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Secondary education in France

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Title: Secondary education in France  
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Subject: Classe préparatoire aux grandes écoles, Lycée du Parc, Muret, French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools, Corynne Charby
Collection: Education in France, Secondary Education by Country
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Secondary education in France

A high school in Vesoul (France)

In France, secondary education is in two stages:

  • collèges (French pronunciation: ​) cater for the first four years of secondary education from the ages of 11 to 15
  • lycées () provide a three-year course of further secondary education for children between the ages of 15 and 18. Pupils are prepared for the baccalauréat () (baccalaureate, colloquially known as le bac). The baccalauréat can lead to higher education studies or directly to professional life.


  • Organization of the school year 1
  • Collège 2
    • Curriculum 2.1
    • Process and purpose 2.2
  • Carte scolaire 3
  • Lycée 4
    • Lycée général & lycée technologique 4.1
      • General streams 4.1.1
      • Technical streams 4.1.2
    • Lycée professionnel 4.2
  • French secondary education outside France 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Organization of the school year

The school year starts in early September and ends in early-July. French school holidays are scheduled by the Ministry of Education, by dividing the country into three zones (A, B, and C) to prevent the overcrowding by family holidaymakers of tourist destinations such as the Mediterranean coast and the ski resorts. Lyon, for example, is in zone A, while Marseille is in zone B, and Paris and Bordeaux are in zone C.

In contrast to the practice in most other education systems, the various school years in France are numbered on a decreasing scale. Thus, pupils begin their secondary education in the sixième (6th class), and transfer to a lycée in the seconde (2nd class), while the final year is the terminale.

In French, the word for student (étudiant(e)) is usually reserved for university-level students, while collège and lycée students are referred to as élèves (pupils or students in English).

The curriculum (le programme officiel) is standardized for all French public institutions. Changes to the programme are made every year by the French Ministry of Education and are published in the Ministry's Bulletin Officiel de l'Éducation Nationale (BO), the official reference bulletin for educators.


Age Name Abbreviation
11-12 Sixième 6e
12-13 Cinquième 5e
13-14 Quatrième 4e
14-15 Troisième 3e

The collège is the first level of secondary education in the French educational system. A pupil attending collège is called collégien (boy) or collégienne (girl). Men and women teachers at the collège- and lycée-level are called professeur (no official feminine professional form exists in France although the feminine form "professeure" has appeared and seems to be gaining some ground in usage). The City of Paris refers to a collège in English as a "high school."[1]

Entry in sixième occurs directly after the last year of primary school, called cours moyen deuxième année (CM2). There is no entrance examination into collège, but administrators have established a comprehensive academic examination of students starting in sixième. The purpose of the examination is evaluating pupils' level on being graduated from primary school.


Subject Remarks Starting in
Humanities & Languages
French Language and Literature Features French and translated foreign works; concentrates on grammar and spelling 6e
History & Geography French-based, but includes foreign history and geography 6e
A first foreign language1 Known as Première langue vivante étrangère (LV1) 6e
A second foreign language1 or a French regional language Deuxième langue vivante étrangère (LV2) 6e or 4e
Arts & Crafts 6e
Musical Education 6e
Civics Éducation civique 6e
1Available foreign languages include: English, German, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Russian; other languages available per locale. Most pupils study English as first foreign language, and Spanish, Italian or German as second foreign language.
Natural & Applied Sciences
Mathematics 6e
Biology & Geology Sciences de la vie et de la Terre (SVT) 6e
Technology 6e
Physics & Chemistry 5e
Optional courses
Latin 5e
Ancient Greek 5e

The table at the right details the French curriculum. Along with three-to-four weekly hours of physical education, a typical school week consists of some twenty-six (26) hours of schooling. French language and literature occupy the most time, 4–5 hours per week, followed by mathematics, 4 hours per week; other subjects occupy some 1.0-3.5 hours per week.

The curriculum is devised by the French Ministry of National Education and applies to all collèges in France and also for AEFE-dependent institutions. Académies and individual schools have little margin for curriculum customisation. Teachers compose syllabi per precise government educational regulations, and choose textbooks accordingly; every major French publishing house has a textbook branch.

Process and purpose

Each subject is usually taught by a different "professeur" or teacher; most teachers teach several different age groups. Collège pupils stay in the same class throughout the school year, and in every subject (except for optional courses such as foreign languages, where students from several classes mix), so each grade is divided into as many classes as necessary. The strong belief in teaching in mixed-ability classes means that streaming is rare.

