaining money. Some do not receive sufficient funds from the government for class trips and other extra activities and so those schools may ask for a small (optional) entrance fee for new students.
Universities in France
The public universities in France are named after the major cities near which they are located, followed by a numeral if there are several. Paris, for example, has 13 universities, labelled Paris I to XIII. Some of them are not in Paris itself, but in the suburbs. In addition, most of the universities have taken a more informal name that is usually that of a famous person or a particular place. Sometimes, it is also a way to honor a famous alumnus, for example the science university in Strasbourg is known as "Université Louis Pasteur" while its official name is "Université Strasbourg I" (however, since 2009, the three universities of Strasbourg have been merged).
The French system has undergone a reform, the Bologna process, which aims at creating European standards for university studies, most notably a similar time-frame everywhere, with three years devoted to the bachelor's degree ("licence" in French), two for the Master's, and three for the doctorate. French universities have also adopted the ECTS credit system (for example, a licence is worth 180 credits). However the traditional curriculum based on end of semester examinations still remains in place in most universities. That double standard has added complexity to a system, which also remains quite rigid. It is difficult to change a major during undergraduate studies without losing a semester or even a whole year. Students usually also have few course selection options once they enroll in a particular diploma.
France also hosts various catholic universities recognized by the state, the largest one being Lille Catholic University, as well branch colleges of foreign universities. They include Baruch College, the University of London Institute in Paris, Parsons Paris School of Art and Design and the American University of Paris.
The grandes écoles of France are elite higher-education establishments. They are generally focused on a single subject area (e.g., engineering or business), have a small size (typically between 100 and 300 graduates per year), and are highly selective. They are widely regarded as prestigious, and most of France's scientists and executives have graduated from a grande école.
- science and engineering: Écoles Normales Supérieures, Ecole Polytechnique, Mines ParisTech, ISAE-Supaéro, Ponts Paristech and CentraleSupélec;
- humanities: three Écoles Normales Supérieures and Ecole des Chartes;
- business: HEC Paris, ESSEC Business School, ESCP Europe, INSEAD, EMLyon, Audencia and EDHEC;
- administration and political sciences: ENA and Sciences Po.
Preparatory classes (CPGEs)
The Preparatory classes (in French "classes préparatoires aux grandes écoles" or CPGE), widely known as prépas, is a prep course with the main goal of training students for enrollment in a grande école. Admission to CPGEs is based on performance during the last two years of high school, called Première and Terminale. Only 5% of a generation is admitted to a prépa. CPGEs are usually located within high schools but pertain to tertiary education, which means that each student must have successfully passed their Baccalauréat (or equivalent) to be admitted in a CPGE. Each CPGE receives applications from hundreds of applicants worldwide every year in April and May, and selects students based on its own criteria. A few CPGEs, mainly the private ones, which account for 10% of CPGEs, also have an interview process or look at a student's involvement in the community.
The ratio of CPGE students who fail to enter any grande école is lower in scientific and business CPGEs than in humanities CPGEs.
The oldest CPGEs are the scientific ones, which can be accessed only by scientific Bacheliers. Scientific CPGE are called TSI ("Technology and Engineering Science"), MPSI ("Mathematics, Physics and Engineering Science"), PCSI ("Physics, Chemistry, and Engineering Science") or PTSI ("Physics, Technology, and Engineering Science") in the first year, MP ("Mathematics and Physics"), PSI ("Physics and Engineering Science"), PC ("Physics and Chemistry") or PT ("Physics and Technology") in the second year and BCPST ("Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Life and Earth Sciences").
First year CPGE students are called the "Math Sup", or Hypotaupe, (Sup for "Classe de Mathématiques Supérieures", superior in French, meaning post-high school), and second years "Math Spé", or Taupe, (Spés standing for "Classe de Mathématiques Spéciales", special in French). The students of those classes are called Taupins. Both the first and second year programmes include as much as twelve hours of mathematics teaching per week, ten hours of physics, two hours of philosophy, two to four hours of (one or two) foreign languages teaching and four to six hours of options: chemistry, SI (Engineering Industrial Science) or Theoretical Computer Science (including some programming using the Pascal or CaML programming languages, as a practical work). There are also several hours of homework, which can rise as much as the official hours of class. A known joke among those students is that they are becoming moles for two years, sometimes three. That is actually the origin of the nicknames taupe and taupin (taupe being the French word for a mole).
There are also CPGEs that are focused on economics (who prepare the admission in business schools). They are known as prépa EC (short for Economiques et Commerciales) and are divided into two parts: prépa ECS, which focuses more on mathematics, generally for those who graduated the scientific baccalaureat, and prépa ECE, which focuses more on economics, for those who were in the economics section in high school.
Humanities CPGEs (Hypokhâgne and Khâgne)
The literary and humanities CPGEs have also their own nicknames, Hypokhâgne for the first year and Khâgne for the second year. The students are called the khâgneux. Those classes prepare for schools such as the three Écoles Normales Supérieures, the Ecole des Chartes, and sometimes Sciences Po.
There are two kinds of Khâgnes. The Khâgne de Lettres is the most common, and focuses on philosophy, French literature, history and languages. The Khâgne de Lettres et Sciences Sociales (Literature and Social Sciences), otherwise called Khâgne B/L, also includes mathematics and socio-economic sciences in addition to those literary subjects.
The students of Hypokhâgne and Khâgne (the humanities CPGE) are simultaneously enrolled in universities, and can go back to university in case of failure or if they feel unable to pass the highly competitive entrance examinations for the Écoles Normales Supérieures.
