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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of vocational upper secondary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.7Organisation of vocational upper secondary education

Last update: 17 June 2022

Types of Institutions

Initial vocational training can take place according to two methods:

  1. vocational education under school status, which takes place: in vocational lycées that depend on the Department of National Education and Youth, in the agricultural professional lycées that depend on the Department of Agriculture, in a professional education section located in a general and technological lycée or versatile one;
  2. the learner, or the apprentice, linked to the company via a labour contract, is trained by alternatives between the company (in which they spend 60 to 75% of their time) and a apprentice training centre  (Centre de Formation d'Apprentis – CFA).

Vocational lycées

They are local public-sector schools (EPLE), a category of public institutions that depends on the Department for Education. This is defined in the book IV, title II of the French Code of Education. They are juridical personalities and have autonomy in terms of administration, finance and pedagogy, within the limits provided for by the legislative and regulatory texts. The Board of trustees (the institution's deliberating body) on the report of the proviseur (school head) sets the principles for implementing the pedagogical and education autonomy that the institution has and the rules for organising it. It approves the budget and the school project. The material operation of the lycées (construction and maintenance of school buildings, school transport, grants for equipment, recruitment and management of TOS personnel, etc.) is provided by the regions.

In 2016, 29% of pupils who finished lower secondary studies (collège) enrol in a lycée professionnel (vocational upper secondary school) (RERS 2017). The total number of pupils enrolled in vocational lycées is 665,200.

The apprentice training centre (CFA)

Provide general, technological and practical education which supplements the training received in the company by the apprentices. The Department of National Education and Youth is responsible for educational monitoring of all training courses dispensed to those who have chosen this particular path to qualification. Creating apprentice training centres is subject to agreements concluded between the regional councils and partners such as training bodies managed by the local authorities, chambers of commerce, trade or agriculture, public or private education institutions under contract, companies, associations, etc. CFAs are detailed and regulated by the Sixth part, book II of the French Code of Labour.

The convention (article L6233-8 of the French Code of Labour) concerning the creation of a CFA sets down the methods for the administrative, pedagogical and financial organisation: the method for recruiting personnel, the number of apprentices that can be received, the diplomas prepared, the recruiting area, training premises, methods of financing.

In 2016, 58% of pupils preparing a French vocational niveau V diploma (level V diplomas, such as the CAP, meaning ISCED 353 here) are apprentices (RERS 2017, page 87 and page 137). Likewise, 16% of pupils preparing a French vocational niveau IV (level IV diplomas, such as the vocational baccalauréat, meaning ISCED 354 here) are apprentices. The total number of apprentices in 2016 is 410,500 (RERS 2017).

Geographical Accessibility

The territory of each académie is divided into sectors and districts. Art. D211of the French Code of Education establishes that "school districts correspond to the catchment areas of the lycées. The pupils in the school sectors that they group together must be able to obtain a variety in the education that is sufficient to allow for the proper operation of the orientation. However, some education and certain professional specialties, due to their specificity, are subject to locations that only correspond to catchment which is either national, common to several académies, or for the académie".

Lycées receive the pupils that reside within their catchment area. The académie director, head of the local services for the Department of National Education and Youth, determines for the beginning of each school year the maximum number of pupils that can be received in each institution according to the facilities and the means that it has".

With regards to the operation of school transport, this is organised and financed by the local authorities which define the specific regulations.

Admission requirements and choice of school

Admission Requirements

There are no examinations to access public upper secondary education (general or professional), as the first year of lycée is part of the compulsory education curriculum.

As this is an enrolment in a private lycée "under contract", or enrolment in a CFA (apprentice training centre), the enrolment is carried by the parents directly with the chosen institution, in the orientation path decided at the end of collège.

Choice of School

The choice of the upper secondary education institution is conditioned, on the one hand by the pupil's orientation decision taken at the end of collège, and on the other hand, by the rules of the school map.

Indeed, at the end of 9th grade (Troisième) the pupil is directed either towards the general and technological path or towards the professional path. The orientation decision is the responsibility of the school head and is taken after the class council; it is subjected to recourse through appeal to a commission presided by the académie director. More precisely, the pupil is directed towards one of the following programmes:

Once the orientation decision has been made, the pupil will be enrolled in the institution (general and technological lycée or vocational lycée) of his choice, according to the conditions provided for by the school map.

Moreover, the reform concerning the professional lycée implemented in 2009, as well as that for the general and technological lycée in 2010, provide for a system of bridges between professional education and general and technological education, and between the programme leading to the two-year CAP and the one leading to the three-year professional baccalauréat. The purpose of this is to facilitate making corrections to the pupil's path and reduce the school dropout rate.

Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils

The organisation of the vocational path was reformed in 2009. Starting this year, pupils can follow:

  • a three-year programme (Seconde, Première and Terminale) leading to the vocational baccalauréat. The three-year programme incorporates preparation for an intermediary diploma (CAP). Taking this diploma is required of all school pupils, but not for apprentices who can decide whether or not to take this diploma;
  • a two-year programme, which prepares for the certificat d'aptitude professionnelle (CAP - professional aptitude certificate);
  • a four-year programme (2 + 2), for pupils who have earned a CAP and who want to prepare a professional baccalauréat. They can, in this case, join a professional Première.

The theoretical age of pupils enrolled in the professional lycée is 15- 18/19 years. Apprentices are young people 16 (age for the end of compulsory schooling) to 25 years old. A derogation is given to 15 years-old pupils that have completed lower secondary education.

Organisation of the School year

The principles that apply in developing the school holiday calendar are defined by Article L. 521-1 of the French Code of Education; they are the same for the primary, lower secondary and upper secondary levels.

Organisation of the School week and day

In accordance with Article R421-2 of the French Code of Education, the secondary education institutions (collèges and lycées) benefit from autonomy in organising the school time and the methods for school life, as well as in the use of allowances in terms of education hours made available to the institution in compliance with the obligations resulting from the regulatory hours". The organisation of the school day and week therefore varies from one institution to another.

Vocational training is based – regardless of the sector of study – on general education, technological education and sequences of practical learning in professional surroundings. The weekly and annual timetables vary according to the type of programme followed by the pupil (preparation for a two-year CAP, preparation for a three-year baccalauréat, training as an apprentice), and according to the various specialities and professional sectors

  • Pupils who are preparing a two-year CAP take 25 to 30 weeks of courses per year, of which six to eight weeks of training in a professional environment, according to the specialities;
  • Pupils preparing a three-year professional baccalauréat receive 36 weeks of training each year, which include the training period in the institution, the training period in a company (22 weeks over the three years) and the examination period in the ending class.
  • The training time in the apprentice training centres is defined in the convention mentioned in the article L6233-8 of the French Code of Labour. On average, it represents about 430 hours a year in order to prepare a CAP. Preparing a vocational baccalauréat requires at least 675 hours per year. This time is shorter than that for training provided in the lycées because it must be considered that the time spent in the company is also training time.

The volume of hours of training must not exceed eight hours a day and 35 hours a week.

Order of 24 April 2002 modified by the Oder of June 12th, 2015

Order of 10 February 2009  modified by the Oder of June 12th, 2015