Class size varies from school to school, but usually ranges from 20 to 35 pupils. Each class has a professeur principal (main teacher or class tutor) who is the link between the teaching staff, administration, and pupils.[2]

Ultimately, the role of the collège is to prepare students for the advanced subjects of the lycée. At the end of the troisième class, students sit for le diplôme national du Brevet, an end-of-collège examination; The brevet is not required for entrance to the lycée, nor does passing it guarantee that a pupil will progress to the higher-level school.

During the last conseil de classe of the year, held in June, teachers and administrators decide whether or not a pupil can progress to the next grade. In deciding, they evaluate the student's skills, participation, and behaviour. Three outcomes are possible:

  1. the student progresses to the next grade;
  2. his or her redoublement (repeating the year) can be required;
  3. he or she can, in specific cases, be offered to skip a grade and be promoted two grades.

A student asked to repeat a grade can appeal said decision. The decision of the appeals council is final.

Carte scolaire

A lycée in Rennes, from the 19th century.

French parents are not free to choose the state school that their children will attend; unless the children have special learning needs, they will attend the school allocated to them by the carte scolaire (school map). Reasons for attending a state school which is not their nearest include studying an option unavailable in the school to which they were originally assigned (e.g. a rare foreign language).

For many reasons, many parents consider the allocated school inadequate, particularly if they do not like the idea of their children mixing with some of the other pupils at the school. This is especially the case in poor neighbourhoods with large foreign immigrant populations. In any city, there are "better" lycées and collèges, which parents would prefer their children attend (usually dating from the 19th century, in the city centre). The two main methods used in such circumstances to get children into a school other than their assigned school are:

  • paying for partly subsidised private schooling;
  • having the child choose an unusual option (e.g. Ancient Greek) available only in the preferred school.

A similar trick is used in cases where some classes in a school are seen as "better" than others. For organisational reasons, students taking certain options are grouped into special classes, which may be academically attractive. These typically include classes taking German as a first foreign language, or Latin or Ancient Greek as options.


Age Name Abbreviation
15–16 Seconde 2de
16–17 Première 1ere
17–18 Terminale Tale

The lycée is the second, and last, stage of secondary education in the French educational system. The City of Paris refers to a lycée in English as a "sixth form college".[1] A pupil attending a lycée is a lycéen (boy) or a lycéenne (girl).

Until 1959, the term lycée designated a secondary school with a full curriculum (7 years, the present college + lycée) directly under the supervision of the State, then from 1959 to 1963 any secondary school with a full curriculum.[3] Older lycées still include a college section,[4] so a pupil attending a lycée may actually be a collégien.

At the end of the final year of schooling, most students take the baccalauréat diploma.

Lycées are divided into (i) the lycée général, leading to two or more years of post–baccalauréat studies, (ii) the lycée technologique, leading to short-term studies, and (iii) the lycée professionnel, a vocational qualification leading directly to a particular career. General and technological education courses are provided in "standard" lycées, while vocational courses are provided in separate professional lycées.

In practice, competent pupils at a vocational lycée professionnel can also apply to take short-term, post–baccalauréat studies leading to the Brevet de technicien supérieur (BTS), a vocational qualification. This option is also available to pupils at a lycée général.

Lycée général & lycée technologique

In France, the lycée général is the usual stepping stone to university degrees. During their year in Seconde students make their final choice of série (course) for the final two years. During the seconde, students mostly take the same courses, despite having different academic skills and interests, so it is usually thought to be an easier year than either the première or the terminale.

General streams

After the seconde, most French students choose a general course. In all courses, some subjects occupy more hours in the student's timetable. The baccalauréat examination is different for all three séries, and subjects are weighted according to the course taken.

Streams S
(various hard sciences)
économique et social
(economics and social sciences)
Description The sciences course heavily weights high-level mathematics, physics-chemistry and biology-geology. The série ES is balanced between literary and economics courses; students must take economics and social sciences exams. The série L heavily weighs French language, French literature, Foreign literature in foreign language and Philosophy, and to a lesser extent, history, geography and foreign languages. Students must take examinations in one-to-three modern languages, and also have the option of taking examinations in either Latin or ancient Greek or both.