The amount of work required of the students is exceptionally high. In addition to class time and homework, students spend several hours each week completing oral exams called colles (sometimes written 'khôlles' to look like a Greek word, that way of writing being initially a khâgneux's joke since khâgneux study Ancient Greek). The colles are unique to French academic education in CPGEs.
In scientific and business CPGEs, colles consist of oral examinations twice a week, in French, foreign languages (usually English, German, or Spanish), maths, physics, philosophy, or geopolitics—depending on the type of CPGE. Students, usually in groups of three or four, spend an hour facing a professor alone in a room, answering questions and solving problems.
In humanities CPGEs, colles are usually taken every quarter in every subject. Students have one hour to prepare a short presentation that takes the form of a French-style dissertation (a methodologically codified essay, typically structured in 3 parts: thesis, counter-thesis, and synthesis) in history, philosophy, etc. on a given topic, or the form of a commentaire composé (a methodologically codified commentary) in literature and foreign languages. In Ancient Greek or Latin, they involve a translation and a commentary. The student then has 20 minutes to present his/her work to the teacher, who finally asks some questions on the presentation and on the corresponding topic.
Colles are regarded as very stressful, particularly due to the high standards expected by the teachers, and the subsequent harshness that may be directed at students who do not perform adequately. But they are important insofar as they prepare the students, from the very first year, for the oral part of the highly competitive examinations, which are reserved for the happy few who pass the written part.
Recruitment of teachers
Decades ago, primary school teachers were educated in Écoles Normales and secondary teachers recruited through the "Agrégation" examination. The situation has been diversified by the introduction in the 1950s of the CAPES examination for secondary teachers and in the 1990s by the institution of "Instituts Universitaires de Formation des Maîtres" (IUFM), which have been renamed Écoles Supérieures du Professorat et de l’Éducation (ESPE) in 2013 and then Instituts Nationaux Supérieurs du Professorat et de l’Éducation (INSPE) in 2019.
Precisely, school teachers are divided between :
- Primary school and kindergarten teachers (Professeurs des écoles), educated in an INSPE, have usually a "master" (Bac+5). Their weekly service is about 28 hours a week.
- Certified teachers (Professeurs certifiés), educated in both an University and an INSPE, have a "master" (Bac+5) and must pass a competitive exam called Certificat d'Aptitude au Professorat de l'Enseignement du Second degré (CAPES) in a specific domain. Their rank usually determines their geographic assignment for the first years of their careers. The majority of them are teaching in collège (middle school).
- Agrégés teachers (Professeurs agrégés) are recruited through a different competitive exam called Agrégation, of much higher level in each domain. They could either be certified teachers or external holders of at least a "master" (Bac+5) in the domain. In the latter case they must attend an additional formation in teaching in an INSPE. Agrégés teachers have a higher salary rate and reduced weekly service. The majority of them are teaching in lycée (high school).
University teachers are recruited by special commissions, and are divided between:
- "teachers-researchers" (enseignants-chercheurs), with at least a doctorate: they teach classes and conduct research in their field of expertise with a full tenure. They are either Maître de Conférences (Senior lecturers), or Professeurs (Professors). A Maître de Conférence must publish a reviewed work named Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches (HDR) (professorial thesis) in order to be allowed to become the director of studies for PhD students. The HDR is in turn necessary to be appointed as Professeur. The net pay is from 2,300 to 8,800 (with extra duties) euros per month. Net salaries of over 4,000 euros per month (2011 level) are however very unusual, and limited to the small minority of teacher-researchers who have held the grade of first class full professor for at least seven years, which is rare. The maximum possible net salary for second-class full professors and chief senior lecturers (maître de conférence hors classe), the end of career status for most full-time teacher-researchers in French universities, is 3,760 euros a month (2011), and only a few of the group ever reach that level.
- Secondary school teachers who have been permanently assigned away from their original school position to teach in a university. They are not required to conduct any research but teach twice as many hours as the "teachers-researchers". They are called PRAG (professeurs agrégés) and PRCE (professeurs certifiés). Their weekly service is 15 or 18 hours. The net pay is from 1,400 to 3,900 euros per month.
- CPGE teachers are usually "agrégés" or "chaire sup", assigned by the Inspection Générale according to their qualifications and competitive exam rank as well as other factors. Their weekly service is about 9 hours a week, 25 or 33 weeks a year. Net pay : from 2,000 to 7,500 euro (extra hours)
Religious instruction is not given by public schools (except for 6- to 18-year-old students in Alsace-Moselle under the Concordat of 1801). Laïcité (secularism) is one of the main precepts of the French republic.
In a March 2004 ruling, the French government banned all "conspicuous religious symbols" from schools and other public institutions with the intent of preventing proselytisation and to foster a sense of tolerance among ethnic groups. Some religious groups showed their opposition, saying the law hindered the freedom of religion as protected by the French constitution.
The French Republic has 67 million inhabitants, living in the 13 regions of metropolitan France and four overseas departments (2.7 million). Despite the fact that the population is growing (up 0.4% a year), the proportion of young people under 25 is falling. There are now fewer than 19 million young people in Metropolitan France, or 32% of the total population, compared with 40% in the 1970s and 35% at the time of the 1990 census. France is seeing a slow aging of the population, however, that is less marked than in other neighbouring countries (such as Germany and Italy), especially as the annual number of births is currently increasing slightly.
Eighteen million pupils and students, a quarter of the population, are in the education system, over 2.4 million of whom are in higher education. The French Education Minister reported in 2000 that 39 out of 75,000 state schools were "seriously violent" and 300 were "somewhat violent".
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