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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of primary education


5.Primary education

5.1Organisation of primary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Geographic accessibility

Geographic accessibility to elementary schools is guaranteed throughout the French territory. Article L212-2 of the Code of Education establishes that "All municipalities should have at least one public elementary school". The same applies to any hamlet separated from the main village or any other conurbation by a distance of three kilometres and bringing together at least fifteen school-aged children. However, two or several municipalities can join forces to establish and maintain a school. This joint effort is compulsory when, two or several localities being at least three kilometres distant, the school population of one of them is regularly less than fifteen children. One or several hamlets linked to a municipality can be linked to the school of a neighbouring municipality. 

In 2015, in France there are 36,823 elementary schools, of which 5,172 are private, for 4,193,000 pupils (RERS 2016). The creation and geographic positioning of a school (choice of location, construction, layout of premises) as well as school closures are decided by the municipality and the municipal council in particular. However, insofar as it is the State that decides on job allocations and assignments of teachers, the decision to create a school or class taken by the municipal council may only be effective after approval by the State's representative, the préfet of the département, who usually confirms the opinion of the académie inspector. This competence is therefore effectively shared between the State and local authorities.

As far as school transport is concerned, responsibility for its organisation and operation lies with the département (articles L213-11 to L213-12 of the Code of Education). 

If no transport is organised and if parents are required to take their children to school in their own vehicles, they may obtain an individual transport grant. If regular lines (coaches, urban buses or trains) are used, the family may obtain a reduced-rate pass from transport companies. All children taught in a public or "private school under contract" (primary and secondary right through to the final year of lycée) and who live a certain distance from the school are entitled to the pass.

Admission Requirements and Choice of School

All of the children having reached their sixth birthday during the civil year are required to enrol at elementary school in September the same year: there is no maturity criterion for children. However, children attending nursery school and who are judged by teachers to already have learning difficulties, could be kept back in nursery school for an extra year after examination by a specialised commission. This takes into account the opinion of the school and parents, a psychological examination of the child and, if necessary, the opinions of doctors or specialists working with the child (speech therapist, therapist, psychotherapist, etc.). There are very few children in this case (mainly physically disabled children).

If the child attended the nursery school of his/her place of residence, the school will often take charge of transferring the dossier. In other case, the enrolment conditions are the same for elementary and nursery school.

Generally speaking, pupils are enrolled in the school sector closest to their home. School sectors for elementary schools are defined by municipal councils.

Parents wanting to enrol their child in a school outside their sector or a school in another municipality should, in the first case, ask for a dispensation from their municipalities' town hall or, in the second case, apply to the relevant targeted host municipality. Dispensation and reception applications may be rejected.

Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils

Generally speaking, at elementary school, children are put into classes of their age group:

  • 1st year (CP) – 6-7 year olds;
  • 2nd year (CE1) – 7-8 year olds;
  • 3rd year (CE2) – 8-9 year olds;
  • 4th year (CM1) – 9-10 year olds;
  • 5th year (CM2) – 10-11 year olds. 

However, as teaching is organised into multi-annual teaching cycles (defined by article D311-10 of the Code of Education) over primary and lower secondary education (the basic learning cycle which covers CP, CE1 and CE2 classes, the consolidation cycle that covers CM1, CM2 and the Sixième classes), variants in teaching organisation should be introduced in order to implement teaching most adapted to each pupil's success (articles D321-1 to D321-17). 

Moreover, in elementary school, there are two ways to have a pluri-level class: in certain schools, the number of pupils is such that pupils from two different but successive levels may be regrouped in one class, which is called “multi-niveaux” (multi-level). Finally, in certain school (particularly in a rural environment) have only one class, over the totality of the elementary school levels; this is called a “classe unique” (unique class).

The teachers’ council (composed of teachers and the school head) may propose the family of the pupil to repeat or skip a grade in both cycle 2 and 3.

As regards class composition, there are no national rules establishing a maximum or minimum number of children per class or a set teacher/children ratio. The distribution of teaching posts in primary education (nursery and elementary schools) is defined by the académie inspector's policy. He/she decides on the distribution as per the budgetary base of positions allocated by the Department of Education to each département.

Organisation of the School Year

In France, article L521-1 of the Code of Education determines the principles applicable to the determination of a school holiday calendar: it sets the length of the school year at "36 weeks at least, distributed into five work periods, of about the same length, separated by four holiday periods" and stipulates that the school holiday calendar for primary and secondary education should be finalised by the Department of National Education, Higher Education and Research for a period of three years. It also adds the possibility for Mayors to adapt the calendar (to take into account local situations". The academic year is divided into quarters.

Académies are divided into three holiday zones (A, B, C):

  • zone A includes the académies of Besançon, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Grenoble, Limoges, Lyon, Poitiers;
  • zone B includes the académies of Aix-Marseille, Amiens, Caen, Lille, Nancy-Metz, Nantes, Nice, Orléans-Tours, Reims, Rennes, Rouen, Strasbourg;
  • zone C includes the académies of Créteil, Montpellier, Paris, Toulouse, Versailles. 

2017-2018 School Year


Zone A

Zone B

Zone C

Starting date of Teacher's school year

September 1, 2017

Starting date of Pupils' school year

September 4, 2017

Autumn holidays

(2 weeks)

October 21, 2017 - November 6, 2017

Christmas holidays

(2 weeks)

 December 23, 2017 - January 8, 2018 

Winter holidays

(2 weeks)

February 10 – February 26, 2018 

February 24 – March 11, 2018 

February 17 – March 5, 2018

Spring holidays

(2 weeks)

April 7 – April 23, 2018 

April 21 – May 7, 2018

April 14 - April 30, 2018 

Summer holidays

(9 weeks)

End of lessons: Saturday 7 July 

Source: School Calendar 

Organisation of the school day and week

Since the 2013 academic year, general organisational principles of schooling time in primary education are:

  • teaching is done in the framework of a 9 half-days including Wednesday morning;
  • all children continue to have 24 hours of class per week, over 36 weeks;
  • the teaching time during the day is at maximum 5h30 long, and the teaching time during the half-day is at maximum 3h30 long;
  • meridian break (to eat) cannot be shorter than 1h30.

The reform incorporates some additional educational activities supported by teachers. Each teacher is expected to dedicate 36 hours per year to carry out these activities with students divided into small groups. On the other hand, within the framework of the territorial educational project, municipalities are entrusted the organization of extra-curricular (sport, cultural and artistic) activities. The collaboration between the Ministry of National Education and the municipality will thus promote the conduct of educational activities taking into account the timetable of the child in its entirety, allow equal access to culture and sport for all and enhance the pleasure of learning and being at school.

However, the decree of June 27th, 2017 allows a 4-days school week as soon as there’s a local consensus.

The 9-half-days week still exists and is the norm. The decree only widens the derogation possibilities to  allow the 8-half-days organization over a 4-days school week.

The municipality and the school councils have to do a joint request to the 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, 43% of municipalities have requested to switch back to the 8-half-days school week.