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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: 27 November 2023

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.

At the start of the 2021 school year, 23% of pupils who have completed lower secondary education have enrolled in a vocational lycée. The number of students enrolled in vocational high schools will be 626,700 in 2021-2022.

The apprentice training centre (CFA)

CFAs provide general, technological and practical training that complements the training received by apprentices in companies. The Ministry of National Education is responsible for the pedagogical supervision of all training provided through apprenticeships. The creation of apprentice training centres is the subject of agreements concluded between the regional councils and partners such as training bodies managed by local authorities, chambers of commerce, trades or agriculture, public or private educational institutions under contract, companies, associations, etc. CFAs and their organisation are governed by Articles L6211-1 to L6211-4.

The agreement (detailed in Article L6232-1 of the Labour Code) setting up a CFA sets out the administrative, educational and financial organisation: the method of recruiting staff, the number of apprentices who can be taken on, the qualifications prepared, the recruitment area, the training locations and the financing arrangements.

In 2021, 52% of apprentices in secondary education were preparing a CAP, and 19% were preparing a vocational baccalaureate. In secondary vocational education, the number of apprentices will rise to 306,300 in 2021.

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, a system of bridges between professional education and general and technological education exists, 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

In the vocational upper secondary education, 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 course, which prepares students for the vocational aptitude certificate (CAP). However, Article D. 337-6 of the Education Code provides for possible exceptions to the principle of preparing for the CAP in two years. The CAP may be taken in one year, particularly for pupils who already have a diploma at the same level or for highly motivated young people, or in three years, to take account of the particular needs of the pupil;
  • 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 on general education, technical education and practical training in the workplace. The weekly and annual timetables vary according to the type of course followed by the student (preparation for a CAP in 2 years, preparation for a baccalaureate in 3 years, apprenticeship training), and according to the different specialities and vocational streams.

The order of 21 November 2018 relating to the CAP sets out the organisational arrangements for the CAP, while the order of 21 November 2018 relating to the professional baccalaureate sets out the organisational arrangements for the Bac pro.