According to the official statistics, for the 2003–2004 school year, 33 per cent of students chose série S; 19 per cent chose série ES; and 11 per cent chose série L.[5]

All students take philosophy courses in terminale, while French language classes end in the première, excepting the série L, where they become French literature classes, where pupils are to study two books during the year, from French writers, or foreign books translated into French (e.g. Romeo and Juliet during the school year 2007–2008, or The Leopard from Italian author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa).

There also is a required option for further specialisation in all séries, although it is restricted to the chosen course. For example, a student in série S can choose to specialise in mathematics, physics, "SVT" (biology and geology) or "engineering sciences", but not in philosophy. Specialisation adds a separate, weekly two-hour class in the chosen discipline; also, it increases the weight of the chosen subject at the baccalauréat. The syllabus in the specialisation class is unrelated to the material learned in the common class. Specialisation plays no role in the choice of a post–secondary career or subject at university, except for a few courses aimed for students from a given série that can also accept students from other séries if they have taken a given specialisation.

Technical streams

International educational scores (1995)
(13-year-old's average score, TIMSS
Trends in International Math and Science Study, 1995)
Maths Science
Score Rank Score Rank
 Singapore 1 643 1 607 1
 Japan 2 605 3 571 3
 South Korea 3 607 2 565 4
 Czech Republic 4 564 6 574 2
 Belgium (Fl) 5 565 5 550 11
 Hong Kong 6 588 4 522 24
 Bulgaria 7 540 11 565 5
 Netherlands 8 541 9 560 6
 Slovenia 9 541 10 560 7
 Austria 10 539 12 558 8
 Slovakia 11 547 7 544 13
 Hungary 12 537 14 554 9
 Australia 13 530 16 545 12
 Russia 14 535 15 538 14
 Switzerland 15 545 8 522 25
 Ireland 16 527 17 538 15
 Canada 17 527 18 531 18
 England 18 506 25 552 10
 Sweden 19 519 22 535 16
 Thailand 20 522 20 525 21
 Israel 21 522 21 524 23
 Germany 22 509 23 531 19
 France 23 538 13 498 28
 United States 24 500 28 534 17
 New Zealand 25 508 24 525 22
 Norway 26 503 26 527 20
 Belgium (W) 27 526 19 471 36
 Denmark 28 502 27 478 34
Source: TIMSS data, in The Economist March 29th, 1997, p.25

The lycée includes eight other streams, called séries technologiques:

  • sciences et technologies de la gestion (Management Sciences and Technologies, STG) (replaced sciences et technologies tertiaires (Service Sciences and Technologies, STT) for the June 2007 Bac Exam)
  • sciences et technologies de l'industrie et du développement durable (Industrial Science and Technologies and sustainable development, STI2D)
  • sciences et technologies de laboratoire (Laboratory Science and Technologies, STL)
  • sciences médico-sociales , (Health and Social Sciences SMS): The name was changed in 2007 and became: Sciences et technologies de la santé et du social, (Sciences and Technologies in Health and Social ST2S)
  • sciences et technologies du produit agroalimentaire (Food Science and Technologies, STPA)
  • sciences et technologies de l'agronomie et de l'environnement (Agronomy and Environment Science and Technologies, STAE)
  • techniques de la musique et de la danse (Music and Dance Techniques, TMD)
  • hôtellerie (Hotel and restaurants management)

The STPA and STAE stream are only available in lycées agricoles, speciality schools for agricultural sciences.

Lycée professionnel

The lycée professionnel leads to several different vocational diplomas. The courses are designed for students who do not plan to continue into higher education. The vocational training is for craftspeople and involves internships in commercial enterprises. The courses are suitable for students who are more interested in a hands-on educational approach than in academic schooling.

French secondary education outside France

See also


  1. ^ a b "Children & families." (Archive) City of Paris. Retrieved on 20 July 2010.
  2. ^ H. D. Lewis (1985). The French Education System. Routledge. p. 58.  
  3. ^ Jean-Michel Chapoulie. Les professeurs de l'enseignement secondaire : Un métier de classe moyenne. 01/01/87. Maison des Sciences de l'Homme. p3. ISBN 2-7351-0203-3.
  4. ^ ex : Lycée Henri IV
  5. ^ official statistics

External links

  • French Ministry of Education (in French)
  • (in French)Bulletin Officiel
  • website (in French)Centre national de documentation pédagogique
  • The school system and education in France (in English)
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