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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of the education system and of its structure


2.Organisation and governance

2.3Organisation of the education system and of its structure

Last update: 27 November 2023

Compulsory education

Education is compulsory and free from the age of 3 to the age of 16; it includes three years of pre-primary education (in nursery schools), five years of primary education (at elementary school) plus five years of secondary education: four years at collège (lower secondary education) then one year at lycée (upper secondary education).

Pupils can then continue their education through to the last year of lycée and go onto higher education. Access to higher education is conditioned by passing a State examination, resulting in a national diploma, the baccalauréat.

Primary education

Primary, or first degree, education comprises:

  • pre-primary education (nursery school), which is compulsory and free. It is for all children aged 3 to 6 years. 2-year-olds can also be admitted if places are available. Nursery schools receive almost 100% of children from the age of 3;
  • primary education (elementary school), which is compulsory and free, for 6 to 11 year olds. Children go on automatically to secondary education. There are no admission exams.

Secondary education

Secondary, or second degree, education comprises:

  • lower secondary education (collège), which is compulsory and free, for 11 to 15 year olds. At the end of the last year ("classe de troisième" or 3rd year), a national diploma is issued, the brevet, which assesses knowledge and skills acquired at collège. Pupils are not required to pass the examination successfully to go on to lycée as the first year of lycée ("classe de seconde" or 2nd year) is part of the compulsory education cycle.
  • general upper secondary education and vocational upper secondary education (lycée), which is free, for 15 to 18 year olds. After collège, pupils can continue their education in a general baccalauréat and continue long studies in higher education. The technological curriculum prepares pupils for the technological baccalauréat and higher technological studies. The professional curriculum offers concrete education, in close liaison with business and professions. Pupils at a professional lycée prepare a Certificat d'Aptitude Professionnel (CAP) in two years or professional baccalauréat in three years.

Home education

In France, education provided in a family setting by the parents, or one of them, or any person of their choice, is authorized under article L131 of the French Code of Education. The levels of education concerned are not specified, but the child must receive an instruction for the entire duration of the compulsory education (between the ages of 3 and 16 years, starting from September 2019). This age group corresponds to the theoretical ages of pre-elementary education, elementary education, lower secondary education and the first year of upper secondary education.

No special qualifications are required to provide this instruction at home. However, a large number of families are supported in their efforts by distance learning courses and enroll their children either at the National Center for Distance Education (CNED) which provides, on behalf of the State, the public service of distance education, either in a private distance education organization. Persons responsible for a child subject to compulsory education who have not enrolled their child in a public or private school and who wish to educate them at home must each year declare to the mayor of their municipality of residence and to the inspector Constituency, the local Inspector and the Director of the Departmental Services of National Education (IADASEN) their intention to educate the child at home. Access to compulsory education is controlled by the mayor through the census of children at school age living in his municipality.

Children who receive education in their families are from the first year and every two years up, the subject of an investigation by the competent authority (the town hall), only for the purpose of establishing what are the reasons for home instruction, and if given an instruction compatible with their state of health and the family's living conditions.

As for pedagogical control, it covers both the content of the education provided and the acquisition of skills and knowledge by the child, as well as the progress of the child. The caregivers indicate in an interview the approach and pedagogical methods they use, while the child is subjected to exercises to check the knowledge he/she has acquired.

The results of the control are notified to the persons responsible for the child. When these results are deemed insufficient, the persons responsible for the child are informed of the period at the end of which a second check is planned and of the inadequacies which must be remedied to. If the results of the second check are considered insufficient, the local authority responsible for education obliges the persons responsible for the child to register it within fifteen days and at least until the end of the following school year in a public or private school. The family must immediately inform the mayor of the chosen school or institution, who in turns informs the local education authority.

When the persons responsible for the child have refused, without legitimate reason, to submit their child to the annual control, they are informed that in the event of a second refusal, without legitimate reason, the local education authority is entitled to oblige them to enroll their child in a public or private educational establishment under the same conditions as for an insufficient second check.

In addition, the persons responsible for the child may be the subject, at the end of the procedure, of prosecutions and sanctions provided for in article 227-17-1 of the French Penal Code.

Higher education

Since 2002, the higher education cycle has been structured into 3 years of Licence (classes préparatoires aux Grandes écoles), elites schools or Grandes Ecoles, Higher Technical Sections (Sections de Techniciens Supérieurs).

Adult education

The adult education system was set up in the early 1970s and involves several players: State, regions, companies and social partners. It is characterised by an original structure leaving room for collective negotiation and comprising admission conditions that vary depending on individuals' status (job seekers, employed persons) and their age (under 26, between 26 and 45, over 45).