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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of centre-based ECEC


4.Early childhood education and care

4.2Organisation of centre-based ECEC

Last update: 5 March 2024

Admission requirements and choice of ECEC setting

For children below 3 years of age

For children under the age of 3, parents are free to choose the type of childcare that suits them, between centre- or home-based provision. The different childcare center-based settings are: 

  • Collective crèches allow the regular reception of children under three years of age:
    • traditional neighborhood crèches, located near the child's home;
    • mini-crèches which welcome children under the same regulatory conditions as traditional neighborhood crèches, but whose premises are in individual houses or social premises;
    • company crèches, set up at the parents' place of work, with timetables adapted to those of the company or the administration;
    • parental crèches, managed by the parents themselves, grouped together in a non-profit association, to take turns taking care of children under three years of age.
  • The multi-reception establishments offer regular and occasional reception for children under the age of six. They frequently offer a combination of several collective reception methods: regular reception places (crèche or kindergarten type), occasional reception places (drop-in daycare type) or multi-purpose reception places (sometimes regular reception, sometimes occasional reception).
  • Family reception services or family crèches include approved childminders by the general council of the residence départment, who welcome children to their home for part of the day and go to regular intervals in a collective reception structure for different activities. This type of structure is supervised and managed like collective crèches.

For children that are 3 or more

Parents living in France have the right to enrol their child(ren) in a public or private pre-primary school (ISCED 02), regardless of their nationality. Children are generally admitted at the age of 3, but they can also be admitted from 2 years depending on the places available and in priority urban, rural and mountain areas, in the overseas départments and regions, disadvantaged social environments. Entry to pre-primary school also requires a document attesting that the child has undergone all the compulsory vaccinations for his age or justifies a contraindication.

As a rule, the child is assigned to the pre-primary school in the school sector in which the parents' residence is located. Parents may, however, request to enrol their child in another school sector or in another municipality. In the first case, they must request an exemption from the town hall of their municipality. In the second case, a reception request must be sent to the municipality concerned. Requests for exemptions and for reception may be refused.

The registration of each child is carried out by the municipality where the parents reside. If there is no place in a pre-primary school in the municipality, the parents can lodge an appeal with the mayor or initiate a contentious procedure with the administrative court. The lack of places are not common. When they exist, they relate to three-year-old children in areas of demographic growth or in difficulty in providing school premises. In these cases priority is given to the oldest children.

Group size and child/staff ratios

In France, regulations define the maximum number of children per facility.

For children below 3 years of age

  • Collective crèches allow the regular reception of children under three years of age:
    • traditional neighborhood crèches have a limited capacity of 60 places per unit;
    • mini-crèches which welcome children up to 9 children;
    • company crèches is also up to 60 places per unit;
    • parental crèches’ capacity, up to 20 places, can exceptionally be increased to twenty-five by decision of the chairman of the general council, taking into account the needs of families.
  • Kindergartens can accommodate 80 places per unit.
  • Some of multi-reception establishments also provide both collective and "family" reception: in this case their overall reception capacity is limited to 100 places.
  • Family reception services or family crèches’ reception capacity cannot be greater than 150 places.

According to Article R2324-41 of the Code of Public Health, centre-based childcare facilities with a capacity equal to or greater than 25 places must have at least half a position of state-qualified childminder (diplôme d'Etat d'éducateur de jeunes enfants, ISCED 6), plus an additional half a post for every twenty places above 25. Family reception services with a capacity of thirty places or more have at least half a post plus an additional half a post for each additional full 30 places above 30.

In France, the minimum qualification to work as an assistant with younger children (accueil  du  jeune  enfant) is at ISCED level 3. It may be a one-year training course (auxiliaire de puériculture) or a two-year training course (accompagnant éducatif petite enfance).

For children that are 3 or more

The thresholds for opening or closing classes by pre-primary school - and therefore the maximum class sizes - are defined at local level (départment). At the start of the 2019 school year, the national average was 24.0 children per class and per teacher [Ministry of National Education and Youth, Repères et références statistiques 2020, 2020]. In kindergartens, if they take in children from 3 to 6 years old, the ratio of 1 professional for every 15 children is sufficient.

The teachers are school professors, i.e. highly qualified professionals with master's level who passed a state competitive examination.
Qualified assistants are part of the staff. They are municipal employees specialised in early childhood (ATSEM: Agent Territorial Spécialisé des Écoles) with a 2-year qualification at ISCED level 3.

Annual, weekly and daily organisation

For children below 3 years of age

In center-based childcare provision, the opening hours are fixed by each setting: they are defined by the manager and the director, in dialogue with the other partners (municipalities, staff, parents, etc.). As a general rule, the opening periods correspond to the school year (September - July). The usual hours of center-based ECEC centers are weekdays between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Company crèches adapt their hours to those of the company.
Regarding the organization of the day - just as an example - the activities generally take place as follows:

  • welcoming children in the morning (between 8:30 am and 9:30 am);
  • educational activities (9:30 am / 11:30 am);
  • meal (from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. / 1 p.m.);
  • nap (1 p.m. to 2 p.m.);
  • educational activities (2 p.m. to 4 p.m.);
  • afternoon tea (4 p.m.);
  • parents welcome / departure (5.30pm).

The so-called educational activity is mainly developed in the morning, before the meal. The afternoon is more devoted to free games or reading time.

For children that are 3 or more

For children over the age of 3 who are enrolled in pre-primary education, the organisation of time is very similar to that in primary education.

Organisation of the school year

Article L. 521-1 of the Code of Education sets the length of the school year at "36 weeks of lessons distributed into five work periods, of about the same length, separated by four holiday periods". The calendar of school holidays is set by the Ministry of National Education and Youth, for a period of three years. In addition, the Mayors can adapt the calendar to take into account local situations. During the school year, students have two weeks of autumn holidays, two weeks at Christmas, two weeks in February and two weeks at Easter.

Organisation of the week

Teaching must be provided within the framework of a week of nine half-days including Wednesday morning. However, the decree no. 2017-1108 of June 27, 2017 allows a 4-days school week as soon as there is a local consensus. The municipality and the school councils have to do a joint request to the académie inspector – high local National Education director. It is his role to decide, keeping the best interests of the pupils in mind.
In September 2017, 37% of municipalities had requested to switch back to the 8-half-days school week.

Organization of the day

In accordance with article D. 521-12 of the Code of Education, the Director of National Education Services (Directeur académique des services de l'Éducation nationale - DASEN) sets the start and end of the school day. The mayor may adapt the timetable to take local situations into account. The start of teaching ranges from 8:00 am to 9:00 am in the vast majority of pre-primary schools. In overseas regions and départments, lessons can start as early as 7:00 a.m.

All children have 24 hours of class per week. One hour per week of complementary educational activities may be added, if needs are identified or as part of actions related to the school project. The teaching time during the day is at maximum 5h30 long, and the teaching time during the half-day is at maximum 3h30 long (article D521-10 of the French Code of Education).

However, Decree No. 2017-1108 of June 27, 2017 allows, by derogation and after examination of the request by the académie inspector – high local National Education director, to extend the day up to 6 hours per day (the maximum number of hours per half-day rest 3:30). Finally, the mid-day break (lunch break) cannot be shorter than 1h30.